Regenerative Agriculture (RA) claims to build soil organic carbon (SOC) and increase crop yields through simultaneous adoption of a suite of management practices which restore soil health. However, this claim is largely unevidenced as few studies of fully integrated regenerative systems are currently available. As a first step to addressing this knowledge gap, we here examine three practices now being promoted as part of RA: reducing tillage intensity, cover cropping and including a grass-based phase in arable rotations (ley-arable rotations). Our Bayesian meta-analysis of 195 paired SOC and crop yield observations from a systematic review of published studies finds statistically significant increases in SOC concentration for reduced tillage intensity (0.06 g C · 100 g−1) and ley-arable rotations (0.05 g C · 100−1 g yr−1 of ley) compared to conventional practice over an average study duration of 15 years, but no effect of cover crops. None of these practices reduce yield during cropping years, although we find no evidence of a win-win between increasing SOC and enhanced agricultural productivity following adoption. Future work should also evaluate the net greenhouse gas emission implications of each practice and potential for synergistic effects if RA practices are adopted in combination. Nevertheless, our results suggest that the RA practices investigated here can be promoted by land managers and policy makers without crop yield losses.
Bibliographical noteWe would like to thank R D Armstrong, S J Crittenden, J Deru, B Dumont, J Eriksen, C Garbisu, A Jacobs, T Kautz, H J Koch, B Mary, J Peigne and F Schulz for responding to requests for additional information on their studies, and Leo Petrokofsky for generating the online evidence map.
This work was supported by funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) (Grant No. BB/M011224/1). PCB would like to acknowledge funding by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) under Germany’s Excellence Strategy (EXC 2075–390740016).
© 2022 The Author(s). Published by IOP Publishing Ltd.
Data Availability StatementThe data that support the findings of this study
are openly available at the following URL/DOI:
- conservation agriculture
- soil organic matter
- sustainable intensification
- systematic review