What’s Next for Sustainable Agriculture?
Beginning in 2003, Dr. Bronner’s committed to sourcing all major raw materials for its products from organic farms. It was apparent to the company’s leadership that industrial agriculture, with its unchecked use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, was doing great harm to our planet: from nitrogen and phosphorus-fueled dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico that are the result of fertilizer runoff, to colony collapse disorder in bees that is the result of the rampant use of neonicotinoid pesticides, industrial agriculture’s toll on ecosystems and wildlife is tragic in its scale and scope. Organic agriculture, which eschews use of chemicals, synthetic pesticides, GMOs and petroleum-based fertilizers, has provided a crucial alternative to the disaster of large-scale industrial agriculture.
Nearly 15 years later, the understanding of what constitutes good farming practices has come a long way. Farmers, scientists and activists are converging on the idea that organic agriculture must be not only sustainable but also regenerative: farmers must nurture the soil—the fundamental medium on which agriculture depends. The complex science of soil is advancing rapidly, and these new insights are revolutionizing our understanding of what sustainable and restorative agriculture should look like.
Healthy soils are host to an intricate web of life that includes plantroots, mycorrhizal fungi, bacteria, worms and insects. Soil is not merely dirt—an inert medium—but a dynamic living membrane. The life that thrives in the soil, once it decays, becomes soil organic matter, building up soil’s carbon content. This carbon-rich soil is able to retain more water and naturally nourish plants, helping the plants ward off pests and disease.
Regenerative organic agriculture is the idea that we must foster this rich soil ecosystem in every way possible. The methods for doing so are varied—they include minimal disturbance of the soil (conservation tillage), fertility-building cover crops, diverse crop rotations, compost and rotational grazing of farm animals. When used in combination, these methods have proven to be powerful tools not only for restoring soil fertility, but also for drawing down atmospheric carbon and sequestering it into the soil. While industrial agriculture as practiced today is one of the main drivers of greenhouse gasses and climate change, regenerative organic agriculture at global scale has the potential to sequester gigatons of carbon and mitigate climate change’s worst effects.