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Soil health scientist says regenerative farming is the model of the future

Ray Archuleta, a certified soil health scientists, gives a presentation about the effects of soil health when farms are tilled at West Liberty-Salem High School
Alejandro Figueroa
/
WYSO
Ray Archuleta, a certified soil health scientists, gives a presentation about the effects of soil health when farms are tilled at West Liberty-Salem High School

Thursday, local farmers heard a pitch about the benefits of regenerative farming from Ray Archuleta, a soil health expert recently featured in the Netflix documentary Kiss the Ground. The film focuses on how modern, industrial farming is harming the planet, and how the industry can be improved.

Proponents of regenerative agriculture say it's an approach to farming that can rehabilitate damaged farmland soil.

“Our modern agriculture can produce huge, voluminous but very low quality food, and it's using huge and more and more energy all the time,” Archuleta said. “Our soils are becoming more and more degraded. It doesn't work. It is not the model that will feed the world.”

A study from the University of Colorado Boulder found that there's no single definition for regenerative farming. But the practice is based on principles such as increasing soil biodiversity, improving watersheds, and enhancing farm land ecosystems.

“You cannot have healthy animals and healthy plants without having a healthy soil,” Archuleta said. “I want people to understand that if we mimic nature, if we follow its design and its patterns, we can change the world.”

Archuleta wants farmers to consider regenerative farming because it replenishes topsoil eroded by years of tilling. He said more sustainable farming involves planting cover crops like radishes and buckwheat — plants that have deep roots and naturally fertilize the soil.

“The number one thing is to cover the soil surface with diverse plants,” Archuleta said. “Our soils are naked because they do not have their covering, they're hungry because the plants are not there to feed the microbes, and they're thirsty because the water is evaporating and going into the atmosphere.”

Other sustainable practices include drilling the seed into the ground instead of turning over the soil, and avoiding the overuse of chemical fertilizers.

Archuleta added that modern farming techniques are not only unsustainable, but they’re also ecologically damaging to areas beyond farmland.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, excess nitrogen — a type of chemical fertilizer — can be washed out by rain into local watersheds, and kill fish and other aquatic life.

He said it’s also important that consumers consider the impact of sustainable farming on the food they eat.

“You cannot have healthy animals and healthy plants without having a healthy soil,” Archuleta said. “I want people to understand that if we mimic nature, if we follow its design and its patterns, we can change the world.”

Alejandro Figueroa is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Support for WYSO's reporting on food and food insecurity in the Miami Valley comes from the CareSource Foundation.

Alejandro Figueroa covers food insecurity and the business of food for WYSO through Report for America — a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Alejandro particularly covers the lack of access to healthy and affordable food in Southwest Ohio communities, and what local government and nonprofits are doing to address it. He also covers rural and urban farming