An era of regeneration in Australian agriculture is emerging



Amid growing evidence and awareness of the impact of industrial agriculture on the environment, climate, public health, farming communities and local economies, an ‘underground insurgency’ as it is called Charles Massy, ​​transforms the practice and culture of agriculture. This is achieved through the work of dedicated groups and individuals for whom an alternative view of agriculture is essential to healing the planet and human health. Massy, ​​Australian sheep breeder and author of Call of the Reed Warbler: a new agriculture, a new land has been an influential force in the efflorescence of regenerative agriculture.

More than a set of alternative agricultural practices, regenerative agriculture encourages an interdependent relationship between man and land, aimed at renewing the health of ecosystems, the nutritional integrity of the food supply and the vitality of communities. . In a continent known for its relentless droughts and torrential rains, the philosophy and practice of regenerative agriculture is beginning to permeate farming and rural communities across Australia.

by Massy Call of the Reed Warbler is a book by regenerative farmers that carefully and provocatively considers a new perspective on the human relationship to landscape. Grounded in the unique and diverse Australian landscape and the history of Australian agriculture, the book explores the emergence of a “regenerative era” where humans are developing “ecological literacy” that enables them to read, work and to learn from the land. Massy argues that we need to move from a “mechanical state of mind”, where nature is devalued, and a “manipulable property” that can be taken advantage of, to an “emergent state of mind” where humans develop a relational approach to the land that relies on the natives. knowledge, the best of modern science and unlimited creativity in response to the increasingly unpredictable forces of nature. Since the release of her book, Massy has participated in farmer workshops, public presentations and ongoing conferences to stimulate a global conversation and improve the practice of regenerative agriculture across Australia.

Regenerative agriculture is a system of agricultural principles and practices that seek to imitate nature, for example, by encouraging polycultures of different forms of plants and life or the grazing of animals in such a way as to mimic their typical or historical movements. in their natural environment, gradually improving and revitalizing the soil. , water, vegetation, biodiversity and animal systems. Instead of using synthetic inputs like chemical pesticides and fertilizers to push the limits of production, regenerative agriculture uses a set of agricultural practices not only to grow food, but to gradually improve the ecosystem in which these foods are grown. The system draws on decades of scientific and applied research in agroecology, agroforestry, holistic management, organic and natural agriculture, and permaculture in global agricultural and research communities. It includes practices such as conservation tillage, no-till agriculture and pasture cultivation, crop rotation, water harvesting, and well-managed grazing, among others. Growing attention has been paid to regenerative agriculture as a way to mitigate and build resilience to climate change due to its ability to sequester carbon and replenish organic matter in soils while increasing crop yields and by increasing the profitability of farms.

“For me, regenerative agriculture is scalable, that’s what nature is”, explains Massy. “There’s no limit to where it can go to regenerate and you don’t know which direction it’s going to take. This is what makes it so exciting.

The need for a “new agriculture” is evident in Australia’s complex and fragile landscapes. Soils are generally older, more deeply weathered, and nutrient deficient compared to those in North America or Europe. The continent is also prone to extreme weather events, such as recurrent prolonged droughts, intense flooding, bushfires and heat waves, putting farmers and farming communities at risk from crop failures, death of livestock, insect outbreaks, financial hardship and mental health damage. The introduction of uniquely European agriculture in 1788 had a vast and extreme impact on the flora and fauna of Australia, with land clearing, invasive species and alien crops and cattle breeds degrading the soil, l water and the vital functions of ecosystems. Decades of continuous clearing and overgrazing coupled with industrialized farming methods have resulted in considerable challenges for the future of Australia’s agricultural sector.

Regenerative agriculture, however, opens up new spaces of innovation and opportunity for Australian farmers and rural communities, with more and more farmer case studies and research highlighting its multiple positive impacts. . A recent study commissioned by the Australian Federal Department of the Environment found that average profit levels of regenerative pastoralists were consistently higher than those of comparable farms (especially in years with low rainfall) and that they were state of significantly higher welfare levels and greater confidence in their ability to meet agricultural goals.

New programs, training courses and farmer networks have recently emerged to pursue and advance the ideals of regenerative agriculture. These range from on-farm advisory and extension service groups such as RegenAg and Regenerative Australian Farmers, to research and training programs such as Soils For Life, Savory Institute’s Holistic Management and RCS Australia, at Landcare Australia. , a national non-profit organization providing funding and capacity building opportunities for integrated land management and restoration of natural habitats. The slow but steady growth of regenerative farmer networks and cross-sectoral alliances is taking root across the country, while exciting educational developments extend beyond the agricultural sector, with an Australian premier school curriculum that explores the principles and regenerative agriculture practices for Grades 3 to 10 students.

At the policy level, the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance, a collaboration of experts from Australia and around the world led by Southern Cross University, has created a list of policy recommendations and actions to present to the new federal government. These include free education programs for farmers targeting drought resilience, business models and supply chain management, as well as funds to support research and development.

Beyond the farm, regenerative agriculture opens a dialogue on the interdependence of living systems. Like Massy, ​​regenerative farmers Helen and Michael McCosker believe that true regenerative agriculture can only exist if it is completely nested within a thriving regenerative crop. “Regeneration” in this sense requires an overhaul of the human journey, which cultivates the values ​​of stewardship and solidarity with an ethic of care in response to the challenges of our time. These values ​​are the basis of McCosker and graphic designer Kelly Jones’ initiative on National Regenerative Agriculture Day, a movement, they say, to “heal the heart of our food chain.” Part of this movement requires a conscious shift in the language, imagery, and paradigms used to understand and communicate agriculture to a wider and mainstream audience, as well as to communicate the relationships between humans and the environment throughout. along the food chain. Jones works alongside McCosker to translate regeneration concepts such as increasing soil matter and other practices into visually appealing and understandable forms for farmers and non-farmers alike.

What Massy, ​​McCosker and Jones, and a growing number of food systems experts are calling attention to is the need for a paradigm shift from mechanistic or chemical-based industrial modes of agriculture. , reductionism and the domination of nature, to a holistic and diverse approach. approach that seeks to mimic the natural self-organizing properties of a dynamic and healthy ecosystem. As Massy explains in Call of the Reed Warbler, “entirely new and transformative solutions to tackle unsustainable industrial farming practices will not come from the same box. The regeneration of soils, landscapes, life and human health will require mutual learning relationships between humans and landscapes that draw on the collective knowledge and experience of all those with an interest in conservation. human and planetary health.

Born out of the realization that the industrial food system is both dysfunctional and harmful, the regenerative agriculture movement is gaining massive grassroots support in Australia and around the world. Driven by creative energy, community solidarity and an urgent sense of pragmatism, he has the ability to bring together an invaluable network of practitioners in agriculture, health, policy, indigenous people, academics and research at the finding solutions to some of the most complex issues surrounding climate change, environmental degradation and human health.

Charles Massy will speak at the next Sustainable Food Trust conference Agriculture and climate change: towards net zero carbon emissions. You can buy your tickets here.

You can read a preview clip of Call of the Reed Warbler here.

Photography: Duncan Rawlinson



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