For those that could make it to our Composts, Preps and soil biology field day, thanks for sharing this great day with us. We hope you got some great ideas and inspiration for your farm business? The following resources will allow you to continue your …
Tag: regenerative agriculture
I first met Shane Joyce in 1999 while I worked as a consultant in Queensland and he was working on the grazing management of his property in Central Queensland. This was well into his journey of learning about many different regenerative practices and applying them …
This is a collection of thoughts and ideas around creating a agriculture policy document aimed at promoting regenerative agriculture and its development in Australia. The original concept started as a conversation online between myself and a few other farmers, practitioners and educators about what we could do given we had an election looming. Could we put together a short sharp document that outlined what regenerative agriculture was and how it could benefit Australia. Benefit our farmers, our regional communities and all Australians to address climate change; improve the health and nourishment from our food; rebuild relationships and communities and for us to be more resilient in the face of continuing change. I wanted it to grab your interest and invite you to take what has been created and share it.
As I started to engage with others to develop the words for this agriculture policy, we discussed the principles of regenerative agriculture, what these mean and how they would benefit us all. We wanted to ensure it was a collaborative document and that it was available for all to share and use where ever they wanted to promote regenerative agriculture. We have tried to gather views and comments from others and by no means is this a finished document.
At the same time of developing this, the Southern Cross University Regenerative Agriculture Alliance invited a group of farmers, practitioners and educators to develop a similar document to present to our politicians as well. This is fantastic and we support this initiative and the more we have involved with talking about this prosperous future the better. What we present here is a way of trying to bring together good words that everyone involved with regenerative agriculture (that means everyone that eats!), can use for their personal advocacy with their local candidates to help them learn about regenerative agriculture, some of the ideas involved and what can help accelerate it. We are trying to build a narrative around the story of regenerative agriculture. The key to our future is everyone working together and being inclusive in how we operate – from the principles (see below) –> Focus on the role and partnerships of individuals and communities.
So here is what we came up with. The principles are there to allow all the tools we currently use, and may develop in the future, to provide for a regenerative future. The benefits outlined are a snap shop of what can be achieved if we apply the principles to our whole food system – which we are all part of. And the policy areas have been outlined as guides without trying to be specific to a solution – we are working with complex systems and there will be multiple options that can be developed to help facilitate use creating a new future.
Regenerative Agriculture – A way forward for Australian Farming and Regional Communities
Download a pdf copy here – Regenerative Agriculture Policy Brief 2019_Release
The recently released UN report on The State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture paints a grim picture of the loss of biodiversity caused by the most damaging practices of industrial agriculture. The UN reports that the greatest driver of negative effects on regulating and supporting ecosystem services is changes in land and water use and management. ‘Loss and degradation of forest and aquatic systems and, in many production systems, transition to intensive production of a reduced number of species, breeds and varieties, remain major drivers of loss of biodiversity for food and agriculture (BFA) and ecosystem services’ (FAO 2019).
The report asserts the urgent need to establish and strengthen enabling frameworks for the sustainable use and conservation of BFA, including by monitoring and assessing the impact of policies on BFA, and mainstreaming BFA into all relevant policy areas.
In Australia and elsewhere there are reports of an increase in biodiversity-friendly practices in food and agriculture, and regenerative agriculture is rapidly gaining attention and endorsement as a means of improving land and water use and management.
Regenerative agriculture is an approach to food and farming systems which aims to regenerate biodiversity, soil, solar, water and nutrient cycles, economies and communities. It aims to return soil carbon to levels that existed prior to the expansion of industrial grazing and cropping.
Depending on their specific contexts, regenerative farmers will use ideas from many fields to guide their decision making, with more being investigated, trailed and implemented all the time. There are however a set of underlying principles:
- It is holistic – it utilises holistic management and planning principles in its planning and application.
- It focuses on the soil and developing the biology and fertility of soils as the basis of the system.
- It is focused on abundance and resilience. By developing systems that mimic natural biodiverse ecosystems and natural processes, the whole system becomes more resilient in the face of climate change and other threats.
- There is a focus on polycultures, which can mean stacked enterprises, and diverse animal and plant species and breeds – actively seeking to mimic natural resilient systems and nurture the synergies that exist, between species, and within ecosystems.
