How to make regenerative practices work on the farm: A modelling framework

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CONTEXT: Well-managed agricultural land can provide ecosystem services and contribute positively to the environment. Many of these services are mediated through the soil and are referred to as soil functions. Regenerative agriculture is a mode of agriculture that uses soil conservation as the entry point to regenerate and contribute to these ecosystem services, with the aspiration that this will enhance not only environmental, but also social and economic dimensions of food production. OBJECTIVE: The main objective of this paper is to create a modelling framework which allows the ex-ante redesign of diverse farming systems and assessment of ecosystem services associated with regenerative agriculture in diverse pedo-climatic conditions. METHODS: Within this modelling framework we combined two models (Soil Navigator (SN) and FarmDESIGN (FD)) to consider soil attributes at the field-scale and environmental and socio-economic outcomes at farm-scale. We used a Dutch dairy-farm as case-study to demonstrate how this framework can be used to assess associated ecosystem services and explore alternative farm configurations. RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS: Combining SN with FD indicated what ecosystem services could be improved in a local context. Together these models help to evaluate the impact of soil management practices as the basis for exploring the overall socio-economic and environmental sustainability of our dairy case-study farm. For our dairy case-study farm, we found a set of management practices that delivered four out of the five functions at a high capacity, at the expense of primary productivity (from high to medium) and farm profitability (from 55,620 to 40,720 € yr−1). The decline in primary productivity, however, causes an improvement in other ecosystem services such as, climate regulation (increased from medium to high) and the soil organic matter surplus (increased with 7%). While this study successfully demonstrated an initial combination of SN and FD models for the ex-ante redesign and assessment of farming systems towards regenerative agriculture, further model development is essential to widen the applicability of this study to include emerging farming practices and new indicators of sustainability that are measured over a longer period. SIGNIFICANCE: For regenerative agriculture to be meaningful for diverse farming systems, we need methods that give insight into the efficacy of regenerative management to meet multiple ecosystem services within local contexts. As such, our modelling framework can be used by researchers as a tool to help various stakeholders to assess and redesign farms based on the objectives of regenerative agriculture.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103371
JournalAgricultural Systems
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2022


  • Biodiversity
  • Carbon sequestration
  • Regenerative agriculture
  • Soil health
  • Sustainable agriculture
  • Sustainable development


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