Regenerative vs. Sustainable Agriculture

— Written By Janel Ohletz
en Español / em Português

El inglés es el idioma de control de esta página. En la medida en que haya algún conflicto entre la traducción al inglés y la traducción, el inglés prevalece.

Al hacer clic en el enlace de traducción se activa un servicio de traducción gratuito para convertir la página al español. Al igual que con cualquier traducción por Internet, la conversión no es sensible al contexto y puede que no traduzca el texto en su significado original. NC State Extension no garantiza la exactitud del texto traducido. Por favor, tenga en cuenta que algunas aplicaciones y/o servicios pueden no funcionar como se espera cuando se traducen.


Inglês é o idioma de controle desta página. Na medida que haja algum conflito entre o texto original em Inglês e a tradução, o Inglês prevalece.

Ao clicar no link de tradução, um serviço gratuito de tradução será ativado para converter a página para o Português. Como em qualquer tradução pela internet, a conversão não é sensivel ao contexto e pode não ocorrer a tradução para o significado orginal. O serviço de Extensão da Carolina do Norte (NC State Extension) não garante a exatidão do texto traduzido. Por favor, observe que algumas funções ou serviços podem não funcionar como esperado após a tradução.


English is the controlling language of this page. To the extent there is any conflict between the English text and the translation, English controls.

Clicking on the translation link activates a free translation service to convert the page to Spanish. As with any Internet translation, the conversion is not context-sensitive and may not translate the text to its original meaning. NC State Extension does not guarantee the accuracy of the translated text. Please note that some applications and/or services may not function as expected when translated.

Collapse ▲

In the past few years, the term ‘regenerative agriculture’ has been popping up in main stream media, featured as conference topics, farming initiatives, and embraced by large food companies such as General Mills and Wrangler Jeans. But what does the term mean? And how is this different than sustainable agriculture?

Currently, no official definition exists and confusion and claims abound with the use of the term. A recent review article in Frontiers in Sustainable Foods Systems brought much of this to light  (Newton et al, 2020). What we can say, in general, is that regenerative agriculture refers to a practice of farming and land use that aims to improve or restore the overall health of the soil, thereby increasing the soil’s capacity to sustain production and provide environmental benefits.

The main focus areas of regenerative agriculture are:

  • Conserve and rehabilitate the food and farming systems
  • Regenerate topsoil
  • Increase biodiversity
  • Improve the water cycle
  • Enhance ecosystem services
  • Support soil carbon storage

Sustainable agriculture, on the other hand, was loosely described in the 1990 Farm Bill as an integrated system of plant and animal production practices with site-specific applications that over the long term sustains economic stability, enhances environmental quality, efficiently utilizes resources, and provides benefits to society while providing food and fiber.

While there are subtle but important differences between sustainable agriculture which seeks to maintain and cease degradation of land, and regenerative agriculture which seeks to restore land, promote soil health, and provide ecosystem services– the general principles are the same. Both focus on building resilience to climate change and bringing strength and vitality to the soil through soil health practices.

One theme you may have noticed through all of this is that these practices center on the health of the soil. Soil (and water) is paramount to life on this planet.

Many of the production practices recommended under either of these systems are similar.

  • Use of cover crops to improve nutrient management and soil health by fostering a diverse soil microbial community.
  • Reduction of soil disturbance through no-till or conservation tillage practices halt top soil loss and improve drainage.
  • Crop rotation to reduce disease and insect pressure build-up and improved nutrient balance in soil.
  • Implementing precision agriculture practices that reduce inputs which reduces ecological impacts of pesticides and nutrient run-off.
  • Increase organic matter to improve water holding capacity and sequester atmospheric carbon into the soil.