Regenerative Agriculture: Farming with Benefits

A new book Regenerative Agriculture: Farming with Benefits by Marianne Landzettel is reviewed by ORC’s Senior Agroforestry Researcher Colin Tosh.

I approached the book with a few misgivings. The cover said ‘textbook’ while the text and pictures said ‘travelogue’. Diving deeper revealed that is a bit of both. Many of the topics you would expect to find in a regenerative agriculture textbook are in there, but they are presented in an unconventional, personal, and accessible manner that will engage the reader. I really liked the book.

The author – a freelance journalist specialising in agriculture – travels across the US east and west coasts, the Midwest, and the High Plains  meeting and talking with the numerous progressive farmers, agricultural academics, and activists that have shaped regenerative agriculture in these regions. The book starts off with basic soil biology and then introduces the concepts of crop combinations, weeds as indicators of soil type, and agricultural knowledge exchange and community-based learning. Lessons are learned from the dustbowl years with information on how pasture and agroforestry can help maintain soil integrity. We can draw inspiration from how the Hawaiians are fighting back against the agrochemical industry through activism and community-based initiatives. Regenerative techniques such as optimal grazing and mob grazing, no-till systems, regenerative alternatives for weed control, cover crops and agroforestry are covered with their local modifications. The role of local food co-ops in maintaining local organic agriculture, organic meat production, the Dicamba crisis and GM-ready herbicides, and irrigation in arid regions are also themes. Finally, Landzettel looks to European regenerative agriculture and business models, and summarises in the context of the climate crisis.

The major innovation of the book is that these often quite complex concepts of regenerative agriculture are explained (with a little context from the author) through the voices and experiences of the people that she meets. This makes the book accessible, fast flowing, and enjoyable to ready and I think it is a technique that other agricultural books could benefit from. The author is also commended for sticking to the use of a plain and unpretentious language and writing style throughout.    

The overwhelming central theme of the book is the use of regenerative agriculture to prevent soil loss in arid, windswept agricultural regions and this may limit the relevance of the book to those in other climatic areas. On the other hand, increased aridity and soil loss to wind is a rising concern right across the world, so where better to learn about how to deal with this issue than where it is the number one issue for farmers? Given the reasonably large amount of discission of agricultural technique, I thought the book could have benefitted from a technical index for readers who want to access the book by topic.

This is a beginner-level book on regenerative agriculture that I can imagine a college tutor giving his/her students to read as a primer on the topic. The general public will find it an accessible page-turner with lots of interesting anecdotes and historical and social context to the agricultural concepts discussed. Farmers wanting to dip into regenerative agriculture for the first time will find this book useful; especially those farmers who are keen to combine learning with a good read. I highly recommend Regenerative Agriculture: Farming with Benefits by Marianne Landzettel.     

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