It’s no secret that food trends live at the top of my pet-peeves list. Why? Well, for a few reasons. They aren’t always based on sound agricultural practices. Sometimes marketing terms take on a life of their own. And often no one bothers to consult farmers before proclaiming a new food trend as the savior of humanity.
Regenerative agriculture is currently the darling phrase of public-relations teams, tree huggers, and so many others. There’s no official, standard, or statutory definition. (Honestly, most marketing teams using the term don’t even know what it means.) Based on what I’ve encountered, it generally has something to do with promoting soil health — something we can certainly all get behind. Beyond that there’s no real consensus.
One question that seems to divide the crowd is whether bioengineered crops fit into a regenerative food system.
It certainly makes sense that they would. Herbicide-resistant crops have allowed farmers to adopt more soil-friendly production practices, including cover crops and no-till. Others incorporating the Bt-protein have reduced or eliminated the use of insecticides, allowing beneficial insects to thrive while still protecting crops. And all of those things come with the bonus of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.
That all fits in perfectly with Regeneration International’s definition of regenerative agriculture:
Regenerative Agricultural Practices are: Practices that (i) contribute to generating/building soils and soil fertility and health; (ii) increase water percolation, water retention, and clean and safe water runoff; (iii) increase biodiversity and ecosystem health and resiliency; and (iv) invert the carbon emissions of our current agriculture to one of remarkably significant carbon sequestration thereby cleansing the atmosphere of legacy levels of CO2.
It goes on to specifically name no-till/minimum tillage, cover crops, and crop rotations.
And yet … the organization is staunchly against bioengineered crops. In fact, Ronnie Cummins, founder of the Organic Consumers Association and an avid peddler of anti-GMO disinformation, is quoted on the organization’s front page embracing regenerative agriculture. You could almost say that regenerative is the new organic, just with new packaging — at least to Cummins.
Now do you understand why I hate the word games?
On the flip side, Syngenta’s definition is almost the complete opposite:
Regenerative agriculture is an evolution of conventional agriculture, reducing the use of water and other inputs, and preventing land degradation and deforestation. It protects and improves soil, biodiversity, climate resilience and water resources while making farming more productive and profitable.
Just like the former example, bioengineered crops would fit the bill: reducing the use of inputs; protecting and improving soil health, biodiversity, and climate resilience; and increasing farming’s productivity and profitability. It probably comes as no surprise that I don’t mind this approach. It’s more realistic, takes into account economic realities, and still achieves environmental goals.
I have a better idea though. Let’s just stop using trendy terms and descriptors. Instead let’s allow farmers to make the best decisions for their crops and livestock. They can consult and follow the advice of agronomists, veterinarians, and researchers. Our biotech companies can continue to innovate and develop the future of bioengineered crops to solve looming problems. And we’ll implement and use the best practices that we have now, and those we’ll discover down the road.
You can call it whatever you want. But to me, that’s what agriculture is.
Amanda Zaluckyj blogs under the name The Farmer’s Daughter USA. Her goal is to promote farmers and tackle the misinformation swirling around the U.S. food industry.