This may sound a little strange, but it’s become popular to label any kind of non-conventional agriculture as “regenerative”. For example, a large milk producer in Denmark recently labelled its milk as “regenerative”. Looking beyond the bombastic marketing, the producer is simply trialing a slightly different way of keeping cows; in just one of its many dairies. We would say this fleeting trial is neither regenerative nor is it likely that any meaningful amount of milk from that farm is in the cartons on the shelves.
If you do not want to be tricked by slick marketing campaigns that may label their approaches as regenerative, let us explore what regenerative actually means. Compared to the approach of “big farmer”, what we do is radical.
Our ecosystems evolved symbiotically; with animals, plants, insects, bacteria, fungi (and of course us humans!) contributing to an abundant environment.
In our desire for control and productivity, modernity has broken the symbiosis, creating monocultures and homogeneity of:
Over-engineered grains, vegetables and forestry (not to mention GMO or transgenic)
Single-breed animal feeding lots, including “sustainable” fish farms
Cities and their residents, disconnected from natural cycles
Thought and ideas to address environmental issues
Opposite to fear-based narratives, we are not pleading that we have the solution to “the end is nigh”. What we have is a workable and demonstrable approach that returns the harmony of nature – while restoring and nourishing the local human communities. It is an approach that empowers us and those around us, helping us make a direct, meaningful change locally.
A well-functioning ecosystem encompasses billions of organisms, working in close relationships. Every living thing has a part to play for the wellbeing of the whole. In life and in death.
Above the soil, plants take in carbon and nitrogen from the air. They then swap these elements in their roots, with fungi and bacteria for minerals in the soil, like phosphorus. This process helps to lock in carbon from the atmosphere. Arthropods, nematodes and protozoa feed on fungi and bacteria, which are in turn fed on by birds, other insects and animals. We are part of this process and our digestive system is designed to eat the animals.
Plants and especially grasses evolved with ruminant animals (such as cows). Ruminants can properly digest plant matter, using four stomachs to ferment the tough cellulose and disarm the anti-nutrients that all plants use to make sure that nobody but ruminants eat them.
Ruminants of course need grasses to live. But likewise, to maintain healthy soils, grasses need animals to graze them. For this grazing to work properly, animals need to behave like a herd – recall documentaries of thousands of wildebeests feeding while milling in a pack to avoid predation from lions. They’ll stay in one place, trample and manure, then move on in a tightly formed pack; not coming back for a month or more. This short disruption and fertility, together with a longer rest time is what the plants want. They recover stronger, together with the ecosystem in all its cooperative associations.
We work with nature’s method to sequester carbon from the atmosphere at a higher rate than can be done so with trees or by leaving nature alone. This approach is called Holistic Grazing. Every pass of the animals is planned for a short duration. The duration they stay in an area is based on experience and depends on:
Temperatures (historic and predicted)
Rainfall (historic and predicted)
Number of animals and type of animals (hens, cows, pigs)
Size of paddock (we encourage animals’ desires to be closer together with electric fencing)
Length of plants and time since previous recovery
Types of plants
This is a complex formula that cannot be written down or commoditised. It depends on the farm and the plan for grazing will not be the same as a neighbour a few kilometres down the road.
Using holistic grazing for the last three years, we have seen the soils begin to heal from over a century of ploughing and other abuses. Insects (including our bees) have been attracted by a diverse mix of flowering plants and other life classed as “weeds” and “pests”. Some of this plant life has been waiting as seeds for up to a hundred years for the opportunity to sprout and thrive.
Birds like falcons and buzzards have returned to our small 10-hectare plot so close to the city, attracted by small prey animals. The small animals have thrived on undisturbed soils, a dense cover of plants for protection, as well as natural food such as grasshoppers and worms.
Badgers and hedgehogs have also made homes here. Soil compaction (a measure of how alive or dead a soil is), has decreased from high in 2020, to medium in 2022. This is a long process, but if left to nature it would take a century to build an inch of topsoil (a measure of soil health recovery). Conversely, we believe we can build an inch within a decade.
Therefore, we find that working with domestic animals is an intrinsic part of ecosystem recovery and could not be done effectively if pockets of the modern world were to become “off limits” to people, for the purposes of “rewilding”.
This multi-layer soil-animal-human food web is a vibrant and diverse community. Imagine a town where all the inhabitants have different, interdependent roles. They work in cooperation. Cooperation may look like “I pick some flowers for you and in return, you give me some strawberries you grew”. Or it may be “you left a dessert to cool on your window, and it was taken and eaten by the neighbourhood’s kids”. The latter may not sound like cooperation, but it is just like nature works. We have to remember that there is no sentimentality in the cycle of life.
Treating nature with the sentimentality of human interactions creates artificial divides between what can be eaten and what is taboo. Plants have nervous systems and react to the outside world (such as to music), but because they are not similar to us, it is deemed fine for them to be treated with contempt in monocultures. These monocultures typically kill many animals in the process (see following section, below).
We had sentimental views, having come from a city. We were largely disconnected from nature when we began our regenerative journey in 2020. It took us a while to listen to what nature was telling us. For example, when we wanted to keep a sow and her grown piglets together in one large paddock in our forest, nature told us otherwise. The sow intimidated her own offspring into leaving. The sow wasn’t a “bad mother”, she was thoughtful in protecting the genetic diversity in the herd. Like with its ancestor, the wild pig’s offspring are encouraged to leave the herd to make a life elsewhere.
