Farming has always been a multidisciplinary vocation. Few other professions require individuals to have such a diverse skill set. Ranging from general heavy machinery maintenance and repair to understanding the basics of botany, from accounting to marketing, business management to animal husbandry and everything in between. Farmers are never short of options when it comes to learning useful new skills.
Now, with regenerative agriculture focusing on soil health, mineral cycles, microbiology, etc., and the interplay between them, soil science and mineral ecology have become increasingly useful knowledge bases for regenerative farmers who have such a background.
However, not every farmer has the same level of interest in the science of agriculture. And ‘interest’ is the key word here. It’s not about intelligence or education. Some people just aren’t into soil science. And even if they do have the interest, not everyone wants to come in from a hard day’s work on the farm and sit down to study the rhizosphere or wrap their head around cation exchange — which is very reasonable.
If you live in a rural area, it’s very likely you know someone who fits this description. Maybe a friend or a family member, or that oldtimer in the coffee shop. You know they are smart people, skilled and able, good at what they do. But just not interested in lofty, highfalutin ideas or ideologies.
So, how do we introduce regenerative agriculture to farmers who have a limited interest in the science of agriculture? How can we pique their interest and encourage them to try regenerative techniques without burying them in hard scientific facts, techniques and practices?
This is a very real open question. If regenerative agriculture is going to be the dominant form of agriculture practiced across the globe (i.e. the long term goal), then we need to find a way to bring all types of farmers on board — from fresh noobs to recalcitrant oldtimers and everyone in between.
The challenge here seems to be finding a perspective from which all farmers can see the benefits of regenerative agriculture.
A seemingly obvious solution might be to promote the green ideology that attracts so many to regenerative farming, particularly first gen farmers. But while many green ideologies tie in very neatly to regenerative agriculture, such ideologies are hardly universal and are unlikely to persuade some farmers who view their farm as a business first and foremost. Given our goal to avoid controversy and focus on agriculture we shall say no more on this topic other than to acknowledge that ideology is probably not the unifying answer we are looking for.
One shared perspective that we would at least like to think is universal is a shared love of the act of farming; an inherent joy in the profession; a deep satisfaction at watching crops grow. The emotional connection every farmer has with the land they work is very real. But it’s also very personal which can make it harder to relate on a global scale. And to be honest, few people make hard business decisions based on ‘a love of the land’ alone.
There is one force, however, that is both truly universal and powerful enough to drive meaningful change. And we call this force economics.
Making money is possibly the only universal goal we can safely assume for most every farmer across the globe. It doesn’t matter what type of farm or where: a grain farm in Canada, an orchard in Madagascar, or a ranch in Australia — a new agricultural method or technique that makes economic sense is one that all farmers can get behind.
And regenerative farming makes economic sense.
So it might be a good idea for people who wish to promote regenerative agriculture, particularly to established farmers, to find ways to couch regenerative methods and techniques in economic terms. Cover crops can save money on irrigation, high levels of organic matter in the soil reduce input costs, animal integration saves on fertilizer. While these lines are most definitely oversimplifications, they also focus on the economic benefits of regenerative agriculture which is something all farmers are interested in.
The way we choose to promote regenerative agriculture will have an effect on what type of farmer is attracted to the movement. By focusing more on economic arguments, we can increase the appeal of regenerative farming to the largest possible audience while using all the other benefits the movement offers to show it helps more than just the pocket book.
And, there are a lot of benefits to regenerative farming. From increasing nutritional value of the food grown to the environment benefits of restoring natural systems; from better water management to reducing reliance on synthetic chemicals. Some argue that regenerative farming can help battle climate change while others are adamant that regen farming can solve the world’s looming food crisis.
But for those who aren’t interested in or simply don’t care about these benefits, there is only really economics.