Why Do We Need Regenerative Organic Agriculture?

Climate change is a complex problem that requires us to take serious action to reduce greenhouse gas emission and avoid further global temperature rise. Agriculture has a big role to play in the fight against climate change, even though it is currently responsible for approximately 10 percent of Canada’s annual greenhouse gas emissions. To realize this potential we need to significantly alter our food production systems to adapt to the effects of climate change and take action to reduce its impacts. That is what organic regenerative agriculture aims to achieve. Organic regenerative agriculture is a suite of alternative farming techniques designed to rebuild soil health and improve the surrounding ecosystem while still producing high quality food  This post will explore the role organic regenerative can play in Canada’s climate response.

Adaptation to Climate Change

There is widespread scientific agreement that human activity has significantly altered global temperatures, resulting in adverse weather effects like flooding, droughts and wildfire. While it’s important that we work to reduce the effects of climate change, it is important to acknowledge that our climate has already been dramatically altered for the rest of the century. Recent reports demonstrate global temperatures have already risen roughly 1℃  above pre-industrial levels and even if we effectively halted all global greenhouse gas emissions, global temperatures would plateau at an elevated level for decades to come. Adaptation, the process of adjusting to current and expected climate change events, is necessary as we work toward mitigating future impacts.

The impacts of climate change on agriculture are already noticeable in Canada, as seen in the rise  in storms, droughts, floods, heatwaves and pests. These extreme weather patterns cut into the profits of farmers and raise the prices of groceries for consumers. Cornell University has found that global agricultural productivity is 21 percent lower than it would have been if undisturbed by climate change. This is discouraging news since optimizing yields is essential to feeding the growing population. Climate change has been found to be particularly harmful to maize, wheat, rice and soybeans, crops that make up a significant portion of the world’s diet. 

Organic regenerative agriculture is capable of addressing the challenge of growing healthy crops in the face of climate change effects. Organic regenerative farming methods have been proven to produce highly resilient crops as a result of practices focussed on rebuilding soil health. Healthy soil is better at absorbing and holding water, which can limit the impacts of drought and flooding. Rodale Institute found that since 1981, organic regenerative farmers have produced yields that were up to 40 percent larger than their conventional counterparts in times of drought.  

The UN has outlined a series of recommended practices for farmers combating the difficult weather patterns created by climate change. Many of these practices are included among organic regenerative farming values and practices, including: 

  • Agroforestry: Using trees and shrubs in and around the farm to improve soil health, increase soil organic matter, nutrient availability and microbial activity
  • Crop Rotation, Crop Association and Fallowing: Replacing fertilizer use with other methods that improve nutrient cycling
  • Minimum Tillage or Zero-Tillage: Promoting minimum disturbance of soil structure to increase soil organic matter. 
  • Biological Control: Introducing natural enemies (insects) that feed on pests affecting the crop.

As we work towards GHG-reducing climate solutions, it is crucial that our food systems are designed to be resilient in the face of adverse weather conditions.


Water and topsoil are agricultural necessities. We need to protect and conserve these resources to ensure our survival—yet we are currently depleting both at an alarming rate. 

Conserving Soil 

One of the main causes of rapid soil erosion is intensive farming practices that degrade the soil’s health such as overgrazing and excessive tillage. It takes thousands of years to produce even three centimetres of topsoil. At the rate of current global soil erosion, we are expected to run out of topsoil in roughly 60 years. This will greatly limit our ability to grow food on previously arable land.

Unhealthy soil lacks a firm structure. Standard farming practices often leave land bare of vegetation for long periods of time, which increases soil’s vulnerability to wind and rain erosion. 40 percent of the soil used in agriculture around the world has been classified as degraded or seriously degraded. 

In addition to preserving the topsoil we have left through methods like cover cropping and crop rotations, we can also work to reverse the degradation that has already occurred. Organic Regenerative farming practices reduce soil erosion and help rebuild the soil’s structure and the soil’s ecosystem. A report released by Agronomy for Sustainable Development showed that reducing tillage and keeping the soil covered are effective ways to combat soil erosion. Both of these practices are cornerstones of organic regenerative farming. 

Conserving Water

We are already experiencing global disruptions in water supply as a result of climate change, which are expected to worsen in the near future. It is projected that as droughts become more common, half of the world’s population will be in water-stressed areas by 2025. This will prove particularly challenging for agriculture, which already uses more of our freshwater supply than any other activity and wastes most of it due to inefficiencies. Unhealthy soil can also pollute clean water supplies, as it carries harmful agrochemicals and fertilizers.

Even though it may not be explicit, organic regenerative agriculture and its focus on rebuilding soil health effectively prioritizes the health of surrounding water supplies The lack of agrochemicals and lower rates of erosion in organic regenerative farming helps to reduce water pollution.

Mitigating Climate Change

The climate crisis is one of the biggest challenges of our time. There is an urgent need to act quickly to avoid total climate disaster. There are many reasons to be excited about organic regenerative agriculture as a means of limiting the effects of climate change (known as climate mitigation). Organic regenerative agriculture can improve biodiversity, help clean water systems, improve farm profit margins and prevent soil erosion. 

Organic regenerative mitigation focuses on how  farming practices can remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere (by acting as carbon sinks) and reduce farm emissions through organic regenerative farming tactics. 

By drawing carbon out of the air through photosynthesis, agriculture can serve as a massive carbon sink. Soils represent the plant’s largest terrestrial organic carbon reservoir. Conventional agriculture practices do draw down some carbon, but this amount is significantly reduced from overall potential because the soil health has been significantly depleted. The world’s cultivated land has lost between 25 percent and 75 percent of its original carbon stocks: rebuilding those carbon stocks would result in substantial carbon drawdown. Evidence has shown that practices commonly used in organic regenerative farming result in increased carbon sequestration through rebuilding soil organic matter. The Rodale Institute estimates that over 100% of current global emissions could be sequestered in the soil through maximizing organic regenerative practices. 

While organic regenerative agriculture is not the only carbon capture technique available, it is a far cheaper alternative than expensive carbon capture technology and storage, which costs roughly $43-$95 per metric ton. Perhaps the technology will eventually become cheaper and more efficient at capturing carbon, but we cannot wait for “eventually.” Organic regenerative agriculture is an effective solution that is available now.

Closing Thoughts

Organic regenerative agriculture is a proven and effective means of climate change adaptation and mitigation. We’re on the brink of a climate disaster: global populations are growing, our ability to produce food is shrinking, temperatures are rising and the environment is permanently changing. Organic and regenerative systems offer agriculture a way to respond to conditions characterized by soil erosion, water pollution, severe weather events, and tight profit margins for farmers. Organic regenerative agriculture offers solutions to these issues and gives us a blueprint for rebuilding  our food production systems to better serve people and the planet. 

Curious about how soil and climate change interact? Find out in the next article in our series:

This knowledge article is part of our Organic Climate Solutions campaign. Check out OCO’s Organic Climate Solutions campaign, funded in part by the Government of Canada, to learn more about how farmers can reduce the environmental impact of agriculture and be part of the climate solution.

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