What is Regenerative Organic Agriculture? How Can it Help The Fashion Industry

This article was written in collaboration with Gallant International Inc., world leaders in regenerative organic agriculture.

Regenerative Organic Agriculture is a dynamic progression that is reviving the indigenous ways of living. Every aspect of our existence is ornately linked in the regenerative perspective— how we treat our environment, what we eat, or what we wear. 

While we’re busy getting drenched in the wonders of market-ready products, we lose sight of the reality that almost all the raw components used for making the products come from nature, i.e. soil. Industries, unfortunately, rely on natural resources just a little too much to churn out commercial items.

Unsustainable farming practices over the years have caused a catastrophic drop in biodiversity fertility, which has resulted in toxic consequences, including massive soil quality loss. Soil degradation has accelerated in recent decades owing to intensive farming methods such as deforestation, overgrazing, intensive cultivation, forest fires, and construction activities. 

Regenerative farming soil erosion

Conventional agricultural practices are dangerously depleting our soils, causing sharp drops in the productivity of croplands and rangelands around the world.

Annually, soil erosion costs the world’s agricultural systems upwards of 36 billion tonnes of productive soil, and the economy about $400 billion. Research estimates that soil degradation has already left 52% of agricultural land as “moderately or severely affected”, and 33% of soils are currently “moderately to highly degraded” as a result of erosion, salinization, acidity, pollution, or compaction.

According to UNEP’s State of Finance for Nature report analysis, investments in nature-based solutions must total $8.1 trillion by 2050 to effectively address the triple interconnected challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss, and land degradation. And alongside this, a yearly investment increase from the current $133 billion (2020) to $400 billion by 2030 and $536 billion by 2050. 

Healthy soil is not only necessary for the production of nutritious food and raw materials, but it is also an essential weapon in the struggle against climate change.

Healthy soil is not only necessary for the production of nutritious food and raw materials, but it is also an essential weapon in the struggle against climate change. Plants absorb CO2 and transport it to their roots, then store them in the soil. However, damaged soil only spills carbon into the atmosphere, which adds to the terrible global warming levels we’re already facing.

In a nutshell, soils are a priceless non-renewable resource vital for the survival of every kind of species. It is responsible for almost everything mankind depends on to exist, not forgetting the 98.8% (approx) of the daily calories we consume. 

The need to place regeneration as the new frontier and commit to farming activities that support healing and sustainability is crucial more than ever, bringing us to regenerative organic agriculture. 

What is Regenerative Organic Agriculture? 

The name itself gives the meaning away— regenerative organic agriculture refers to a method of farming that replenishes soil by using techniques like cover crops, crop rotation, composting, and no-till farming.

Cover crop plantation nourishes the soil between harvests, crop rotation helps increase soil nutrients, and no-till or till-less farming protects seedbeds and prevents soil erosion. It also takes livestock into account by practicing rotational grazing— grazing for brief intervals before the animals are moved to other pasture lands. 

Regenerative Organic Vs Conventional Agriculture 

There are many different agricultural methods used worldwide, but to adapt to the explosive increase of population without endangering the ecological system, a transnational shift towards sustainable farming is imperative.

With the global total reaching almost eight billion people and growing, it is crucial to find the most efficient and cost-effective means of feeding everyone on the planet. 

Regenerative organic farming, unlike conventional farming, leans towards biological processes tailored to nourish the local environment without using intensive means of agriculture or inputs with negative impacts. Food production through regenerative farming methods is a natural process that offers several advantages for the environment, economy, and society.

Regenerative organic farming blends science, creativity, and traditions to foster equitable relationships and contribute to sustainable development as a whole. In simple terms, regenerative organic farming agriculture takes on a more holistic approach to farming as compared to conventional agriculture. 

Conventional agriculture is designed to boost farming productivity, but it does so at a high environmental cost. The main objective is to maximize potential crop production. There is an abusive usage of synthetic pesticides, genetically modified organisms, and a variety of other toxic commercial items.

Meanwhile, conventional agriculture is designed to boost farming productivity, but it does so at a high environmental cost. The main objective is to maximize potential crop production. There is an abusive usage of synthetic pesticides, genetically modified organisms, and a variety of other toxic commercial items. The maintenance of traditional farming degrades soil nutrients, ecological functions, and biodiversity. 

Let’s look closely at Regenerative Organic Agriculture

Regenerative organic agriculture coexists harmoniously with the environment and benefits everyone directly or indirectly impacted by it. Regenerative ways of farming imply sustainable agricultural methods that prioritize both financial gains and environmental safety. Because the concentration is on generating yields without harming the environment and its resources, it highlights the emphasis on sustainability. 

