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Soil health and nutrient density: preliminary comparison of regenerative and conventional farming

Updated: Apr 26

Authors: (Montgomery et al., 2022)

Abstract: Several independent comparisons indicate regenerative farming practices enhance the nutritional profiles of crops and livestock. Measurements from paired farms across the United States indicate differences in soil health and crop nutrient density between fields worked with conventional (synthetically-fertilized and herbicide-treated) or regenerative practices for 5 to 10 years. Specifically, regenerative farms that combined no-till, cover crops, and diverse rotations—a system known as Conservation Agriculture—produced crops with higher soil organic matter levels, soil health scores, and levels of certain vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. In addition, crops from two regenerative no-till vegetable farms, one in California and the other in Connecticut, had higher levels of phytochemicals than values reported previously from New York supermarkets. Moreover, a comparison of wheat from adjacent regenerative and conventional no-till fields in northern Oregon found a higher density of mineral micronutrients in the regenerative crop. Finally, a comparison of the unsaturated fatty acid profile of beef and pork raised on one of the regenerative farms to a regional health-promoting brand and conventional meat from local supermarkets, found higher levels of omega-3 fats and a more health-beneficial ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats. Despite small sample sizes, all three crop comparisons show differences in micronutrient and phytochemical concentrations that suggest soil health is an under appreciated influence on nutrient density, particularly for phytochemicals not conventionally considered nutrients but nonetheless relevant to chronic disease prevention. Likewise, regenerative grazing practices produced meat with a better fatty acid profile than conventional and regional health-promoting brands. Together these comparisons offer preliminary support for the conclusion that regenerative soil-building farming practices can enhance the nutritional profile of conventionally grown plant and animal foods.


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