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Close up of corn field.
Unruh Farm TNC is helping the Unruhs increase soil health, eliminate erosion, utilize fewer inputs of synthetic pesticides and fertilizer and increase carbon storage. © Neil Crescenti/TNC

Stories in Idaho

Growing a Sustainable Future for Idaho

Using regenerative agriculture to create a healthier future for people and nature.

Healthy Soil, Resilient Waters

When you think about conservation in Idaho, agriculture may not be the first thing that comes to mind. Yet, agriculture, an industry that touches nearly every aspect of life in Idaho, holds the potential to unlock solutions to some of our most complex environmental challenges.

Idaho leads the nation as the top producer of potatoes and commercial trout and is the third-largest water user in the U.S., due in part to irrigation. This means implementing sustainable, regenerative agricultural practices in Idaho is among the highest-potential strategies for protecting the environment and reducing climate impacts in the state. At the same time, improving soil health and water quality also supports the economic interests of Idaho’s large farming community that depends on healthy lands and freshwater.

With regenerative farming practices, we have the opportunity to create better economic and environmental conditions for Idaho's agriculture community that will last for future generations.

TNC agriculture strategy manager

In 2018, The Nature Conservancy launched the Healthy Soil, Resilient Waters program. This initiative brings together the ingenuity of the state’s farmers and TNC’s conservation experience to transform the way we use soil and water to grow food using regenerative farming practices.

TNC has continued to invest in this program by appointing Idaho native and long-time agriculture specialist, Brad Johnson, as the agriculture strategy manager. “Current agricultural practices are caught in a toxic cycle of high inputs of fertilizer, chemicals, and water while over-tilling the soil, which continues to degrade soil health, deplete water supplies, and affect our bottom line,” said Johnson. “With regenerative farming practices, we have the opportunity to create better economic and environmental conditions for Idaho’s agriculture community that will last for future generations.”

 

Graphic of agriculture icons.
Regenerative Agriculture Key Principles

Program information

The Key Principles

Regenerative Agriculture is a system of farming principles and practices that enriches soils, increases biodiversity, improves watersheds, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and preserves the livelihoods of farmers, now and in the long run.

TNC's program focuses on implementing six key principles of regenerative ag.

1. Soil Coverage

Soil coverage, also known as soil armor, in the form of cover crops or crop residue enhances soil health, reduces erosion and helps sequester carbon in the ground.

Regenerative Agriculture is a system of farming principles and practices that enriches soils, increases biodiversity, improves watersheds, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and preserves the livelihoods of farmers, now and in the long run.

TNC's program focuses on implementing six key principles of regenerative ag.

1. Soil Coverage

Soil coverage, also known as soil armor, in the form of cover crops or crop residue enhances soil health, reduces erosion and helps sequester carbon in the ground.

2.  Living Roots

Keeping a living root in the soil for as long as possible helps maintain soil structure, sequester carbon and promotes biodiversity.

3. Minimal Tillage

The goal of minimal tillage is to reduce the amount of soil disturbance to help build soil structure.

4. Diversity

Rotating crops, or growing multiple crops on the same field, can help control pests and disease, create biodiversity and even provide opportunities to diversity farm income.

5. Livestock

Integrating livestock increases nutrient cycling and microbial activity in the soil.

6. Context

Regenerative agriculture is not one-size-fits-all—it needs to be tailored to every farm’s unique context and climate.

 

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Program Goals

  • Mitigate climate change through regenerative farming techniques that restore soil, conserve water, and store more carbon in the ground.
  • Support the economic viability of Idaho's agriculture community by removing financial barriers to adopting sustainable practices.
  • Ensure a resilient water supply through improved water quality and quantity.
  • Demonstrate the environmental and economic benefits of regenerative practices, catalyzing widespread adoption across Idaho.
Hands holding a potato plant that has been pulled up to show the roots and tubers.
Idaho Potato Farm TNC is partnering with Idaho farmers to transform the way we use soil and water to grow food. © John Finnell

Scaling up Sustainable Change

We’re working directly with farmers to implement regenerative practices and launched a new demonstration farm in Twin Falls in Spring 2021. Farmers interested in regenerative agriculture will be able to tour the demonstration farms to see proven regenerative methods in action, such as no-till and cover crop planting. By partnering with farmers to absorb financial risks and remove barriers to adopting regenerative practices, TNC aims to scale up the number of regenerative farmlands to a critical tipping point that will catalyze sustainable change across the state.

Interested in learning about how regenerative agriculture could benefit your farm? Contact Brad Johnson, TNC’s agriculture strategy manager.

Using Nature to Fight Climate Change

The regenerative agriculture practices we are promoting are among the most powerful ways we can fight climate change in Idaho. For example, planting cover crops can increase the amount of carbon stored in the soil, and preventing excess fertilizer use can reduce emissions of nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas. Natural climate solutions like improved agriculture practices can reduce one fifth of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to a recently published peer-reviewed article in Science Advances.

In an agricultural state like Idaho, where agriculture forms a significant part of the state’s economy, a regenerative food system is one of our greatest opportunities—not just to protect nature, but to ensure thriving communities.