Center for Regenerative Agriculture and Resilient Systems

How Regenerative Agriculture Can Reduce Farmer Stress

by CRARS staff member Sheryl Karas MA

hands with soil

Farmers are under a lot of stress because of crop failures and challenging weather conditions. Even those who don’t want to believe in climate change know that drought is real, wildfires are devastating, spring is coming earlier, and surprising weather events are becoming more common. Although there was improvement in 2021(opens in new window), farmer debt and bankruptcies have been at near record highs(opens in new window) in recent years, and farmer suicide in the United States runs about 46% higher than the general population(opens in new window). That’s an increase of 40% in the last 20 years(opens in new window), and this same trend is echoed to varying degrees worldwide.

Farm Aid(opens in new window), a nonprofit that was created in 1985 to raise money for farmer support services, has noted a significant surge in calls to their hotline(opens in new window) from farmers in crisis from what they identify as climate change related emergencies(opens in new window). Now in 2022 their grantmaking priorities include farmer-led solutions to climate change including support to adopt resilient farming practices and transition to regenerative farming.

Regenerative Agriculture is based on multiple practices that can help a farm manage adverse weather events. Through the use of cover crops, crop rotation, mulch, low or no tillage, compost and/or animal integration, farmers can increase soil organic matter, health and fertility. That allows them to cut down and eventually eliminate most costly farm inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides. And by keeping the soil covered year round, the rainwater they do receive percolates deeper and at a higher rate while being retained in the soil longer. That means excessive run-off is eliminated and less irrigation is needed (if any). The run-off that does occur is relatively clean and safe, not laden with chemicals that can harm the greater environment.

Farmers who successfully transition to regenerative practices have been able to save the family farm. In fact, some of the most avid advocates(opens in new window) of this form of farming are people who turned to these methods(opens in new window) in order to do just that. Now they’re not only managing to survive, many of them are thriving! The ecosystem and carbon sequestration aspects are important, too, of course. But most farmers see it as a side benefit(opens in new window). Whether climate change exists or not, the ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and draw down excess carbon from the atmosphere are less tangible effects than the immediate impact of lowering costs and continuing to be able to farm.

Education and support to make the transition makes all the difference. Last month the Center for Regenerative Agriculture and Resilient Systems at Chico State University hosted the Soil Health Academy (SHA) at the University Farm. It was a resounding success with a diverse group of 60 people, from a wide range of professions and walks of life, gathering together to learn how to support the biology and functioning of the soil. Their enthusiasm was palpable and clearly in line with what the Academy has learned through their polling. According to SHA(opens in new window), 89 percent of the 100 people in their most recent poll indicated they were “more optimistic” about their future after having attended a SHA regenerative agriculture educational event. More than half of that group, were “significantly more optimistic.”

Learn more about more educational opportunities in regenerative agriculture at Chico State(opens in new window) and increase your hope and optimism as well. You’ll find everything from free information on our website to fully degreed programs for people desiring a career in agriculture, continuing education classes for lay people, and technical service provider training for professionals in the field.