A case in which more really is more

Regenerative farms consider diversity both above and below ground as important to maintain nature’s systems in balance. Biodiversity relates to crops, animals, soil microbiota and even fungi.

Regenerative farms:
  • Plant multi-species crops and cover-crops.
  • Protect soil microbiota by keeping soil covered.
  • Photography included
  • Invite interactions with other living things, such as birds and insects, that play a role in the farm ecosystem.
A regenerative farm breaks the mould of broadacre monoculture by seeking diversity in income streams, using organic waste on-site, and establishing a mixed landscape of productive and conservation zones.

Biodiversity Above Ground

You could say, there are diverse types of diversity
Three kinds of diversity are particularly important to regenerative farms:
A wide variety of crops and cover crops are planted as part of regenerative agriculture practice because they create a ‘layering’ effect - by providing habitat at multiple levels and in different pockets in the landscape to encourage healthy populations of living things that keep the ecosystem working.

Think not only of birds and pollinators, but of bats, reptiles, marsupials and all the other animals whose chewing, digging, nectar-eating – and whose dead carcasses in the soil – make the ecosystem go ‘round.

Biodiversity Below Ground

Filling more of the niches – by design
Keeping the soil covered with multiple species benefits the soil ecosystem because different species of plants support and even feed each other. Some plants shade others, others help increase soil moisture, and some plants that fix nitrogen feed their neighbours.

‍When planted in proximity to each other, different species can create a microbial bridge, connecting them together. In this way, one plant (through its microbes)can provide nutrients or water resources to another plant that would nototherwise have access to them. Both plants benefit. 

When plants are pruned, cropped, slashed or grazed, corresponding roots on the plant die back. These root exudates feed the soil by providing a flush of carbon to the microorganisms in the soil.Diverse species of plants support a diverse ecosystem of microbes, making full use of the soil and filling all of nature’s niches.

Livestock and Biodiversity

A balance of density, time and design
Livestock can help a regenerative farm system to put back into – regenerate – the land. Animals graze, causing root die-back and carbon to be released into the soil. Animal manures contain food for microbes, and the pressing and scratching of animal feet helps to incorporate this matter into the soil.

It’s not so simple as allowing the cows to settle in and get grazing, however. Livestock integration needs to be carefully designed for each regenerative farm, taking into account the slope and aspect (and likely erosion events), size and weight of species, soil structure and risk of compaction.

Often, several species are grazed in ‘rotation’. This doesn’t mean the animals spin, it means different species are each given a turn at the resources in a paddock then moved away. They eat different plants, produce different nutrients and microbes in their manure, attract different insects, and behave differently.

Timing is everything: pastures must rest completely before livestock and allowed back in again.

Biodiversity in the Ecosystem

Protecting populations and communities
We said that biodiversity consists of genetic, species and ecosystem diversity.

This means that it is as important to preserve many different communities and populations of plants and animals – some will be more robust to disease and pests than others. Encouraging many species to live on the farm helps keep the system working, above and below ground.

Regenerative agriculture approaches also conserve areas of native bushland, revegetating areas of the farm for soil cover, erosion protection, wind and sun protection, and habitat creation. This supports genetic, species and ecosystem diversity, creating small ecosystems such as riparian habitats, wetlands and open woodland (or open shelter belts) – all of which create niches that living things will soon occupy.