FeedBack is a reflections blog authored by Arrell Scholars and Ontario Agri-Food Innovation Alliance – Food from Thought HQP Scholars on their experiences in the program. Evan Tollenaar is an Arrell Scholar working towards a MASc in Engineering with Collaborative Specialization in Artificial Intelligence.
Long-term soil health and fertility is becoming a growing concern with overintense agriculture practices used to increase production and profits. To sustainably feed a growing global population, alternative farming practices and knowledge transfer techniques must be evaluated to elevate the industry’s sustainability.
Regenerative agriculture has the potential to improve and protect soil quality and biodiversity while simultaneously producing high yielding crops and diminishing the use of fossil fuels, synthetic fertilizers, and pesticides.
Regenerative agriculture focuses on five main targets:
- Minimizing soil disturbance
- Maximizing crop diversity
- Keeping the soil covered
- Maintaining a living root year-round
- Integrating livestock
By implementing some of these practices on farmland, there may be several benefits to soil health to help improve the sustainability of current food production systems.
For local farmers to realize the benefits of regenerative agriculture, it would be optimal if they could see the results firsthand. With this in mind, our group helped Our Food Future develop a regenerative agriculture pilot project within Wellington and Dufferin for the 2022 season, titled “The Experimental Acres.”
The goal of this project was to provide a minimal risk opportunity for farmers to try a regenerative management practice with community supports. Through this, farmers can obtain valuable education to increase knowledge transfer within the community to encourage further adoption of successful practices.
Our group was ecstatic with the community response and demand for help from producers that were genuinely interested in developing more sustainable practices! It was encouraging to see that these farmers recognized improvements could be made within their operations to benefit themselves and future generations.
From the broad range of small-scale projects, an individual plan was constructed for each of the 14 experimental plots. These plans included information such as the farm context, project descriptions, a planned schedule, and project supports. At the end of each experiment, a business case can be formulated to determine its success, focusing on the long-term benefits the farmer is interested in. Some producers were interested in increasing profits, while others were simply interested in improving soil health to be more sustainable.
A project handbook was also created to facilitate the development of future projects. The Experimental Acres could be used as a foundation for other counties to create similar regenerative agriculture programs in future growing seasons.
It was a great experience for our interdisciplinary group (Havelah Cater, MSc in Population Medicine; Brenda Zai, MSc in Food Science; Olatunbosun Ayetan, PhD in Environmental Sciences and Hannah Woodhouse, PhD in Population Medicine) to work directly with numerous farmers, experts, and Our Food Future to encourage regenerative agriculture solutions within the community. Farmers need to continue to share their experiences and results to help generate positive change for a sustainable future. Our Food Future will continue to work passionately on this project, and we are excited to see the results at the end of the season!
Campbell, B. M., Beare, D. J., Bennett, E. M., Hall-Spencer, J. M., Ingram, J. S., Jaramillo, F., Ortiz, R., Ramankutty, N., Sayer, J. A., & Shindell, D. (2017). Agriculture production as a major driver of the Earth system exceeding planetary boundaries. Ecology and Society, 22(4), 8. https://doi.org/10.5751/ES-09595-220408
LaCanne, C. E., & Lundgren, J. G. (2018). Regenerative agriculture: merging farming and natural resource conservation profitably. PeerJ, 6, e4428. https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.4428