Identifying Barriers to Regenerative Agriculture in Oregon
By Ruby Howard
All of us have read the alarming headlines about how agriculture is polluting the environment, depleting resources, and contributing to climate change. While traditional agricultural practices do contribute to all of these problems, regenerative agriculture can act as a powerful solution to those same problems.
I started my year-long fellowship at Willamette Partnership through the PSU Honors College Rosenbaum Service Leadership Scholars Program to learn more about nonprofits and complete a project that would be useful for the sponsoring organization. I chose to work with their Partner for Working Lands, Nicole Maness, as we shared a common interest in the relationship between the management of agricultural landscapes and ecosystem integrity. We spent our time discussing and learning about conservation on working lands and the politics, economics, and other enabling conditions behind regenerative agriculture. This turned into my main project: an analysis of the barriers that Oregon landowners face in their pursuit of transitioning to regenerative practices.
In writing this report, my main question was: what barriers exist for Oregon farmers and ranchers that prevent them from transitioning to more regenerative practices? The report is organized into six categories: political barriers, outsized pressure to grow, financial disincentives, land access, technical assistance, and cultural barriers which most widely recognized barriers fall within.
After going through as many relevant reports I could get my hands on, a few overarching themes, aside from the barriers themselves, became clear. The barriers to transitioning to regenerative agriculture are wide and varied. They are extremely interconnected and will likely need to be addressed simultaneously. Solutions will require many people from different fields to work on one small piece of the puzzle until together we create a more hospitable climate for transformation to take hold.
Additionally, I encountered many exciting, innovative, and hopeful solutions to target these barriers that are being piloted across the country that did not fit within the confines of the report. Regenerative agriculture can offer win-win solutions for farmers and ranchers, the environment, the public, and even agricultural lenders and insurers. Some solutions are already out there and need to be scaled, and others still need to be created. It is my hope that this paper helps illuminate the many avenues for participation in eliminating these barriers.
My experience at Willamette Partnership has been immensely valuable for my personal, academic, and professional growth. I have been able to hone my skills in research, writing and using these skills in a professional environment. It has helped me narrow my focus on avenues for future work and possible applications for my environmental science degree. It was an opportunity to work on something that I care deeply about and to feel as though I am contributing in a meaningful way. Finally, getting to know this team of kind and passionate people driving the organization’s innovative and vital work has given me hope for the future and that we can solve difficult problems that so often seem unsolvable.