- There is a focus on the whole food system from production to consumption and back again. The perfect outcome is those that loop “waste” back into the system for the next round, and a focus on nutrient cycling on farm is common.
- There is a focus on the role and partnerships of individuals and communities within the food system, and the supporting businesses and communities-actively seeking to strengthen the ‘culture’ of agriculture
- By focusing on the whole food system there is a development of re-connecting people with their food, and as a result, many regenerative farmers have a local supply model only.
For every 1% increase in soil carbon in the top 30cm of soil an additional 144,000 litres of water can be stored per hectare (Soil Carbon and Water by Christine Jones, and Morris, 2004). That is 14.4 litres of water for square metre (30cm deep) at 1% carbon.
- A soil that has 4% soil carbon can hold 57.6 litres of water per square metre of area.
- 1mm of rainfall is equal to 1 litre of water per square metre
- So at 4% soil carbon this soil can hold 57mm of rainfall
- At 1% the soil only holds 14mm of rainfall
By supporting the development, research and implementation of regenerative agriculture across Australia the following benefits can be realised:
- Increased soil carbon leading to increased water retention, better fertility, and consistent and reliable production from both grazing and cropping systems.
- Improved landscape hydrology by capturing and slowing water through the whole catchment – reducing the incidence of high-level floods from rainfall events, improving the water availability across the whole catchment, and producing more consistent water flows through the system –> therefore water is available across the catchment for longer, improving environmental flows and improved access to water for human endeavours.
- Improved opportunities for local and regional business development in production and value adding to food within the regions.
- Improved long-term sustainability and resilience of food and agriculture systems to ensure food security and food sovereignty into an unstable climate future.
Agriculture Policy Support Areas
To allow these benefits to flow, the following areas should be a focus of agriculture policy development and support of those already acting in this area. Policy should not aim to overtake these areas, but should look to support existing farmers and others working for regenerative agriculture – commercial and social enterprises, and research networks – to continue to foster the practice and technology of regenerative agriculture.
Focus on land management that improves soil health according to the following principles: (1) Keep soil covered, (2) Minimize soil disturbance on cropland and minimize external inputs, (3) Maximize biodiversity, (4) Maintain living roots, (5) Integrate animals including grazing animals, birds, beneficial insects and keystone species such as earthworms.
Review of sustainable land management policy to focus on regenerating landscape rather than “returning to a natural state”. Maintenance of the status quo (what it was like before the influence of humans, or before European settlement) does not provide for an abundant future with a growing population. A balanced approach is required to arrest the current total loss of biodiversity across the landscape of both “natural” and influenced environments.
Review of regulatory issues hindering the development of more locally and regionally-based food production and distribution. Regulation around the processing of products (especially meat and dairy) inhibit the development of a more regionally-based system.
Review competition policy to take into account the impact of larger national and international players in the food industry and their impact on local and regional competition.
Review regulation around food waste, packaging, and transportation of food to ensure the true costs of the utilisation of waste and the management and recycling of packaging is included in the costs of food. Many of these costs are hidden and transferred to farmers and the likes of local councils (and therefore state governments). Local government are responsible for the management, disposal, and recycling of materials with little return for the cost of these from those largely responsible for the production of this waste – food manufacturers and retail suppliers.
Review financial and investment guidelines/legislation in the context of regenerative agriculture to allow more flexible capital raising and financing options. Establish farm ownership incubation program to assist generational change in the farm capital sector. These incubator programs can guide new and young owners through all the steps in order secure investor support into these farms.
This document has been developed and distributed for use by anyone wanting to promote the development of regenerative agriculture in Australia and for the creation of a prosperous future.
Collaboration and support in the development of this document has been provided by these individuals and organisations.
