What is regenerative agriculture, and why is it so important to land stewardship? These are the questions we asked ourselves as we pulled into the driveway of the Jonas Stoltzfus family farm in Auburn New York.
To answer those questions, we attended a Regenerative Agriculture seminar hosted by The Soil Health Academy. The seminar put on in partnership between The Soil Health Academy and Understanding AG, aims to educate the public and empower them to achieve their regenerative agricultural goals and objectives -- whether you’re a farmer, rancher, landowner, or even a land steward like us.
Regenerative Agriculture is the integration of soil biology in order to create natural systems that produce high yields, build water-holding capacity in the soil, and ultimately improve overall ecosystem health. The key principles that followers of regenerative agriculture abide by, are to avoid bare ground, protect the soil from erosion and compaction, integrate livestock into crop productions for nutrient recycling, build soil organic matter by increasing biomass inputs, increase biodiversity of plants and animals (i.e., farming and ranching in a way that mimics nature), and restore positive interactions between species.
If there is one major take away - it is that we must rethink the way we manage our land. But what does this have to do with Solar farms? Solar development involves land leases ranging from 25-45 years and leased property acreage anywhere from 10 to 50 or more acres. With long term property commitments of this nature, it's important that we as developers are mindful of what we're leaving behind. The regenerative movement provides a resilient framework for landowners or stewards to use in order to ensure the land is passed down with productive soils and clean water. That is a responsibility we take ownership of as a land steward.
One of the main principles of Regenerative Agriculture is the use of cover crops. Cover crops are a way to protect soil from erosion and water pollution, as well as filter out pests and weed seeds. One of the biggest benefits of cover crops is their ability to aid in carbon sequestration. Carbon sequestration, the process in which carbon dioxide (CO) is removed from the atmosphere and stored in some stable form, ensures decomposition of these biomass materials does not result in emissions of CO2 back into the atmosphere. To break this down simply, the green leaves of the cover crop take in CO2 and water, and through photosynthesis, drive that carbon into the roots and stems of the plant. By only allowing the green matter to break down in a regenerative system, we sequester carbon, enhance soil health and improve our environment.
Being a good land steward means being diligent in planning, being disciplined in our decisions and being open to change. Being a good solar developer, means being considerate of our role as a land steward and our responsibility to the overall health and viability of the land we are leasing.