Regenerative agriculture

Regenerative Organic Farming Methods 

Regenerative organic farming concentrates on the efficiency and quality of the soil. Given that any kind of crop plantation can both withdraw and add soil nutrients, farmers use techniques that enhance the health and sustainability of their land. Among the more prominent regenerative organic farming methods include:

  • All year-round cover crops: Prevents bare soils and thus minimizes erosion by not leaving the land empty post-primary commercial crop harvests. It also provides chickens feed and grazing lands for cattle.
  • Biodiversity enhancement: Enhances the range of nutrients the soil receives from roots and natural decomposition. This also attracts insects that are natural pest predators, eliminating the need for using harmful pest-control pesticides. 
  • Crop rotation: Ensures soil profile balance by putting back in the soil for what is taken out.
  • No-tilling techniques: Drastically cuts down soil disturbance by using minimal digging and plowing, thereby preventing soil erosion and lowering carbon dioxide emissions. 
  • Integrating livestock: Creates an environment that incorporates both animals and crops. 
  • Reducing chemical inputs: Prevents toxic runoff from polluting rivers which has negative impacts on biodiversity.

The Benefits of Regenerative Organic Agriculture

Regenerative organic agriculture practices are designed to mimic natural ecosystems. It has ample advantages— it decreases waste, reduces CO2 emissions, and, most importantly, organically boosts soil fertility. 

Sustainable farming methods like no-tilling, crop rotation, cover crops, compost, and animal manures renew the soil and provide it with necessary nutrients without using hazardous agrochemicals.

No-tilling, in particular, has shown effective results, and studies show evidence. The till-less technique saves Macauley Farms $72 per acre in labor and equipment expenditures by eliminating 99% sediment losses. It has also helped the farm’s yearly net income grow by almost $25,000, representing a 135 percent return on investment using sustainable practices.

According to the latest studies across UK farms, planting seeds directly into the ground without disturbing the soil has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from food production by roughly one-third and enhance the capacity of the soil to store carbon.

According to the latest studies across UK farms, planting seeds directly into the ground without disturbing the soil has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from food production by roughly one-third and enhance the capacity of the soil to store carbon. Further, we see numerous instances of farmers who have benefited from no-till farming in the case studies by the American Farmland Trust.

Taking measures to prevent soil deterioration and giving it enough time to recover allows it to produce more organic matter and sequester more CO2 than it would with rigorous plowing or other disturbances. Additionally, regulating the grazing habits of the livestock living on the farms ensures their healthy diet, and dung composting contributes to improving soil fertility naturally. All of these enhance carbon deposits while drastically reducing waste.

Conventional agriculture is a major cause of global warming and is largely to blame for the long-term danger that climate change poses to the environment. IPCC’s assessment of climate change reveals that “agricultural, forestry, and other types of land use” are directly responsible for 23% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Regenerative agriculture, on the other hand, can help mitigate the risks by boosting soil organic matter. Higher soil organic matter reflects healthy soil and greater carbon storage capacity, all of which contributes to reducing climate change. Studies also show that healthy agricultural soils can absorb 250 million metric tonnes of GHGs yearly, comparable to 64 coal-fired power units. 

Scientific findings are clear that improved agricultural land management by implementing well-established techniques has the potential to both lower net greenhouse gas emissions and serve as a direct CO2 sink. While there is room for more research to prove causation, in the meantime, we can adopt the best strategies for a more sustainable future by continuing to learn from farms worldwide that are utilizing regenerative organic farming practices. By making important changes in the agriculture sector, we could eventually be able to prevent the inevitable turmoil heading our way. 

How Can Regenerative Organic Farming Be Used Within the Fiber Industry? 

The textile industry contributes significantly to pollution, which is attributable to the methods used in material extraction. Among the primary challenges is the discharge of toxic waste owing to the heavy use of hazardous chemicals. And this, according to Patagonia, can result in a one-fifth spike in the annual global gas emissions. Further, there are issues with packaging, solid waste production, toxic fumes from the dyeing, bleaching, & printing activities, wastewater treatment plant, noise pollution, etc. 

Regenerative organic agriculture cotton farming

Regenerative agricultural methods aim to repair the damages through improved soil health, less habitat destruction, less exploitation, freedom from hazardous chemicals, and fewer industrial farming consequences. By switching to natural fibers like regenerative organic cotton, we can significantly reduce the use of hazardous substances, resource consumption, and waste generation.

