Economics of Patience in Regenerative Agriculture

Economics of Patience in Regenerative Agriculture

To acknowledge that we don't know,

Is the beging of our knowing... SHall we be patient?

Economics of Patience in Regenerative Agriculture


The quest to make regenerative agriculture economically viable is noble. One that would help humanity continue its pathway towards reconciliation with our Mother and all of its beings. Providing an exciting pathway for the enthusiastic new generations while also supporting our elder farmers to transition towards a peaceful relationship with their land. Although urgent in nature, I would like to suggest that the patient pathway might be the most economically viable (and resilient) one…


It is fantastic that we live in a time with many success stories that continually contribute to the huge increase in interest and practice in a myriad forms of what can be called regenerative agriculture. Practitioners like Ernst Gotsch, Allan Savory, Mark Shepard, Joel Salatin, Fukuoka are some of the headliners in this quest. The sharing of their experiences are very powerful to continue to feed our creativity towards the possibility of a better world, but unfortunately we cannot solely rely on their inspiration and success in our individual pursuit for a viable regenerative agriculture enterprise. After all, their success is unique to their context and it is almost impossible to simply copy and paste what they do or have done as our context is certain to be different – environmentally, socially and economically.


Obviously, I have more questions than answers, but the more I practice, think and research, it becomes more and more obvious that any form of regenerative agriculture is extremely context specific, where the threefoldness (economy, environment and social) of its operations must come harmoniously together in order for it to be not only economically viable, but truly regenerative. That is, in my understanding, regenerative agriculture must;

  • Regenerate our soil and welcome all of nature's beings (environment);
  • Regenerate our dignity and creativity (social); and
  • Regenerate our trust-based relationships (economic).

So, how can we move towards bringing these three realms together in a harmonious balance? Maybe, we can start by trying to understand the forces at play and what we can do to work with them.


Complexities of Regenerative Agriculture


As I understand and experience, being a regenerative practitioner is the most complex of all professions, but perhaps the biggest challenge in making regenerative agriculture economically viable is the economic model that is currently in operation, which is degenerative by definition. The freedom of our economic model has dictated that economies of scale, or quantity-led economics, is the prevailing force and all qualitative variables are subjective and therefore not important. An apple is an apple, right?


Well, NO!!! Not for me at least…


A prevailing challenge of regenerative agriculture in its quest for economic viability is that its products are 100% about quality, not only the quality of the food but the quality of the interrelationships between all beings on this planet - based on mutual respect. Thus in order for regenerative agriculture to become economically viable, we need to find or create markets that value quality. And this may take a considerable amount of PATIENCE and communication!!


In the environmental realm, we must also understand the complexities of natural systems in general as well as the peculiarities of the ecosystems that “should’ be present in our unique landscapes. Only by understanding the qualities and capacities of our unique piece of land and how it fits the macro-landscape that we can truly conduct regenerative practices.


It is not a matter of simply applying principles and practices of a particular strand of regenerative agriculture anywhere/anytime, but deeply understanding how and when these principles are applied and how they need to be modified to fit a particular micro-climate and ecosystem. We must be clear that there are significantly different ecosystems that have evolved to become grasslands, heathlands, rain forests, etc. Therefore, it is only by understanding and incorporating the forces operating within these ecosystems into our productive landscapes that we would be able to call our agriculture truly regenerative…and this takes PATIENCE and lots of observation!!


Finally, the social aspect of regenerative agriculture, which should be its stronger pillar, that brings enthusiasm, resilience and creativity, is possibly its weakest. Perhaps because of the very strong economical and environmental forces currently in operation, which tend to pull our attention towards paying our bills while being remorseful towards our impact on the environment. It seems to me that the social realm has been left unattended.


The result of this less than ideal attention being paid to the humanity side of regeneration, is more often than not, expressed in practitioners finding themselves amidst a complexity of never-ending chores that plays very heavily in our emotions and quality of life. While some have embarked on a journey that becomes less than satisfactory, as (business) plans do not translate well to reality. Others need to rely heavily on free labourers like volunteers and WWOOFers to be able to conduct an "economically viable enterprise", often based on a questionable exchange for knowledge and experience. Thus, it seems that understanding all the skills, workload and emotions involved within regenerative practices is paramount, and this takes PATIENCE and lots of trial and error.


Economically, Emotionally and Ecologically Viable Agriculture


Regenerative agriculture, for me, is thus the pursuit for an Economically, Emotionally and Ecologically Viable Agriculture (E3 Agriculture) one that brings economy, environment and humans into a balanced, flexible, unique and ever-evolving relationship.


Finding this synergistic balance takes time, and we must not forget that all the regen farmers that we admire have not got there overnight, but have been trying to find better answers to their questions for a considerable amount of time.


Recently, I've heard that the regenerative pathway takes about 8 years for the threefoldness to come together harmoniously. I am not sure on the accuracy of this timeframe, but I am aware that it must not be 8 years thinking about it, but 8 years of doing and acting upon these realms with an open mind that is always asking how can things be done better. It is basically a never ending questioning process in which a question is answered by a better question ... perpetually!!


Some of the questions that I have been asking are:

  • What is regeneration and how can we measure it or know that we are moving towards it?
  • What ecosystem forces have evolved on my land and how can I apply them towards regeneration and productivity?
  • What can I produce, at the current quantity and quality of life on my land, with minimal external inputs?
  • What could I produce when the regenerative process has moved on and my land is more alive?
  • Is producing for my family a good starting process towards a regenerative enterprise?
  • What vocation and skills do I have? Which ones do I need to bring in or upskill?
  • Who are my consumers and how can I start to form a supportive and reciprocal relationship with them?
  • What is the smallest representative plot for what I would like to grow commercially? Can I start implementing it and understanding its realities and complexities?
  • Where is my unique synergistic point (or region of convergence) between economy, environment and myself (family)?

Perhaps, regenerative agriculture is much more artistic than one might like to admit, as it expands onto subjective realms of quality, vocation, values, etc. Here, the old motto that “we need to spend money to make money” may not be so applicable and it might need to be renewed for something like “we must know ourselves, our land and our relationships for money to emerge”.


The complex and qualitative nature of regenerative agriculture might blur the pathway of success, but there are very tangible outcomes that can help to inform us if we are on the right pathway, these are (framed as questions):

  • Is there more quality and quantity of life around me and into my soils?
  • Am I bringing less external inputs (fertilizers, irrigation, chemical, etc.) to keep productivity levels?
  • Do I feel more energised and enthusiastic about it?
  • Does the food I am growing taste better and make me feel more alive?
  • Am I forming stable, reciprocal and supportive relationships?

In an era where things are measured in days, hours, minutes, seconds and even nanoseconds we need to find a new relationship with time, one that allows us to move from spectators to become co-creators with macro forces, and this might start with exercising our patience (and observation)…


I reckon we need to be patient! Be actively patient towards our unique regenerative pathway…



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