The European Union must shift its farming policies to prioritize regenerative agriculture and expand the practice to a landscape scale, says a new report by the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council (EASAC).
“There seems to be a belief that regenerative agriculture can only be applied at small scale, and that making any changes to current industrial farming practices will make it impossible to feed a growing world population,” said Professor Thomas Elmqvist, one of the lead authors of EASAC’s report. “But the opposite is true: we have maybe a decade for a massive transformation. We need to get industrial farmers onboard and take a landscape perspective to reach the goals.”
Agricultural production systems “are currently severely threatening climate stability and ecosystem resilience, and constitute a large driver of environmental degradation,” EASAC warns in its introduction to the report. With soil restoration, carbon capture and storage, and reversal of biodiversity loss as its main components, regenerative agriculture is well-suited to help the continent meet its 2020 European Green Deal goal of transitioning EU agriculture towards a net 55% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and “making European food production the global standard for sustainability.”
“If we want to preserve biodiversity, expand food production and at the same time fight climate change, there is no alternative to regenerative agriculture,” Orsolya Valko of Hungary’s Institute of Ecology and Botany told Agriland.
EASAC finds that many regenerative practices “show synergies” between supporting food production and attaining environmental objectives, like carbon sequestration and enhancing biodiversity. Known conservation practices like reduced tillage or diversified cropping align with this idea, but modern plant and animal breeding technologies can also contribute to environmental objectives through limited, targeted use. The report suggests that EU regulators revisit gene editing for plant breeding, and also points to less controversial modern technologies like remote sensing based on satellite technology, precision farming and modern sensors, crop surveillance using drones, and virtual fencing.
A major drawback of regenerative agriculture is its limited development to address entire landscapes, even though many of the EU’s environmental aims like biodiversity operate at large scales. Stakeholders from public and private sectors must work together and redesign systems to expand regenerative agriculture if they hope to meeting environmental and climate objectives, the authors say. And EU member governments will have to prioritize regenerative policies and take stronger action to support them.
“We need sharp policies and sharp economic instruments,” said Elmqvist. “Targeting the farm scale is insufficient. Financial schemes should also benefit communities and associations of farmers managing landscapes in a coordinated way.”