Tailor-made solutions for regenerative agriculture in the Netherlands

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Regenerative agriculture is a farming approach that uses soil health as the entry point to contribute to multiple objectives, such as improved nutrient cycling and climate regulation. To reach these objectives farmers can apply different practices. The objectives and practices, however, are not equally relevant or applicable for every farming system and local context.

The main objective of this paper, therefore, was to find out how tailor-made solutions towards regenerative agriculture can be identified and evaluated as such that they result in meaning-full advice for farmers.

In this study a well-established modelling framework to redesign farming systems was applied to three typical but diverse Dutch farming systems. The modelling framework combined the models Soil Navigator and FarmDESIGN to simultaneously assess five soil functions at field-level and general sustainability indicators (e.g. greenhouse gas emissions) at farm-level. We applied the modelling framework to an arable farm on clay soil, a dairy farm on peat soil, and a mixed farm on sand soil. We subsequently explored a multitude of tailor-made solutions composed of combinations of practices for these farming systems, each showing solutions that contributed in varying degrees towards the objectives of regenerative agriculture.

In total, we created 4000 alternative solutions per case-study farm. For all farming systems, environmental performance was improved in the solutions dominated by the use of regenerative practices. For example, for the arable, the dairy, and the mixed case-study farm, greenhouse gas emissions were reduced by 50% (from 4 to 2 Mg CO2 eq. ha−1), 6% (from 30 to 28 Mg CO2 eq. ha−1), and 23% (from 21 to 16 Mg CO2 eq. ha−1), respectively, while maintaining soil functionality at high capacity for four out of the five soil functions. This overall improvement in environmental performance due to the application of regenerative practices, also resulted in reduced farm profitability for all case-study farms by on average 50%. We discuss that a mechanism to incentivize farmers for their tailor-made contribution to regenerative agriculture is for stakeholders to shift focus from solely primary productivity to also other ecosystem services.

This study contributes to the wider implementation of regenerative agriculture, by showing which regenerative objectives and farming practices can contribute to the transition towards regenerative agriculture in contrasting contexts. The modelling framework that is used, can underpin regenerative management for farmers and other stakeholders to help, for example, the valorization of multiple regenerative objectives in business models.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103518
JournalAgricultural Systems
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2022


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