Since mentioning regenerative agriculture in a recent blog, this topic has taken on a life of its own. It looks like it’s time for a whole article on this subject.
What is Regenerative Agriculture?
According to Wikipedia, Regenerative Agriculture is a conservation and rehabilitation approach to food and farming systems. It focuses on topsoil regeneration, increasing biodiversity, improving the water cycle, enhancing ecosystem services, supporting bio-sequestration, increasing resilience to climate change and strengthening the health and vitality of farm soil. Practices include recycling as much farm waste as possible and adding composted material from sources outside the farm.
The theory is that tightly held herds of cattle, sheep or goats when strategically rotated and controlled through different paddocks can actually assist the soil and grassland. Apparently the animals’ pooh is mulched together with grass and other vegetation. The paddocks are then allowed to go fallow, with the composting mulch regenerating the soil and replenishing the grassland. The fields come out in even better shape if the fields are left fallow without any grazing at all.
What is the History?
The guru of Regenerative Agriculture is the appositely-named South African biologist Alan Savory. He spent decades trying to save open grazing land by removing herds of cattle and sheep, until he saw that this did not achieve results. This led him to the counter-intuitive conclusion that large grazing herds, when properly managed, benefit the soil and encourage regrowth. It’s best to let him speak for himself by watching the TEDTalk here.
SCU Offers a Course
In a global first, our own SCU campus in Lismore is offering a science degree in Regenerative Agriculture. It includes some heavyweights in the faculty: Dr Charles Massey, one of the ground-breaking leaders in the field and Bruce Pascoe, author of the award-winning Dark Emu, a rewriting of assumptions about pre-European Indigenous land use. You can see Massey’s work in this video. More info on the SCU degree can be found here.
This is going to be interesting in the coming decades. The average age of today’s farmer is over 70. Will the new generation of farmers revolutionise the way we use (and not abuse) the land and save the planet? Or will they be a bunch of hipsters with beards who have no idea how to grease a truck, fell camphor laurel or clear lantana?
Mullumbimby has a History in the ‘Farm Wars’
This radical form of farming is not new to Byron Shire. Much of the land around the corner Myocum Road and McAuley’s Lane was once owned by Colin Uebergang and his family. The family has owned a number of large rural holdings in southern Queensland and Northern NSW since the 1950s. On their Myocum property they established a tea-tree plantation and developed some of their alternative farming practices.
Very critical of the chemical and fertiliser merchants who he believed was killing the soil, Colin Uebergang wrote a book in the 1990s about the development of his farming practices called ‘Farm Wars – The Epic Lifetime Battle of an Australian Farmer’. It is available through the local library, or you can order it here.
There Are Questions
Coincidentally, the local family who now own this property are also advocates of Regenerative Agriculture. I put a couple of questions to them. If you have others please put them in the comments section below and I will post the answers provided.
Q. This farming practice may work on the vast African farmland or the steppes of Russia or North America, but Australia is different. We never had hard hooved animals on this land before European settlement. Does it work here?
A. Yes, it does. We have already altered the local landscape. It is not going to go back to how it was. This method will at least replenish the soil and provide nourished vegetation, but it will not be the same as it was before white settlement.
Q. It may be OK for grazing land and meat production, but will it suit the industrial broadacre farming necessary to feed a planet with a projected population of 10 billion people?
A. 70% of the food produced today is already farmed by villagers in small plots of land. It is the packaging and the food miles that create expense and waste. Smaller plots of integrated crops can feed a lot of people, even in the cities. Yes, it may be more labour intensive but it is definitely possible. People won’t starve.