Regenerative Techniques in Research

Posted: January 26th, 2021

- Nathan, the Land Manager

New Research from Rodale

I came across an interesting article on a relatively new pest to the East Coast of the United States recently.1 The article was written by several of the lead scientists at Rodale Institute, one of the oldest and most respected organic farming research organizations in the world. The pest in question, an Allium Leafminer2, showed up in Pennsylvania in recent growing seasons and is working its way down the east coast, destroying entire crops of onions and garlic. The researching scientists discussed various methods of organic control to help manage these insects, based on research they have conducted in the past season(s). 

As usual for Rodale, the research trials were well-conducted. The problem I have is this: we continue to believe that growing our target crops in long dirt rows, or worse yet, under non-recyclable, non-renewable plastic “mulches”, fits into this new regenerative paradigm. 

Image of alliums planted under plastic from the Rodale research fields.

A Regenerative Agriculture Primer

Regenerative agriculture is premised upon the effectiveness of naturally evolved systems in tackling problems like unfamiliar pests, changing climatic conditions, and whatever else the universe has to throw at it. We know that living roots attached to living plants ( i.e. plants that are photosynthesizing ) are an essential part of this system.

No living root or limited photosynthesis means no food to fuel the microbiology in maintaining the structure of a living soil.

Why, then, do we continue to act as though it is only by planting our target crop into soil devoid of competing roots that we can grow a successful crop?

Our Living Soil Experiment

This cognitive disconnect struck me last winter between our 2019 and 2020 growing seasons, and it was why we ultimately decided to grow our hemp this past year in rows still growing their living cover. We met with some success. 

We harvested enough high quality hemp flower to get us through this year of product making. Our extractor called the resulting oil some of the prettiest he’d ever seen. 

One of the prettiest hemp flowers we grew in 2020.

We also noticed a significant reduction in damage from armyworm larvae which we attributed in part to the increased predator populations observed within the hemp rows, presumably utilizing the intra-planted diversity. It would be interesting to see if this “protective quality” of hemp grown in living soil extends to defense against leaf mining insects.

Regenerative Agriculture is Hard but it Works

I’ll be the first to admit, farming without tillage is hard. We’ve been led to believe that only through mechanical means can we tame the landscape such that our seed can sprout, take hold and grow strong. This just isn’t true.

Hemp plants hidden in densely established covercrop.

Through our research here at RavenRidge, we are learning how to trade a little bit of productivity from each plant for higher ecosystem complexity, which leads to greater ecosystem stability overall. My boots are worn, but regenerative agriculture gives me hope for restabilizing our climate, and maintaining this place for our children, and many generations to come.

A pair of worn out boots. Used but not defeated.


References:

  1. https://rodaleinstitute.org/science/articles/organic-management-allium-leafminer-pest/

  2. Refer to wikipedia’s article on Leafminers for more background on this group of “pests” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leaf_miner

Learn more about Nathan

Nathan "The Land Manager " writes about regenerative agriculture and raising a son into a more sustainable world.

Full bio here.

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