As part of our cooperation with animals and their natural instincts, we hope that we give them an exceptional life. We honour them and their work by making sure that we use everything they give us when they die. As part of the natural cycle of life, they nourish us and our own internal ecosystems, which evolved with animals by our sides. And the cycle continues.
While we are not sentimental about nature and our role in it, we condemn the highly controlling, mechanistic and sadistic animal and plant rearing practices exhibited by “big farmer’s” corporatisation of life. High-publicity marketing attempts need to be seen for what they are. We believe they largely serve to divert attention from, and gain acceptance for, their far-reaching conventional practices.
As discussed earlier, a healthy community needs diversity. Conversely, in the pursuit of increased yields, modern agriculture has fought for a hundred years to decrease diversity:
In plants, through genetic manipulation to the point where plants cannot survive without support from herbicides, fungicides, pesticides and genetic manipulation
In animals, through breeding to reach maximum size as quickly and cheaply as possible
While we are all largely aware of how animals are treated in the pursuit of profit, the role of plant agriculture in destroying life and diversity has not had the scrutiny it now deserves. For example, harvesting a hectare of grain kills around 700 animals – sliced, diced and mashed up in the machinery of the harvester. This isn’t to mention all the beneficial insects and our bee populations nosediving because of indiscriminate spraying of poisons that are known to be harmful to all life – by the farmers that use them, by the companies that produce them, and by complicit blind eye of the governments that approve them.
Nature is telling us this isn’t right, giving us all the new diseases of civilisation in humans, epidemics of every kind of animal flu and plant pest. Civilisation has largely ignored these warnings, creating the necessity for more and more drastic interventions by “big farmer”.
The entirety of modern life can be equated to our civilisation’s highly mechanistic and controlling approach to nature. It is akin to building a sand castle on the beach, then desperately wafting away the sea in an effort to prevent the inevitable high tide. Many of us are leading this life of “quiet desperation”. We hope to help people in our community to reconnect with their humanity and the intrinsic nature that is inside us all. Contact us if you feel you would benefit.
To break the marketing spell, we encourage you to ask these questions:
Are the vast majority of their operations using holistic grazing or animal manure from holistic grazing?
If planting crops, is a no till/plough system used that never leaves soil bare or displaced? Is animal manure used as fertiliser?
The views expressed in this synopsis are opinions. We encourage you to not just take our word for it and dig deeper. The resources and experts you may want to review are not the ones you will see quoted on TV or in polished advertorials masquerading as journalism in newspapers. We suggest you start with Joel Salatin and his Polyface Farm. For a bit more detail on holistic grazing, please see Allan Savory and The Savory Institute.
We didn’t want to make this overview long, so if you have any questions, let us know. Here is a short FAQ:
Is it a cure for all the world’s problems? No. As fashionable as black and white thinking is, we do not think regenerative agriculture is the one solution for ecosystem recovery.
Can any small or local producer be called regenerative if they don’t do any holistic grazing? No, but supporting the human community is nonetheless important.
Is it “organic plus”? And should it have a certification? No. We are strongly against commoditisation and commercialisation by “big farmer” of the descriptor “regenerative agriculture”. If accreditation occurs, it will meet the same fate as organic. We believe that organic was hijacked by big business, watering down the standards, while forcing out truly organic principles and innovation. The organic standard is a private enterprise but is protected by the state.
Does it scale and have there been any long-term results? Yes. There are examples from smaller than 10 hectares to a million acres in America and Africa. There have been people using regenerative agriculture approaches since the 1960s, so there are examples of long-term results. See Allan Savory, Gabe Brown, Ray Styer, Joel Salatin, Greg Judy
Is it fully evolved in terms of infrastructure, critical mass and knowledge? No. This is why it is exciting. The innovation of many small players makes for more fitting solutions locally. We are also learning as we go. It remains a balancing act between being perfect and making sure people are comfortable to come along with us on the evolution.
Why are your products so expensive compared to the supermarkets or my local farmer? We think that the time and effort that goes into the final product you receive, whether that is our eggs, pork, honey, raw milk or grass-fed beef, should be rewarded properly. People may not see all the behind-the-scenes work (such as moving animals daily, planning grazing, designing and building highly mobile infrastructure that doesn’t exist anywhere else), but it is fundamental to our approach. We think that the more people revere and value the food in front of them, the more they will savour the experience and ultimately the good life of the animal.
In addition, we do not live on handouts from the government and the EU, as with the vast majority of agriculture. Supermarket prices are being kept artificially low through your tax payments. Even if you think that it is abhorrent that a supermarket offers a ridiculously low price of 10kr for a pack of bacon – you have already paid for it and support it through your taxes.
Will we run out of food if we abandon conventional agriculture for regenerative? No. Consider that the EU estimates that 40% of food is wasted in Europe, never being eaten – crops rotting on the fields, animals dying in stuffed transports to slaughter, food spoiling in transport and supermarkets, and in the home fridge, because it is cheap and easily replaceable. To us, this highlights the devaluing of food through over-intensification, commoditisation and globalisation. Regenerative agriculture is much less intensive than conventional practices (including organic) and in our case, we only serve our local market and our customers use and enjoy everything our animals give us.
Do cow farts make climate change? Not cows eating grass (instead of grain), raised naturally outdoors (instead of crowded barns with hundreds of cows), close to their communities (instead of being driven hundreds of kilometres to Germany to be slaughtered and then back to all corners of Denmark).
© 2023 Søagergård Regenerativt Jordbrug. All rights reserved. Errors and omissions excepted.
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© 2020-2023 Søagergård Regenerativt Jordbrug. All rights reserved. Errors and omissions excepted.