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Regenerative Alberta

Living Lab

  • Writer's pictureBarb Sheldon

Talking Regen Ag with Dr. Kris Nichols: Part 1 - The Pyramid

Updated: Sep 11, 2023

Barb sat down with Kris Nichols to ask her some questions about regenerative agriculture and the six principles of healthy soils. But before we get into the details of carbon flows and microorganisms, let’s talk about the graphic itself.

Kris created this pyramid to represent the ways that the six principles – maximizing photosynthesis, diversity, reduced inputs, livestock, reduced soil disturbance, and soil armor – relate to and depend on each other. Rather than a hierarchy, the pyramid design brings to mind the stability and integrity of three-dimensional, built pyramids. Each component is critical to the rest, from the foundation of the pyramid to the stone at the very top.

Regen ag is a systems approach, she explained, that acknowledges and strengthens the interconnectedness between all the levels and components of an ecosystem. With a regenerative approach, producers pay attention to the animals, plants and microbes within and on the soil and how they work together to maintain the agro-ecosystem.

Like the components of a pyramid, each principle of regenerative agriculture is deeply intertwined with the rest. In order to maximize photosynthesis, for example, producers need to plant a diversity of crops that can tolerate different seasons and weather conditions. When producers integrate hooved animals onto the field to eliminate weeds, they are not only using an alternative to artificial inputs but they are also reducing their need for tillage. A layer of soil armour, such as mulch and crop residue, doesn’t just help to protect the soil from disturbance and evaporation – it also improves microorganism populations and boosts soil diversity.

All of these principles work together to improve the health of the soil, plants, and ourselves, Kris explained.

In future parts of this ongoing series, Kris will cover the four components of the regenerative agriculture definition – integrated, intensive, innovative, and dynamic – and all six of the soil health principles.

Note: Some details have been edited since the original publication of this article and video.

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