Regenerative Ag: From Theory to Practice
Healthy soil lies at the foundation of regenerative
agricultural systems. Many fundamental processes such as decomposition and the cycling of nutrients, water, and carbon are mediated by the interaction between physics, biology, and chemistry within the soil. Maintaining well-functioning
ecological cycles is of the utmost importance, yet 36 billion tonnes of soil are lost annually due to land-degrading practices (White, 2020). The economic losses associated with declining soil quality and ecosystem services are massive and far-reaching; restoring health to agricultural systems is a major pathway for the current UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (Aronson et al., 2020).
The Sandown Center for Regenerative Agriculture offers a compelling vision for restoring soil quality and improving agricultural resilience in southern Vancouver Island. The project is centered on Sandown, a 95-acre property on the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) in North Saanich, British Columbia which formerly operated as a horse racing track from the 1950s until February 2011. Their group is in the early stages of creating a space that will grow food, educate new farmers, and develop regenerative land care strategies that will help to restore soil quality across the site. Their core initiatives are highlighted below.
These visions offer a compelling set of initiatives to foster agricultural resilience in southern Vancouver Island. There is currently little research or extension from the BC Ministry of Agriculture in the region despite it being a thriving agricultural area, and there is a strong need to develop land care techniques that are appropriate and effective (Crawford and MacNair, 2012). Before this can happen, however, there are several key challenges that must be addressed before the vision can be fully realized. These include:
– Minimal baseline data on the site to follow restoration goals
– Little current knowledge for how to best restore the site and increase its agricultural productivity
– Little current understanding of how to combine cover crops, livestock, and trees most optimally for the site
This is the proposed PhD research of Matthew Kyriakides who comes to UVic following a MSc at Wageningen University in the Netherlands where his research focused on practical approaches to restoration of ecological function.
Addressing these challenges and questions are prerequisite to identifying a path to success at Sandown.
Developing agricultural techniques which can improve soil quality and other ecosystem services is fundamental for the ecological and economic success of Sandown. Preliminary research identified the use of cover crops, integrated livestock management, agroforestry, and establishing native vegetation as land care techniques which could have a positive impact on soil quality. Adapting and showcasing these strategies will take significant research and development, though, as there is currently little appropriate information for the region.
Benefits of the proposed research to Sandown and the greater Capital District
This proposed project will assist the restoration of the former racetrack into a diverse and abundant agricultural landscape. Through implementing some of these land care techniques, Sandown can work towards developing land care techniques that can help regenerate degraded land and allow farmers to remain productive and adaptive to changing environmental conditions. The results of this research will provide a foundation for the economic development of Sandown as well as inspiration for regional farming practices (see below). It is fundamental that all recommendations are culturally relevant, practical, and appropriate for site conditions. The following questions will guide the development of this project:
The following questions will guide the development of this project:
1. What are the optimal combinations of integrated livestock management, cover crops, and agroforestry for restoring soil quality in Sandown?
2. Under what circumstances can native species be successfully incorporated into agricultural restoration techniques in Sandown?
3. Under what circumstances are introduced species preferable to native species for restoring soil quality in Sandown?
4. What is the minimum level of interventions necessary to achieve maximum benefits for soil quality?
The first phase of this research will consist of a broad environmental analysis of Sandown to establish a baseline against which all the experimental research will be measured. Multiple soil quality indicators will be examined for randomly chosen spots across the sites; the final list of samples will attempt to cover carbon, water, and nutrient cycling at Sandown.
The second phase will be conducted once the baseline has been completed. Combinations of cover crops, native vegetation establishment, integrated livestock management, and agroforestry will be experimentally introduced in Sandown. The effects of each of these techniques on soil quality indicators will be monitored closely for at least two years. The data will then be interpreted so that the most optimal management systems can be developed for Sandown.
What this project requires:
This proposed project provides many tangible benefits for the successful development of Sandown. However, applied research requires significant funding in order to succeed. This provisional outline shows a glimpse of the possibility of this project and will change according to the realities of finance and practicality. The following are urgently needed to fund this project to its full potential:
– Salary support for researcher.
Aronson, J., Goodwin, N., Orlando, L., Eisenberg, C., & Cross, A. T. (2020). A world of possibilities: six restoration strategies to support the United Nation's Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. Restoration Ecology, 28(4), 730-736.
Crawford, E. & MacNair, E. (2012). Livestock & Horticulture Crops: Vancouver Island Snapshot Report. BC Agriculture Climate Change Adaptation Risk and Opportunity Assessment Series. The British Columbia Agriculture & Food Climate Action Initiative.
White, C. (2020). Why Regenerative Agriculture? American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 79(3), 799-812.