Regenerative farms 'producing more, opening new markets' while fighting climate change

A corn field next to Jesse Hall's farmhouse near Arlington, S.D.
A corn field next to Jesse Hall's farmhouse near Arlington, S.D. on Oct. 22, 2018. Hall uses regenerative agriculture practices on his 630 acre corn and soybean operation. Regenerative agriculture is a holistic type of farming that aims to improve soil and watershed health, improve biodiversity and more.
Dan Koeck for MPR News

A United Nations report released this summer warns the world must drastically change the way it produces food in order to meet emissions reduction goals. Some Minnesota farmers have already heeded that warning by adopting regenerative farming practices.

Mike Bredeson is an agroecologist with the Ecdysis Foundation. The agricultural research foundation is working with those farmers and large food companies to study and lift up regenerative techniques.

Bredeson told MPR chief meteorologist and Climate Cast host Paul Huttner the approach is more of a mindset than a prescriptive set of rules.

“When you think of terms such as organic farming, it’s easy to point to a designated list of characteristics [and] say, ‘This farm is certified organic and it meets these criteria,’” he said. “Regenerative farming, instead of a certain bar to be reached, they’re on this pathway of always improving the land that they’re managing. They know that if they’re using two pesticide applications right now, their goal is to reduce that to one application and eventually eliminate that application totally.”

Create a More Connected Minnesota

MPR News is your trusted resource for the news you need. With your support, MPR News brings accessible, courageous journalism and authentic conversation to everyone - free of paywalls and barriers. Your gift makes a difference.

The approach also includes planting cover crops, which take the place of commodity crops such as corn and soybeans during the off-season. Plants capture carbon when they photosynthesize, so cover crops put the land to work fighting climate change when it typically wouldn’t. They also help keep the soil intact, which also stores carbon.

Bredeson said regenerative agriculture pays off for both the environment and the farmer. Land farmed with regenerative practices does a better job of capturing rain water and holding on to nutrients, meaning less cost for the farmer.

“They’re not only producing as much or more, they’re seeing that by producing and using cover crops, they’re opening up more markets,” Bredeson said.

To hear more of this conversation, hit play on the audio player above.