The biggest change in moving from conventional agriculture to regenerative agriculture is a shift in the understanding the farmer’s role in relation to nature. Regenerative agriculture seeks to work with nature, for example, in terms of supply of nutrients and suppression of pests and diseases. Regenerative agriculture involves the farmer taking their hands off the production system and trusting ecological processes to sustain that productivity. At its most fundamental level – before we even consider all of the detailed practices involved in regenerative agriculture – regenerative agriculture is a psychological shift that views the production process and the natural system as working in collaboration with each other, as opposed to being at odds with one another. The mindset of regenerative agriculture seeks to unlock that collaboration. Therefore, it is important to consider what this mindset shift entails. This post will describe the type of mindset shift that is required, as well as discuss mechanisms to facilitate this shift.
The type of change that is required to move to regenerative agriculture is a deeply personal one: it’s about convictions and beliefs. Before we look at the change that is required, we have to acknowledge how deeply held the current paradigm of agriculture is. Over many years, there have been massive investments made in technologies and research, which have contributed to what in many ways is an incredibly successful paradigm of production. This mainstream paradigm of production is deeply embedded and it is very difficult to expect people to move out of it voluntarily. In reality, voluntary engagement in shifting to regenerative agriculture practices comes from farmers reaching a kind of ‘Demascus road’ and having a revelation that draws them towards a more holistic approach to agriculture.
This requires farmers to embrace a new paradigm of science: that of ecological literacy. It comes down to a very personal decision. These kinds of shifts will become more prevalent as the body of evidence of the successes of regenerative agriculture grows and as more and more people see the benefits and move into this ecologically literate and sensitive way of farming. It’s not only at farm level that these paradigm boundaries are challenged; it’s in the marketplace too. The whole concept of regenerative agriculture is taking hold and some major food industry players are starting to embrace it.
The shift to regenerative agriculture is a delicate process that is not going to unfold through top-down forcing, because one has to allow that personal shift to happen. However, there are structures and mechanisms that can help facilitate this change:
- Encouraging farmers to be in locally relevant networks
This creates a community of people who are grappling with similar issues, where local solutions and knowledge can be developed and shared. Each farm faces a unique set of circumstances inherent in its geographic location, so connecting farms within similar regions allows for collaboration and, ultimately, the emergence of unique, tailored and location-appropriate solutions.
- Establishing and supporting farmer study groups
Farmer study groups are well-established structures in which this kind of shared learning and collaboration can occur. Where these structures are not in place, there is a need to help establish and facilitate them.
- Addressing the agenda of farmer study groups
Beyond establishing farmer study groups, attention must be given to the content within these groups. Space needs to be created on the agenda to start to explore the subjects that challenge the mainstream paradigm. This is easier said than done; often these structures have vested interests in the existing paradigm and may have sponsors that keep those structures going. Be that as it may, it would be bringing speakers into study groups to talk about natural methods of pests and disease suppression, ecological processes that are fundamental to healthy farming and healthy landscapes, and for those ideas to find their own landing point in the minds of different individuals. Furthermore, the agenda should allow for those who have started moving on the regenerative journey to share challenges and successes, as means to give momentum to the shift.
- Harnessing the power of practical demonstration
There is huge value in experiments that reveal the difference between industrially farmed soil and regenerative soil. These experiments demonstrate how industrial soil has lost its aggregate structures and its organic matter, while regenerative soil has good soil aggregates, high soil organic carbon high, and a lot of biodiversity and life activity within the soil. These demonstrations have an important role to play in speaking very practically and pertinently to farmers about the cruciality of soil health.
These steps to support farmers are an essential part of building healthy networks of learning that will facilitate the shift to regenerative agriculture. Ultimately, there are three interconnected characteristics that make up the core of the “regenerative mindset”: humility; an affinity towards holistic thinking; and a love and appreciation for the way nature works. We at Blue North are encouraged by the shift we are seeing around us and strive to serve in maintaining and building the momentum.
Let us know what you think in the comments below!