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What is Regenerative Ag Anyways? Soil Health Principle 3

September 4, 2020

Principle 3 (of five) of healthy soil. -Build Diversity
The third Principle is to promote diversity in as many ways as you can. When you look out into nature, you don’t see mono-cultures (only one species planted) for acres and acres as we do in today’s modern Ag system.   Diversity helps all the plants, animals, and insects thrive making the circle of life easier to complete (cue the Lion King theme song).

Every pollinator, every forb, every flower, every species of plant life has something different to offer either the soil beneath it, or the animals that eat it, or the insect that does something to it (not every insect pollinates but does help a plant thrive). When we eliminate dozens of species of plants that can have a compound effect on a multitude of other things.

There are cool-season grasses, cool-season broadleaves, warm-season grasses, and warm-season broadleaves in terms of crops a farmer would plant. How often do we see acres and acres of corn and soybeans or wheat (especially in the Midwest)?

Each of these crop types influences and effects a field ecosystem in a different way. In a healthy pasture, you can find all four crop types and 140 different plant species would not be uncommon. If our farm were to grow a bunch of crops I would try and include all of those species in a crop rotation (and again never spraying or tilling the land). Having different species and crop types helps build soil and diversity - they go hand in hand, which in turn gives better crops with better yields that are stronger and less prone to disease. Today corn is so prone to many diseases because its there year after year in mass amounts so one particular parasite can get really good at attacking it. You simply don’t have those issues when you have multispecies and rotate types all the time. (The same goes for your garden- multiple species rotated in different areas of your garden from year to year will help disease resistance and diversity).

Our systems are actually more like soil than we think. We thrive off of diversity, a healthy balance of good bugs and bacteria, and our microbiome (our health system) is thrown off by foreign chemicals and doesn't like living off one food type.

Ecologist Dr. Tilman at the University of Minnesota has done some great research showing that synergies are compounded once plant life has reached 7-8 species. In other words, plant health, function, and biomass increase with diversity, and that circle of life thing becomes a beautiful thing.

I encourage you to look out into your own yard. If you have a pristine lawn with only one type of grass I encourage you to make up for it in your choices for landscaping. Adding things for pollinators and make your space dual purposed and grow some vegetables. I have an Aunt that lives in a small neighborhood with a small back yard and she didn’t want to take space away from her dog for a garden so she planted her vegetables within the bushes and her landscaping. It became part of the landscaping. Get creative and see how your little ecosystem can change!

Megan Wilcox