Is regenerative agriculture the solution to drought?

by Arlene Barclay | Jul 31, 2023

Climate change is altering weather patterns around the world. We’re witnessing an unprecedented rise in droughts in some areas and devastating floods in others.

Since 2000, droughts have increased in occurrence by nearly 30%. It’s not only causing billions in economic damage but also dramatically impacting the lives of farmers.

Regenerative agriculture is emerging as a key solution to restore the soil. But the million euro question is: what does it mean for drought resilience?

In this blog, we’ll explore the risk currently posed by drought in Europe, how it’s impacting farmers, and regenerative agriculture’s potential to mitigate it.

THE IMPACT OF DROUGHT IN EUROPE

More than a quarter of Europe is currently experiencing drought

With the wound still raw from last year’s bone-dry summer, many people are reckoning with the prospect that this is the new norm rather than an extreme.

The Iberian peninsula has been hit particularly hard in recent years. According to the European Drought Observatory, 60% of the territory was under ‘alert’ conditions by June.

May was the hottest on record in Spain. Meanwhile, in Portugal, extreme heat has left soil scorched and crops shrivelled.

The combined drought indicator, based on precipitation, soil moisture and vegetation conditions. © EU 2023

A lack of water has affected produce in the middle of the growing season, stunting crops, drying up the soil, and resulting in low yields. The Spanish farmers association COAG forecasted that cereal crops will fail entirely in four regions this year.

Painful economic losses are expected for farmers. But they’re also concerned about the long-term consequences that years of drought will have on the land.

As we make our way through another searing summer, there’s a lot of uncertainty for farmers, but one thing is clear: something needs to change.

REGENERATIVE AGRICULTURE AND WATER SECURITY

Regenerative agriculture is an approach to farming that seeks to restore and enhance farm ecosystems.

It places a heavy premium on soil health while sequestering CO2 from the atmosphere, increasing farm biodiversity, and improving water management in the process.

The recent drive to mitigate the effects of climate change paired with the soil’s ability to draw down carbon from the atmosphere means farmers practising regenerative agriculture can generate Carbon+ Credits as they transition.

Healthy soils, rich in organic matter, play a critical role in increasing water retention and infiltration. A study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that for every 1% increase in organic matter, soils can hold up to 30,000 more litres of water per hectare.

Through soil aggregates, healthy soils act like a sponge. They absorb vast quantities of water that would otherwise run off and release it slowly during dry periods.

DROUGHT AND REGENERATIVE AGRICULTURE: FROM THE FIELD

There’s a lot of evidence pointing to regenerative agriculture’s potential to mitigate drought in academic studies. But how does that look in the real world?

Anne Rugemer manages Naturales del Sierro, a livestock farm implementing regenerative management in Southern Spain. According to Anne, regenerative agriculture has played an important role in limiting the effect of drought on her land.

She explains that despite record-breaking heat, “the groundwater reserves are better than we feared”. A variety of practices such as the voisin-style of rotational grazing, organic matter application and keeping the soil covered have increased the resilience of her land.

“Things have been tricky this year. But compared to other farms in the region where the situation is absolutely dramatic, we feel lucky and confident for the coming months.” – Anne Rugemer

For Juan Manuel, the owner of El Acorniquillo, one of his biggest challenges has been drought. As he puts it: ”‘We have won the war, but water continues to win some of the battles”.

Juan is utilising our Carbon+ Program to transition his farm to regenerative agriculture. He states that “with a new management approach, we see that the land and vegetation is also changing”.

This is perfectly depicted in a satellite image of his farm next to his neighbours.

“Through regenerative agriculture, the soil is healthier, so the water infiltration rate increases. By increasing the infiltration, you reduce erosion and produce more vegetation. In other words, every impact is positive. It’s as simple as that.” Juan Manuel, El Acorniquillo

THE CHALLENGE

The impact of drought is unprecedented. Farmers depend on water to produce food, fuel their businesses, and maintain the land.

With farmers like Yanniek of La Junquera experiencing 10 months of consistent drought, it feels like the odds are stacked against them. But still, they’ve managed to maintain some profits through regenerative management while most farmers have suffered major losses.

Sadly, the situation is only expected to worsen. Building resilience now is essential to ensure farmers are better positioned down the line.

According to Manuel Die, the manager of Herdade de Defesinhas, we need to actively listen to the land and change our approach. It’s the only viable option if we’re to ensure farms can survive the difficulties that lie ahead.

Through our Carbon+ Program, farmers can access support as they transition to a more resilient system.

Do you want support for implementing regenerative agriculture?

CLOSING REMARKS

We need to focus on the bigger picture. Long-term drought resilience will soon be a major priority for farmers, and regenerative agriculture is key to making this a reality.

By making the change now, farmers can ensure they’re not at the mercy of extreme weather conditions in the years to come.