Center for Regenerative Agriculture and Resilient Systems

The Language of Regenerative Agriculture—Terms You Should Know

Cow mooing

Welcome to the world of Regenerative Agriculture! Here's some help in learning to speak our language. This list of terms is being added to all the time. Let us know if there is something you wish was on the list. 

Adaptive multi-paddock grazing: a managed grazing technique where livestock is moved quickly through successively smaller paddocks, after which the land is given time to recover. 

Agroforestry: a land use management system that incorporates trees or shrubs among crops or pastureland to increase carbon sequestration while reducing soil erosion and increasing biodiversity and soil fertility. 

Animal integration: a regenerative practice that mimics nature by adding livestock to farming. The animals can eat the cover crops used to protect the soil while adding manure that improves soil health. 

Biochar: charcoal produced from plant matter and used as a soil amendment that aids in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. 

Biosequestration: the capture and storage of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by biological processes. 

Carbon cycle: how carbon compounds are processed in the environment, typically involving carbon dioxide being incorporated into plants and some other organisms by photosynthesis and returned to the atmosphere through respiration, the decay of dead organisms, and the burning of fossil fuels. 

Carbon sequestration: process by which carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere and held in plants, soils, geologic formations, and waterways. 

Cover crop: a crop planted primarily to avoid allowing the land to be bare between seasons, although the cover crop itself could have value as food for grazing animals or as another cash crop. It is used to stop soil erosion and maintain or improve soil fertility. 

Crop rotation: the agricultural practice of growing a series of different types of crops in the same location over the years so that the soil is not overly depleted of specific nutrients used by a single plant.  

Compost: the recycling of organic waste materials through decomposition into a nutrient-rich organic fertilizer that improves soil fertility and biodiversity and prevents soil erosion. 

Compost tea: a concentrated organic liquid fertilizer made by steeping biologically active compost in aerated water. 

Drawdown: when greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere decline, a goal for reversing climate change. 

Ecological restoration: activity that attempts to return an ecosystem to an undisturbed natural state. 

Ecosystem services: benefits humans gain from the natural environment and from properly-functioning ecosystems (such as accessing clean drinking water or the natural pollination of crops). 

Food Justice: a wide variety of efforts growing in response to food insecurity and economic pressures that hamper access to healthy food. 

Food security: having dependable all-year access to safe, affordable food that is grown, raised, produced and transported in environmentally responsible ways. 

Food shed: a geographic area that supplies a population center with food. This includes where the food is produced, how it gets to the marketplace, where the marketplaces are, and who consumes it. 

Intercropping: growing two or more crops in close proximity. 

Legacy CO2: excess CO2 in the atmosphere already (as opposed to CO2 being added to it). 

Managed grazing: ranching practices that attempt to improve rangelands by imitating the natural activity of migratory herds that cluster tightly for protection (also called “mob grazing”). The livestock disturb the soil with their hooves while eating—naturally incorporating their manure— and then move on so the land is improved and less likely to be damaged. 

No-till farming: is a way of growing crops or pasture without disturbing the soil through plowing or overturning it. 

Rotational grazing: a managed grazing technique that moves livestock to fresh paddocks or pastures, allowing those already grazed to recover. 

Silvopasture: a Regenerative Agriculture practice that combines the use of trees and the grazing of domesticated animals in a way that benefits the soil and diversity of production. 

Soil aggregates: groups of soil particles that bind together more strongly than other soil particles. They provide small spaces that serve to both retain and exchange air and water. These spaces create areas of weakness through which plant roots can grow.  

Soil aggregate stability: a measure of soil structure that examines how well soil aggregates resist degradation in regards to water or wind erosion and other processes. Aggregates that fall apart too easily lead to soil erosion and infertility. 

Soil biota: microorganisms (bacteria and fungi, for example) and microscopic and macroscopic animals (protozoa and nematodes, etc.) that live in healthy soil interacting in beneficial ways with each other, plant roots, and the environment.  

Soil fertility: the ability of a soil to consistently sustain plant life of high quality and yield.  

Water-holding capacity: the ability of the soil to hold water. This is affected by soil aggregate stability and the amount of organic matter in the soil. One of the benefits of Regenerative Agriculture is improving the land’s ability to make use of the rainfall that occurs and eliminating topsoil degradation via water run-off.