Investing in soil health is good for the biodiversity of an ecosystem, but is it good for farmers’ and ranchers’ economic well-being, too?
As FarmRaise cultivates its growing network of financial partnerships, this question comes up often in our discussions with the carbon credit startups, regenerative ag investment funds, and food companies that we work with.
When my family transitioned our livestock operation to holistic grazing practices, we were surprised by what we witnessed. Not only did the land produce better grass, but we could also grazed our cows off of the land for three additional months per year. This extended grazing period cut our hay input costs and boosted our profitability by $40 per acre. I was left wondering: are these results a one-off success story, or can other producers experience them, too? Let’s dive into the economic benefits of regenerative industrial agriculture and how improving your agricultural system can also improve your bottom line.
Regenerative agriculture is such a loaded term and its definition is often confused with sustainability, organic farming or conservation agriculture.
Regenerative agriculture: The use of agricultural management techniques that promote healthy soil and help to reverse climate change by conserving and rehabilitating agroecosystems and food systems.
How is regenerative farming different from organic farming or conservation?
Well, for one, “organic” is a certification created by the USDA, so to be considered “organic” requires specific practices and an approval process. Organic farming isn’t tied to an ecological outcome like regenerative agriculture is. Instead, it focuses on healthy food production by optimizing natural resources and avoiding synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Reintegrative farming, however, focuses on optimizing farming systems, reversing climate change by working in harmony with your land’s natural resources and improving your soil health.
Though minimal, there is a difference between regenerative agriculture and conservation agriculture. Unlike regenerative agriculture which is an umbrella term for certain techniques, conservation agriculture is a farming system that focuses on preventing the loss of farmable land and desertification. Much like regenerative agriculture, it focuses on restoring your land’s water systems, topsoil health, biodiversity and the like.
At FarmRaise, we think of regenerative agriculture in terms of improving farm land management and soil health. That would include practices like:
These practices can help reduce soil erosion and runoff and improve water quality and soil fertility.
Farmers who use regenerative practices tend to have lower yields. However, lower crop yields doesn’t necessarily mean lower profits. A 2018 study by the Ecdysis foundation found that farmers who invest in these soil-health improving practices tend to have higher profitability than farmers who use conventional practices. In fact, these regenerative farmers were nearly 80% more profitable can conventional farmers!
Why? For one, regenerative farmers were able to capture premiums at market through certifications like “Organic” or “Grass Finished.” But equally intriguing, these farmers lowered their input costs (because they relied less on chemical inputs) to capture more of their income. Bottom line: Regenerative practices can save the planet and your wallet.
If you’re not already practicing regenerative organic agriculture or sustainable agriculture on your farm or ranch, you’ll find that implementing regenerative agriculture takes time, effort, and unsurprisingly, money. We know you’ve got the grit, but what about the cash? Here are some options to get you on your way toward farm profitability!
The USDA has recently invested more in tackling the climate crisis. There are a number of well-funded programs that can help you implement regenerative practices on your farm, lowering the risks of investing in your farm or ranch’s transition.
Regardless of which program you’re interested in, if you’re applying for government funding, you’ll need a farm number - a unique identifier for your farm. Because that process can take days of filing paperwork, FarmRaise can take care of that paperwork for you so you can take the next steps toward applying for funding.
There are hundreds of public and private funding options that offer support for American producers (including territories like Puerto Rico and American Samoa). The FarmRaise Farm Funding Library is an easy-to-use database that lets you access those federal, state, local and private programs - most of which can help you implement regenerative farming techniques for your operation. The library is updated weekly and FarmRaise can send you Funding Alerts so you never miss a deadline.
Take it from my family. Transitioning to cover crops, low-till, holistic livestock management and other soil health practices isn’t an easy shift. This move requires funding, patience and education (often provided by the local Extension Agent, Technical Service Provider or even YouTube!), funding and patience. It will also require paperwork if you want to go after a certification label or apply for a grant. Despite the challenges, the financial payoff may be worthwhile for many producers, especially as they capture this benefit year over year.
This post is written by FarmRaise CEO Jayce Hafner. What questions do you have about agroecology or agroforestry that you’d like us to write about? Send a suggestion to email@example.com and we’d love to chat about publishing it!
Find out the deadline for your state so you can submit your 2023 EQIP application with confidence.
Producers do a lot of research on the farm and ranch by examining their land and testing new methods. See if a SARE grant could help fund your next “experiment.”