Regenerative agricultural methods aim to repair the damages through improved soil health, less habitat destruction, less exploitation, freedom from hazardous chemicals.

The supply chain operations will help in minimizing the industry’s casualties instead of worsening the existing problems. As a result, contributing to the growth of slow fashion, alongside boosting soil health, animal protection, and social and economic standing of the farmers & workers through social fairness measures.

Examples of Products Made from Regenerative Organic Cotton

Regenerative agriculture is where the idea of regenerative fashion emerges. This method focuses on taking an alternative approach to combat climate change. Cotton grown on regenerative organic farms has a reduced carbon content, reducing the overall environmental footprint of agricultural operations. 

Orgaic cotton Regenerative organic agriculture

Over the years, several visionary companies have introduced regenerative fibers to the market.

Contributing to building a regenerative fashion industry, some examples of regenerative organic cotton products include Tees by Patagonia and soon-to-be-launched Regenerative Organic Certified Backpacks by Terra Thread

Certification for Regenerative Organic Cotton Products:

Regenerative Organic Certified™ (ROC™), led by Regenerative Organic Alliance, seals any voids in organic certifications. It holds the highest agricultural standards and practices. To obtain the certification, applicants must already have a USDA organic certification or a comparable renowned organic certification. Some of the first brands and farms to have the label include Patagonia Provisions, Apricot Lane Farms, Nature’s Path, Dr. Bronner’s, Lotus Foods, and Sol Simple

The more recent names include Gallant International, a B Corp based in California that offers private label organic and fairtrade cotton products with a fully traceable + transparent supply chain with credible and measurable impact data. In February 2022, over 3500 acres of land were successfully transitioned to Regenerative Organic Certified™, making it one of the largest ROC projects in cotton globally. Currently, Gallant is offering custom organic cotton t-shirts and sustainable merch that are Regenerative Organic Certified™. 

Why The Fashion Industry Must Invest in Regenerative Organic Cotton 

  • Lower greenhouse gas emissions

One of the main triggers of global warming is human-caused greenhouse gasses, and modern agri-food systems produce about 31% of these emissions. Regenerative agriculture methods help in mitigating GHGs emissions by using holistic farming practices targeted to reverse the situation.

  • Fight climate change 

Regenerative organic farming techniques combine increased soil carbon sequestration and reduction in GHG emissions to fight climate change. 

  • Better yield outcome

Regenerative organic agriculture goes beyond organic farming. They are treated and cared for to be more resistant to extreme weather conditions. This results in a better crop output even under bad weather circumstances as compared to conventional farms. 

  • Combat droughts 

Regenerative organic agriculture focuses on rebuilding soil organic matter, which supports maximum soil moisture, water infiltration, and retention—as a result, increasing soil biodiversity and mitigating agricultural output losses from droughts. 

  • Revitalize grasslands

Grasslands make up 26% of the world’s land area and 70% of agricultural land. Unfortunately, most of them are in poor condition and unusable owing to degradation. Effective regenerative organic farming methods like holistically managed livestock grazing allow pasture recovery periods, thereby helping repair the grasslands. 

  • Promote biodiversity

Regenerative organic agriculture encourages versatile species which are advantageous for the farming industry and environmental sustainability. 

  • Increase nutritious value

The variety of farmed crops in regenerative organic farming produces more wholesome nutrition levels.

  • Strengthen local community 

Regenerative agriculture promotes local farming, which contributes to the growth of local communities & economies.

Wrapping Up: What is Regenerative Organic Agriculture?

While the regenerative method of textile production may still be fairly young, it’s expanding swiftly. International organizations and institutions around the world are working hard to make regenerative fiber mainstream. 

The ground-breaking work of the Regenerative Organic Alliance (ROA) is leading the way, shining a light on why regeneration is imperative in the fashion industry. Further, organizations like Fibershed’s producer directory are helping consumers find regenerative organic goods, from textiles to finished apparel. There are also elective courses emerging that teach about regenerative sourcing. The fashion industry as a whole needs rebuilding, and regenerative organic farming is just the beginning

More information on Regenerative Organic Farming can be found at Rodale and ROA.

Bethany
Bethany

Bethany Worthington BSc (Hons) (she/her) is the Sustainable Fashion Editor and Co-founder of Ecothes. She has a passion for the environment, and a long love of all things clothing, and combines those two interests with Ecothes. In her free time she loves dancing, hiking in the countryside, and laughing with friends.

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