Four Types of Agriculture: Which Path Would You Take?

tlwdotcom-The Land World
4 min readDec 29, 2021


This is an important moment in human history: we have never expanded so rapidly, possess so many technologies, and have so much impact on the pla’s ecosystem. Agriculture has always been an important part of this, but agriculture itself is not the problem. The question is how do we view agriculture and how to solve the problems in agriculture. As the term “regenerative agriculture” has quickly become popular in the industry and on the Inter in recent years, it is time to explain: “What is regenerative agriculture?”

Here we will not explain the definition of regenerative agriculture itself, but compare it with other agricultural methods, with the goal of distinguishing their different characteristics, motivations and effects. None of these types of agriculture are “better” or “worse” than the others. Each has different complexity and systemic capabilities and influences, so there is no need to rank or make any form of moral judgment.

Extractive agriculture

The first type of agriculture, “extractive agriculture”, aims to extract value from the surrounding environment in order to achieve personal, family and social progress. A common effect of modern extractive agriculture is that the production capacity of the agricultural system declines over time, requiring increased mechanization and non-agricultural inputs to maintain high yields. In many cases, the huge financial cost of mechanization and high non-agricultural inputs will lead to increasing farm debts, while the ownership of agriculture and infrastructure is controlled by fewer and fewer large companies.

Conservation agriculture

Conservation agriculture aims to protect natural resources and reduce the negative impact of agriculture on the environment. Although maintaining a high level of agricultural productivity is important, the practice of respecting nature and reducing yield is sometimes seen as a necessary balance. Conservation agriculture is committed to preventing soil erosion, minimizing water consumption, and reducing the level of pollution on the farm. These are usually achieved by reducing the input of non-renewable resources, reducing environmentally harmful practices and innovative agricultural technologies. In this mode, efficiency is paramount. Practices such as precision agriculture, integrated pest management, and efficient irrigation have enabled farms to do more with less, and agricultural machinery is used to grow and manage crops more efficiently. Combined with digital monitoring and more targeted application of fertilizers, farmers can reduce input and cost.

Most agriculture that is advertised as “sustainable” has emerged from this conservative agricultural approach; the road to “sustainable” is almost always a gradual reduction in environmental damage. However, it is not impossible to reduce the negative impact of environmental damage to “zero”, but it is difficult to fully realize.

Positive agriculture

Positive agriculture aims to improve the quality and function of natural resources, and ultimately restore the agricultural ecosystem to a “healthy” state. The goal of this approach is to build soil, improve the health of the water cycle, increase biodiversity, and at the same time produce food for the community and provide economic well-being for farmers. The biggest goal of positive agriculture is to create wealth for humans and other species, and to make life “prosperous”, rather than simply “survival.”

Positive agriculture finds comprehensive solutions through conscious design and planning, rather than solving the problems of soil, water, plants, and animals in agriculture in a piecemeal manner. This integration enhances the synergistic effect of land and restores degraded agricultural ecosystems by rebuilding biodiversity.

Positive agriculture is usually human-centric: the earth is seen as a place that can become a garden of Eden for humans, or a place that can be “recovered” to its previous health. Here, agriculture is still outside of all life, and the farm is the object that needs key restoration. Although different levels of awareness have been brought into this system, it often seems difficult for practitioners of positive agriculture to transcend the functional viewpoint that only cares about the ecosystem.

Regenerative agriculture

In regenerative agriculture, each farm is considered based on the unique life systems and interrelationships in its environment. All the life and natural elements on the farm are regarded as a whole, rather than separating “something” from it.

Therefore, the ecological diversity of regenerative agriculture is inevitably a living genetic history, and unique crop varieties carry the narratives of climate change, human activities and the evolution of culinary culture. In addition to adopting solutions similar to those in positive-clean agriculture, such as building soil, improving water cycle health, increasing biodiversity, etc., a core element of regenerative agriculture is to enhance the absolute uniqueness of each place and each farm.

When a farm understands and resonates with its own essence, it becomes irreplaceable; and each farm should have its own personality, which cannot be copied. From the customer’s perspective, the product of each recycling farm should be considered a refined expression of its place. The wealth generated by these products can be reinvested in the health of farms, communities, and the overall local environment.

At the same time, regenerative agriculture and farm landscapes are not static. Regenerative agriculture also continuously develops new methods, novel ways of thinking and deeper ecological and social complexity through the relationship between farms and people. Because of this, regenerative agriculture can have a significant impact beyond the boundaries of the farm, and it has the ability to promote evolution on farms, enterprises, and even the entire industry, so as to improve the impact of lifestyle on the environment.

Regenerative agriculture is more like a “dynamic” balance, while other types of agriculture are static, and work and design are organized around “problems”. In comparison, regenerative agriculture focuses on the potential of each place that has not yet appeared, and its decision-making and planning orientation is to generate new potential in a healthy living system.

Regenerative agriculture also has some important constraints. First, it is necessary to change the thinking and working methods of agriculture. New philosophies and principles will eventually lead to different agricultural practices; however, focusing only on the practical part without addressing the rest of the agricultural system will only achieve short-term changes. On the contrary, basic agricultural thinking and decision-making methods must evolve, which is also the most difficult.

Agriculture needs transformation. Which path would you take?

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