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Aerial view of a farm practicing regenerative agriculture
Jim Richardson/National Geographic Creative

The Rodale Institute farm in Kutztown, PA: 333 acres of formerly degraded farmland restored to productivity and biosequestration through regenerative agriculture.

Regenerative Annual Cropping

Reduce SourcesFood, Agriculture, and Land UseShift Agriculture Practices
Support SinksLand SinksShift Agriculture Practices
14.52–22.27
Gigatons
CO2 Equivalent
Reduced / Sequestered
(2020–2050)
$77.9–115.82
Billion $US
Net First Cost
(To Implement Solution)
$2.37–3.53
Trillion $US
Lifetime Net
Operational Savings
$135.8–206.4
Billion $US
Lifetime
Net Profit
Building on conservation agriculture with additional practices, regenerative annual cropping can include compost application, green manure, and organic production. It reduces emissions, increases soil organic matter, and sequesters carbon.

Solution Summary*

Conventional wisdom has long held that the world cannot be fed without chemicals and synthetic fertilizers. Evidence points to a new wisdom: The world cannot be fed unless the soil is fed. Regenerative agriculture enhances and sustains the health of the soil by restoring its carbon content, which in turn improves productivity—just the opposite of conventional agriculture.

Regenerative agricultural practices include:

  • no tillage,
  • diverse cover crops,
  • in-farm fertility (no external nutrients),
  • no pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, and
  • multiple crop rotations.

Together, these practices increase carbon-rich soil organic matter. The result: vital microbes proliferate, roots go deeper, nutrient uptake improves, water retention increases, plants are more pest resistant, and soil fertility compounds. Farms are seeing soil carbon levels rise from a baseline of 1 to 2 percent up to 5 to 8 percent over ten or more years, which can add up to 25 to 60 tons of carbon per acre.

It is estimated that at least 50 percent of the carbon in the earth’s soils has been released into the atmosphere over the past centuries. Bringing that carbon back home through regenerative agriculture is one of the greatest opportunities to address human and climate health, along with the financial well-being of farmers.

* excerpted from the book, Drawdown
Impact:

From an estimated 11.84 million hectares of current adoption, we estimate regenerative annual cropping to increase to a total of 221-322 million hectares by 2050. This rapid adoption is based in part on the historic growth rate of organic agriculture, as well as the projected conversion of conservation agriculture to regenerative annual cropping over time. This increase could result in a total reduction of 14.5-22.3 gigatons of carbon dioxide, from both sequestration and reduced emissions. Regenerative annual cropping could provide a $2.3-3.5 trillion lifetime operational cost savings and lifetime net profit gain of $135-206 billion on an investment of $79-116 billion.