To provide your support or for any questions please contact
Glen Chapman – Southern Blue Regenerative – glen at southernblue.com.au
Cindy Eiritz – Regenerate Earth – cindy at regenerate-earth.org
Glen Chapman, Glenn Morris, Cindy Eiritz, Charlie Arnott, Richard Makim,
Tammi Jonas, Carolyn Suggate, Sam Marwood, Craig Carter
Many times we encounter plants within our grazing and farming systems that we find undesirable. These are often classed as weeds, but over recent times I have stopped using the term weed as it implies that the plant is not useful. When environmental conditions within …
With an aim of developing a regenerative business, we work through our holistic planning process and need to decide on regenerative business models that fits our circumstance and our Holistic Context (Holistic Goal). The model that you choose needs to fit your requirements and may be very different to others around you.
Within a productive and resilient agricultural sector maybe we should mimic nature in having biodiversity of the types of regenerative business models and enterprises across the landscape. This allows the landscape and the agro-ecological system to be more resilient to changes in climate, markets, political and policy changes and social changes. As things change it impacts each business differently and so allow many more to survive. So you can have small farms and large farms, corporate and family owned, export focused, domestic focused and locally focused. And we also need to be willing to adjust our business model over time as our situation changes and most importantly change to one that satisfies your context for your family. We should also be open to new models.
I recently was in the UK and stayed at a farm B and B near Stonehenge. Before we arrived I had no idea about the farm we were visiting and we chose the location for a convenient place to stay for the night. On arrival we met the owners James and Harriet and soon worked out that we had close connections with Harriet having worked in our home town in Australia for a year previously. James offered to show me around “their farm” which I gladly accepted. Now the quoted “their farm” was because James and his family have been farmers for five generations on this land BUT have never owned the land. They are fifth generation of tenant farmers. This is something that is not really heard of in Australian. It was strange to drive around the more than 5000 acres of land they had with cropping enterprises and over 500 head of cattle (very big by UK standards) and realise that they did not own any of the land. The current owners are the Ministry of Defence, and for James that adds a level of complexity on top (like planting a crop and having tanks drive through it on training exercises). But for James and his family they are in the business of farming and not land ownership.
So, with the current drive for more young people to come back into farming, maybe we need to get our peak bodies and governments to support farming as a business separate to land? When we analyse and benchmark farm businesses we always separate the land business from the production business – your land business should be able to pay you a wage, pay for the use of the land and make a profit. Yes…all of those things!
Examples of Regenerative Business Models
There are other examples of grazing businesses that are separate from land ownership. Two we know from the US are Woolly Weeders – Napa Valley Lamb and Kaos Sheep Outfit (video below). Each of these businesses are focused on their production of a product with no land ownership. In the case of Woolly weeders they provide a weeding and mowing service which then produces a great meat product. Don Watson, the owner of Woolly Weeders, says that the partnership he has with land owners is win-win. They get a service at a cheaper cost to their “normal” management and he gets access to land to create a product.
Kaos Sheep Outfit also provides a similar service and discuss the similar win-win relationship that Don discusses. The added focus for them is looking at the ecological benefits that they are providing to the vineyard operation. And in this case they are staking enterprises onto land that provide a higher return then that would otherwise not be possible.
If you are a cattle producer then a great example of success of a production business on leased land is Greg Judy (No Risk Ranching). In his book he take you through the process and background to what he has done to be a successful cattle grazier on leased land. And I mean all the detail! This is a a fantastic book.
So what are the opportunities in Australia? Well there are examples of leasing for grazing that are around – Leasing land: one step closer to buying your own parcel – we also know of land in many areas laying vacant owned by overseas investors that are looking for secure long term investment and themselves not interested in running the farming business. So keep your eyes posted on land as you travel around and ask local agents about blocks you see – they always seem to know whats going on.
Jonai Farm and Meatsmiths in Australia is an example of a farm with a business model that is growing in grazing and food production. Tami and Stuart moved to their farm and and started their enterprise in 2011. This 69 hectare farm would be a very small one by Australian standards, but with a model that includes direct sale of product to a Community Support Agriculture (CSA) membership, on farm butchery and a variety of courses to engage with customers and other farms, Jonai has a business model that is profitable and completely transparent. Tami and Stuart have looked at their desired level of “wealth” and built a business that satisfies that in terms of dollars, plant outcomes and personal satisfaction. They gave a cap on the size of their CSA which then allows others to also participate in the delivery of food – so it is not a growth model business – a win-win regenerative business model.
