Eight golden rules for regenerative agriculture success

One of the pioneers of regenerative agriculture in the eastern Free State shared some of the Riemland study group’s findings that they have made over the last 13 years. 

Regenerative agriculture aims to be more profitable per hectare instead of pursuing yields. In his presentation, Danie Slabbert said the move from conventional farming to regenerative agriculture practices did not initially come easy, but the realisation that nature is always correct and his passion for farming in a more natural manner helped him change his farming practices. 

“It is difficult to adjust to change but I believe that if you are not uncomfortable, you are not trying hard enough. New ways of thinking and doing things create a passion for what you are doing and create the opportunity to tackle obstacles.”

There have indeed been many obstacles, and Danie admits that there were many mistakes made as well, but he points out that new ideas and practices all have their own issues. “Nature cannot be wrong and therefore it is not wrong to try and farm as close to nature as possible.”

One of the biggest successes, according to Danie, is the large diversity of crops that helps stabilise yields, promote soil health and reduce the use of chemical fertiliser. Furthermore, Danie and the members of the Riemland study group also started noticing an increase in beneficial insects and fungi in their farmlands. 

“It is incredible how quickly nature recovers when we give it a chance to. After one or two seasons, we could already see the earthworm population increase after 40 years of conventional tillage methods largely kept them out of the fields,” Danie said. 

Eight fundamentals

Danie presented eight fundamentals for successful regenerative agriculture:

  • Start small – “There are risks involved when changing practices. Therefore, begin small and build up from there. Be careful to not take too big of a risk and get into some hot water.”
  • Mimic Nature – “Nature is extremely complex and diverse, and we will never completely understand everything about it. You should thus try to mimic natural cycles, find ways to improve soil health and plant diverse crops.”
  • Get the correct equipment for the planting process – “It is easy to apply decades-old practices without making many mistakes. In contrast, it is very difficult to apply new practices without making any mistakes. One of the biggest mistakes is to try and do things with the wrong equipment. Here your presence in the field is especially important to ensure that contact between the soil and seeds is correct and that fertiliser is administered correctly where it is used.”
  • Timing – “Timing is one of the most important factors. Ensure that you plant on time when cover crops need to be planted for autumn. Earlier is better when planting winter cover crops to ensure that the roots are established before it gets too cold and dry. The reserve moisture is deeper underground and roots thus need to be established to reach it during the cold winter months. Timing should also be taken into consideration when cover crops are sprayed to be removed.”  
  • Basic principles – “We all know there are basic principles within agriculture, regardless of the practice used. Do not plant in soil that is too wet, do not plant in soil that is too dry, and look at your weed control. Apply the knowledge you have obtained on your farm over the years.”
  • Observe – “It is much better to monitor how your system is progressing when it is done with a group. Include your family and fellow farmers as it can subsequently bring better perspectives.” 
  • Support and learn – “Support your neighbour, your brother in agriculture, and learn from one another.”
  • Believe – “Believe that nature is correct and try to farm along with it as closely as possible. It is the faith that you are doing the right thing that helps make the difference.”

This agricultural practice was discussed in depth at the Landbouweekblad Regenerative Agriculture Conference in Reitz.

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