Published 21.12.2022

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Regenerative agriculture in a Danish organic context

Minimal disturbance of the soil, ground cover and living roots all year round, maximum crop diversity, and integration of crop production and livestock husbandry are five defining principles of regenerative agriculture.

Regenerative means rebuilding, restoring, revitalizing, or re-creating, and in an agricultural context, it refers to restoring soil fertility. 

Regenerative agriculture is a relatively new concept and is not strictly defined. On the contrary, the concept is the starting point for a continuous discussion and exchange of agricultural practices across different farming systems, which can presumably or demonstrably regenerate the agricultural land, based on a hypothesis that central parts of general, modern agricultural practices degenerate the soil's natural fertility.

Regenerative agriculture is thus not equal to organic cultivation practices, even though several of the organic principles can be called regenerative.

Several definitions and lists of principles for regenerative agriculture exist, and the most frequently cited are these five principles:

  • Minimal disturbance to the soil
  • Soil cover all year round
  • Living roots all year round
  • Maximum crop diversity
  • Integration of plant breeding and animal husbandry

The regenerative principles in a Danish context

Many of the ideas and concepts on which the regenerative movement is based have been developed in parts of the world where the cultivation conditions are markedly different from those in Denmark.

At the Innovation Centre for Organic Farming, the regenerative principles have been adapted to a Danish context. Elements from definitions and citations that reach beyond the five main principles of regenerative agriculture have been included. Accordingly, the following five principles are identified as being particularly relevant: 

  • Minimal disturbance to the soil
  • Green plant cover all year round
  • Maximum diversity
  • Integration of livestock
  • Recirculation

Minimal disturbance to the soil

This principle is based on the notion that disturbing the soil minimally by tilling or applying certain types of fertilizers and pesticides will create a better starting point for living soil. 

Tillage disturbs the soil's micro- and macro life, where particularly earthworms are disturbed by the destruction of their permanent passages and root canals. When the soil is cultivated, the soil fungi are also disturbed, as fungal mycelia are destroyed when the soil is tilled.

In addition, it is commonly acknowledged that excessive or inappropriate tillage and heavy machinery can cause degraded soil structure, pressure damages, and plow soles.

Green plant cover all year round

This principle partly aims at protecting the soil surface against wind and water erosion, as well as reducing moisture and temperature fluctuations in the soil. In Denmark, a lot can be gained by ensuring a living plant cover all year round and thus ensuring that photosynthesis can take place for as large a part of the year as possible by cultivating under-sown and overwintering catch crops. 

The principle also aims at ensuring a food base is available for the living organisms in the soil through living plant roots and root exudates.

Maximizing the proportion of the year when plants are growing in an agricultural field also maximizes the input of food for living organisms in the soil and increases the amount of CO2 being absorbed and stored in the soil.

Maximum crop diversity

This principle is based on the assumption that "nature knows best", and that the natural starting point is robustness through complexity and diversity. This means that a diversity of species generates resilience and positive synergy effects that exceed the sum of the individual species' contribution to the ecosystem.

For example, plant diseases are often adapted to certain species and therefore have more difficulty spreading in multispecies cultivation systems than in monocultures.

The principle includes diversity above as well as below ground. Increasing the diversity of plant species above ground and thereby stimulating a root system with various root types create habitats for more micro-bial species and thus form the basis for higher underground diversity.

Likewise, a greater diversity of plants above ground generates, all things being equal, a greater diversity of organisms above ground.

Integration of livestock

This principle is based on the theory of holistic grazing and the belief that pastures and grazing animals have developed together through evolution and are (still) mutually dependent. The main aim is to exploit the advantages of animals grazing as a tool to improve soil fertility and generate positive environmental effects.

The principle also aims at operationalizing the previous principles and integrating grazing in the crop rotation to maintain production in the cultivated area while the soil can have a break from tillage and be covered by a greater diversity of plant species simultaneously than if annual crops were cultivated on the field. 

Organic plant production in general largely integrates livestock as regulations require that animals are outdoors for a certain part of the year, depending on the type of livestock.

A lot can be gained by integrating the animals even better into plant production and incorporating grazing in the crop rotation to take advantage of the beneficial effects the different species of livestock can have on the soil.

Of course, many practical measures must be taken into consideration, but with the help of technology, it may be possible to reach the goal. For poultry and pigs, it can e.g. be an option to use mobile stables.


Recirculation plays an important part when it comes to closing the nutrient cycle, thereby increasing the utilization of nutrients in the system, and reducing the need for external fertilizer inputs.

Large losses of nutrients in the system are a burden to the environment and climate, and by increasing recirculation and utilization of nutrients in the system, negative effects on the environment and climate can be reduced.

Adding composted biomass to the soil also improves the soil health, meaning recirculation of nutrients in combination with composting has positive effects on soil fertility.

At the Innovation Centre for Organic Farming, regenerative agriculture in an organic agricultural context will continue to be a focus area which will be investigated further e.g. by assessing the effects of regenerative cultivation practices on soil health, climate, and biodiversity via measurements, calculations and descriptions.