[EDIT] A new venture with a different model is Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op – “In October 2018 we launched a brand new model that has made our farm much more productive while allowing us to take a less active role—the Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op (HOFC). HOFC is a collaboration of diverse organic farmers who lease land on our farm. They are passionate about learning their craft, feeding their community, and making direct and meaningful connections with their customers, for example through Community Supported Agriculture.” This co-op now has four business members all operating on the original farm land that Katie and Hugh transferred management to. A great example of thinking outside the box!
These are just a few examples of businesses and their regenerative business models that allow for a new way of thinking about what and how we do things in farming and in our communities. For more examples follow us on Facebook where we share stories of others that we meet from Australia and abroad.
Sometimes the impacts that supermarkets have had on our food supply are not always immediately evident. This article from The Monthly in 2014, highlighted the case in Tasmania and the effect of the dominance of the supermarkets and their buying behaviour has had on what was …
David R. Montgomery, University of Washington One of the biggest modern myths about agriculture is that organic farming is inherently sustainable. It can be, but it isn’t necessarily. After all, soil erosion from chemical-free tilled fields undermined the Roman Empire and other ancient societies around …
The term regenerative agriculture or regenerative farming has developed over the past 30 years. There are a few slight variations of the definition and as time goes by the definition is refined or expanded further to encompass all the elements as they develop. This development comes from research and innovation in systems and processes that contribute to regenerative agriculture.
For formal definitions of regenerative farming, the following give a good basis to start for those new to the concept. The first from Rodale who coined the term in the 1980s has a basis in organic agriculture.
“Regenerative organic agriculture improves the resources it uses, rather than destroying or depleting them. It is a holistic systems approach to agriculture that encourages continual on-farm innovation for environmental, social, economic and spiritual well-being.” – Rodale Institute
The following definition outlines some of the specifics a little more:
“Regenerative agriculture is any kind of farming that enables the restorative capacity of the earth. Regenerative agriculture preserves or improves the fertility of the soil, creates an abundance of food and other agricultural products, contributes to vibrant communities and equitable economies, and respects the ecology of the natural world. Fertile soil helps create nourishing food and, in turn, healthy people and robust communities.” Farmers without Borders
There a few key elements to regenerative agriculture that set it apart from some of our past systems:
- It is Holistic – it utilises holistic management and planning principles – ecology, people/social and economy. We consider our whole and the wholes around us that we connect, interact with and influence.
- It focuses on the soil and developing the biology and fertility of soils as the basis of the system. Many farmers change how they describe themselves and call themselves soil farmers. Following the 6 Principles of Soil Health focuses our activity.
- It is focused on abundance and resilience utilising Polycultures. By developing systems that mimic natural bio diverse ecosystems and natural processes, then as forces impact on the system, such as climate, it is able to survive and thrive in the face of those forces. This means many enterprises, animal types and plant species. In plants the focus is on mainly perennials that provide longevity and resilience to the system.
- Focus on the whole food system from production to consumption and back again. The perfect outcome is those that loop from food, to consumption and “waste”, returned to the system for the next round.
- Connections with producers and consumers. By focusing on the whole food system there is a development of connecting people with their food again and as a result, many regenerative farmers have a local supply model only, but it is more about connections with producers and consumers and the backward links or return loop.
- And finally, it is not based on growth for growth’s sake – this means many operations set a limit to their size based on the productive capacity of their land, the people and the community. This also allows for others to share in the prosperity of the system.
At Southern Blue Regenerative we also focus on multiplicity through the production and distribution system – that there are a variety of different farm types, operations, marketing methods and customers. Our aim is to investigate the variety of ways that regenerative agriculture practitioners are doing things. We look at the variety in the marketing and distribution of products from and as part of the farming system. We do this because we know that one size will not fit all. And that, based on a person’s, a couple’s or management team’s Holistic Goal the particular setup or operation and production system that fulfills their goal will be different.
An important part of Regenerative Agriculture is that it is about the whole food system, not just the production end. This means it concentrates on delivering food to consumers in a way that allows for choice and knowledge about the food they are eating.
If you are interested in finding out more about regenerative farming we run training programs including visits to case-study farms on a regular basis. See our Education section for more information on current farming tours and workshops and field days.