Regenerative agriculture and nutritional quality: Better monitoring and nutritional diagnostics needed to enhance understanding

By CM Tay

- Last updated on GMT

Regenerative agriculture and nutritional quality: Better monitoring and nutritional diagnostics needed to enhance understanding © Getty Images
Regenerative agriculture and nutritional quality: Better monitoring and nutritional diagnostics needed to enhance understanding © Getty Images

Related tags regenerative agriculture Nutrition

Innovation is needed to improve monitoring on farms and enhanced nutritional diagnostics are essential to get a better understanding of the relationship between regenerative agriculture (RA) and nutritional quality.

RA, characterised by nature-oriented agronomic methods aimed at bolstering soil health, minimising environmental harm and improving farmers’ livelihoods, has garnered attention for its potential to enhance crop nutritional content.

By promoting practices like cover cropping and reduced tillage, RA improves soil structure, increases organic matter and boosts nutrient content. This, in turn, leads to higher crop yields and more resilient farming systems.

Another important benefit of RA is carbon sequestration. Regenerative farming methods, such as agroforestry and the use of diverse crop rotations, help capture and store carbon in the soil, mitigating climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. RA also promotes bio-diversity. By avoiding the heavy use of pesticides and synthetic fertilisers, it creates a healthier environment for beneficial insects, birds, and wildlife, contributing to overall ecosystem resilience.

Furthermore, it often results in reduced input costs for farmers. With fewer chemical inputs and a focus on natural processes, RA can lead to lower expenses and increased profitability for farmers in the long run. At the same time, RA promotes water conservation. Techniques like mulching and improved ground cover reduce soil erosion and enhance water infiltration, helping to protect water quality and reduce the risk of drought.

Nonetheless, the comprehensive influence of RA on crop nutritional quality remains elusive. The complexity of RA practices, along with geographical and contextual variations, poses challenges in evaluating the magnitude and consistency of its effects on crop nutritional quality. The scarcity of studies for specific crops further contributes to the complexity.

Closing the gap

To address this knowledge gap, researchers in the UK conducted a scoping review involving a wide array of agronomic approaches under the RA umbrella. These approaches encompassed organic inputs, reduced tillage, inter-cropping, bio-stimulants and irrigation, with the specific tactics including the use of composts, cover crops and crop rotations.

Led by the University of Nottingham, the review covered scientific literature spanning from 2000 to 2021, with analysis delving into the effects of RA practices on crop micronutrient content and exploring the contexts in which these effects materialise. It focused on prominent food sources like tomato, wheat, rice, maize, pulses and alliums, analysing their nutritional profiles in response to RA practices.

Notable findings emerged, such as rice exhibiting increased grain zinc concentration under heightened organic inputs. Similarly, tomato fruit showed elevated vitamin C levels in around 50% of the studies involving increased organic inputs and 76% of those under deficit irrigation. This could be attributed to nutrient release from graminaceous cereals that benefited neighbouring non-graminaceous crops.

However, the study also illuminated challenges in pinpointing the precise magnitude of these effects due to factors like small sample sizes and diverse experimental conditions. The complexity of these interactions, particularly when compared across different environments, emerged as a key challenge.

The researchers concluded that the potential impact of RA on enhancing food quality, human nutrition and health warranted further exploration through meticulously designed research. To gain comprehensive insights into the relationship between RA and nutritional quality, improved monitoring on farms and enhanced nutritional diagnostics are essential.

Despite limitations in formal statistical analyses and substantial effect sizes, the findings underscore the potential transformative impact of RA-informed interventions in enhancing crop nutritional quality. As global concerns over micronutrient deficiencies persist, RA could emerge as a significant avenue to address this critical issue and contribute to a more sustainable and nutritious food system.

 

Source: National Center for Biotechnology Information

Do agronomic approaches aligned to regenerative agriculture improve the micronutrient concentrations of edible portions of crops? A scoping review of evidence

https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2023.1078667

Authors:​ Muneta Grace Manzeke-Kangara, et al​.

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