Can you be a soil scientist and a regenerative agriculturalist? "clash of cultures" discussion

In the October edition of Down To Earth, we published, "A clash of cultures: why are soil scientists given a bad rap by some regenerative agriculturists?" by Prof. Robert White.

Building bridges between stakeholders with different perspectives helps to advance regenerative agriculture practice. One way of addressing contested issues is to provide opportunities to share and respect different opinions and understandings.

A lively discussion in the Soils for Life Facebook Group followed the publication of Prof. White's article. We welcome all thoughtful comments; we've attempted to do them justice selecting two constructive threads from the comments.

Diverse communities

A homogenous group of soil scientists does not exist. Several readers referred to Nicole Masters and Christine Jones as two soil scientists who identify as both soil scientists and as regenerative agriculturalists. There are many examples where soil scientists participate in mainstream academia and collaborate with farmers who are implementing regenerative principles such as integrating crops and livestock, increasing biodiversity, and enriching soil carbon. Soils For Life is a member of the Soils CRC (Cooperative Research Centre), a program supporting such collaborations.

One major project within the Soils CRC is a collaboration between scientists and a group of ten leading regenerative farmers to design and implement a research project.

We're looking forward to sharing the results of this innovative project.

Do these examples negate the "clash"? Probably not. They are helping to share knowledge and build a universal understanding.

The community of regenerative agriculturalists is equally as diverse as that of the soil scientists. There is no one view on whether it is necessary, or even appropriate, to use scientific data to prove the benefits of regenerative agriculture. On the one hand, those with a holistic emphasis on the physical, spiritual, and emotional elements of regenerative agriculture argue that reductionist approaches to science are unable to account for the systems perspective and do justice to the self- organising complex adaptive system. We may not yet have the tools to account for more holistic perspectives and the ecological basis of many regenerative practices. On the other hand, there are those who need proof to influence policymakers, neighbouring farmers, investors, and consumers. Both perspectives are valued and valid.

Soil formation

One thread of the discussion concerns the rate of soil formation. The comments in the Facebook discussion group illustrate how semantics can fuel the disconnect between soil scientists and regenerative agriculturalists. In this example, ‘soil formation’ is interpreted in two distinct ways and results in discord between some soil scientists and regenerative agriculturalists.

When referring to ‘regenerating topsoil,’ the rate of soil formation is orders of magnitude greater than if you are referring to ‘rock weathering into soil minerals.’ Identifying such distinctions can reduce conflict.

Building bridges

With a common focus on the role of carbon and soil biota in healthy soils, the overlap between the diverse soil science and regenerative agriculture communities is increasing. A variety of perspectives, be they grounded in science or lived experience, are useful when it comes to regenerating land. Respectful communication amongst all those with a stake in the future of our food and farming systems will enable progress in the quest for healthy soils, food, water and animals.

The Soils for Life comms team thanks all participants for your contribution to the Facebook discussion group. We encourage all stakeholders to stay engaged.