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Farming Pays Dividends

This past month, I helped plant 950 avocado trees on our family farm. As a team of 10, we worked 12-hour days planting the trees, setting up their infrastructure, and watering them in their new home. 

Farming is demanding work. It requires physical and mental strength and a certain tenacity. You must be comfortable with several types of risk (financial, climate, environmental, etc.) and maintain humor and curiosity throughout the whole experience.

The upfront investment to starting a farm is cumbersome and inaccessible to many. While grants and funding are more widely available to invite younger generations into the industry, monetary concerns are not the only impediment. Climate and environmental challenges also deter people from entering space. California, for example, had bizarre enough weather this year that our tax filing deadline was postponed to October; southern California had a blizzard in February and northern and central California faced extreme flooding. 

However, through farming we can also help rehabilitate Mother Earth and make our impact less destructive. Planting avocado trees results in several long-term environmental benefits, such as:

Carbon sequestration: Avocado trees, like most trees, are capable of absorbing and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through a process known as carbon sequestration. By planting trees, you are effectively creating a "carbon sink" that can help offset carbon emissions, mitigate climate change, and reduce your carbon footprint. 

Air purification: Trees act as natural air purifiers, filtering out pollutants from the air and releasing oxygen. Avocado trees can help improve air quality in Southern California by trapping airborne particulate matter and absorbing harmful gases, thereby reducing air pollution, and creating a healthier living environment. 

Water quality and conservation: Trees play a vital role in maintaining water quality by reducing runoff and erosion. When planted strategically, avocado trees can help prevent soil erosion, filter rainwater, and protect water bodies from pollution caused by runoff from urban areas.

Another way to help rehabilitate the earth as a farmer is through regenerative agriculture. By shifting our farming practices, and taking on the challenge, farming can pay more than just monetary dividends. 

Regenerative agriculture is an approach to farming that focuses on restoring and enhancing the health of the soil, biodiversity, and ecosystem services, while also promoting profitable and sustainable farm operations. Overall, regenerative agriculture can be financially beneficial for both small and large production farms in several ways. 

Increased Crop Yields: Regenerative agriculture practices, such as cover cropping, crop rotation, and reduced tillage, can improve soil health, which in turn can lead to higher crop yields. Healthy soils are more resilient to extreme weather events, have improved water retention, and are better able to supply essential nutrients to plants. Higher crop yields can result in increased revenue for farmers, as they can sell more crops at market prices. For example, a study conducted by the Rodale Institute, a leading research institution in regenerative agriculture, found that over a 30-year period, organic regenerative farming systems had 40% higher crop yields compared to conventional systems, resulting in increased profits for farmers. 

Reduced Input Costs: Regenerative agriculture emphasizes the use of natural and biological inputs, such as compost, cover crops, and integrated pest management, which can reduce the need for costly synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. This can result in significant cost savings for farmers over time. For example, a study published in the journal PLOS ONE found that farmers practicing regenerative agriculture reduced their input costs by 50% on average, resulting in higher profits.   

Diversified Income Streams: Regenerative agriculture encourages the diversification of farm enterprises, such as incorporating livestock, agroforestry, and value-added products. This can create additional income streams for farmers, reducing their reliance on a single crop or commodity, which can be financially risky due to fluctuating market prices. For example, a farmer practicing regenerative agriculture may integrate rotational grazing of livestock, which can provide income from meat sales in addition to crop sales, helping to stabilize overall farm income. 

Enhanced Soil Health and Long-term Sustainability: Regenerative agriculture practices focus on building and maintaining healthy soils, which can improve the long-term sustainability and resilience of the farm. Healthy soil requires less input and management over time, resulting in reduced costs and increased profitability. For example, practices such as no-till farming and cover cropping can increase soil organic matter, improve water infiltration, and reduce erosion, which can result in long-term cost savings for farmers. 

Access to Premium Markets: Consumer demand for sustainably produced food is on the rise, and many consumers are willing to pay a premium for products that are grown using regenerative agriculture practices. Farmers practicing regenerative agriculture may have access to premium markets, such as organic or regenerative certifications, which can command higher prices for their products, resulting in increased revenue. For example, a farmer who transitions from conventional to regenerative organic practices may be able to sell their products at a premium of 20% or more, resulting in higher profits. 

It is important to note that the financial benefits of regenerative agriculture may vary depending on factors such as farm size, location, crop type, and market demand. However, studies and real-world examples have shown that regenerative agriculture can be financially beneficial overall for both small and large production farms, by improving crop yields, reducing input costs, diversifying income streams, enhancing soil health, and accessing premium markets. 

My husband and I grow seasonal vegetables at home and have incorporated a few regenerative practices into our small farm. It has been a rewarding project with its own unique challenges and worth every blister for the best home-grown tomatoes I have ever had!

Happy Earth Day!

~ Rachel Bubb