In the realm of agriculture, we often measure success by yields, profits, and productivity. These metrics undoubtedly matter, but there's another critical aspect that frequently goes unnoticed: natural capital. As a soil scientist with decades of experience in the field, I can attest to the profound impact natural capital has on agricultural sustainability, resilience, and profitability.
In this blog post, we'll explore what natural capital is, why it's essential, and how it forms the bedrock of regenerative agriculture – and true farm success.
Natural Capital: Beyond the Balance Sheet
Natural capital encompasses the Earth's resources and ecosystems that provide a wide array of services essential for life and economic activity. Think of it as the planet's primary assets: the soil, water, air, plants, and biodiversity that support all living organisms, including us humans. However, in our pursuit of productivity and profit, we often deplete or degrade these invaluable resources without realising the long–term consequences.
Soil health is the cornerstone of natural capital. Healthy soil teems with life, from microorganisms to earthworms, forming a dynamic ecosystem that sustains plant growth and nutrient cycling. It's no exaggeration to say that soil is the very foundation of our civilization (and all civilizations that went before).
The importance of regenerative agriculture in building natural capital
Now, let's connect the dots between natural capital, regenerative agriculture, and the latest research findings. Regenerative agriculture is production system that focuses on soil security first with a holistic approach that aims to restore and enhance natural capital while also improving agricultural productivity. It's a win-win strategy that recognizes that a healthy soil and environment is the key to a prosperous farming future. It is consideration of environment and the linkages beyond the farm that regenerative agriculture goes further than conservation agriculture
One of the primary practices of regenerative agriculture applied to cropping is all the features of conservation agriculture including, no–till, controlled traffic and sophisticated crop rotation. These techniques reduce soil disturbance, minimises erosion, and enhances carbon sequestration. By not ploughing fields and using legumes in our rotational systems, we protect the delicate soil structure, fostering a thriving soil ecosystem that benefits both farmers and the environment. Similarly and somewhat easy for pasture based production, have multi-species (8-20) pastures and cell or mob grazing feeds the soil microbes improving infiltration and thereby reducing erosion.
Regenerative Agriculture has up to 20% of land given to multi-storied eco-corridors that connect riparian zones and local wildlife reserves across the district. The land is protected from cropping and regular grazing but economic value can be yielded from oils, bush foods and honey. The benefits to the farm are also significant, increased rainfall, wind breaks, fungal stores, home for the small insectivorous birds.
Recent research from the Farming for the Future program in Australia provides compelling evidence of the relationship between natural capital and farm performance. This study, conducted at an unprecedented scale, collected financial, ecological, and social data from 130 Australian farming enterprises. Here's what we've learned:
- High levels of farm productivity are possible from both intensive livestock enterprises and those with higher natural capital, but high natural capital farms are more profitable in financial terms.
- Different 'benefit pathways' exist through which natural capital can support farm businesses, including improving productivity and reducing input costs.
- Most relationships between natural capital and farm business performance observed in the study were positive and linear. This means that the majority of farms, including those in the broader farming population, could improve their business outcomes by enhancing their natural capital.
- Private financial benefits are a compelling reason for farmers to invest in natural capital improvements.
This research demonstrates that investing in natural capital isn't just an ecological and ethical imperative; it's also a sound financial decision. By nurturing and enhancing our natural capital assets, we can build more resilient, profitable, and sustainable farming systems. It's a path to prosperity that every farmer should consider, for the sake of our environment, our economies, and generations to come.
The relationship between soil carbon farming and building natural capital
It's crucial to highlight the powerful connection between building natural capital and soil carbon sequestration. Natural capital, as we've seen, includes the essential components of our environment, from healthy soils to abundant biodiversity. Among these components, carbon stands out as a natural capital superpower.
Carbon is integral to the health of our natural systems. Healthy soils act as a significant reservoir for carbon, capturing and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This process, known as soil carbon sequestration, not only helps mitigate climate change by stopping sensible heat as well as reducing the greenhouse gases but also nurtures the very foundation of agriculture: our soil.
Regenerative agriculture practices, like mob grazing on multi-species pastures and cover cropping and crop rotation, play a pivotal role in this carbon sequestration process. By adopting these practices, farmers enhance the capacity of their soils to store carbon. As carbon levels rise in the soil, it not only aids in climate change mitigation but also leads to improved soil structure, increased water-holding capacity, improved infiltration of rainfall and enhanced nutrient availability. These functions improve natural capital in the quality and base flow of creeks and rivers and reduced sediment load, reduced dusts storms and reduce extreme days
In essence, when we invest in building natural capital, we're not just safeguarding the future of farming; we're also harnessing the incredible power of carbon sequestration.This synergy between natural capital and soil carbon sequestration forms the cornerstone of regenerative agriculture—a sustainable path forward for farmers, the environment, and generations to come.
Ready to harness the power of regenerative agriculture and boost your farm's natural capital?
Then contact Ryzo today! Our team of experts, with a wealth of knowledge in soil science and agronomy, is here to help you take the first step towards healthier soils, increased profitability, and a resilient agricultural landscape.