In this blog, I am going to venture into where “angels might fear to tread.” The world of regenerative agriculture.

“What the hell is regenerative agriculture?”

I am sure that what I write will be welcome reading to some, infuriate a few and be dismissed by others, but if I haven’t created some level of controversy, then as a blogger I probably haven’t done my job.

In this series of blogs, I’ll dive into my thoughts about regenerative agriculture. I’ll start by defining what I believe regenerative agriculture to be and I’ll look at some key proponents of regenerative agriculture processes and outline what we have done and achieved on Nanthes Park using regenerative processes and what the results have been.

The biggest issue with “regenerative agriculture” is that it has become a non-defined ‘label’. Regenerative agriculture has been on the periphery of agriculture for years, however some of these regenerative practices have been around for over a century (think biodynamics). These processes are not new.

The recent COP26 conference in Glasgow threw regenerative agriculture into the spotlight for sequestering large amounts of atmospheric carbon into soils as a way of curing our sick planet. And it can, if farmers truly practice regenerative agriculture.

Now Governments, including the Australian Government, are rushing to promote soil carbon sequestration as the cure and significant money is now being thrown in that direction. Where the money goes, corporations and farmers will follow. There are now many trying to “regen ag wash” their farm management practices, and it is completely bollocks. Have a look at Facebook and farming websites and you’ll see what I mean. Plenty are on the ‘regen’ bandwagon now, but what does this really mean?

My version of regenerative agriculture is simply this:

Partnering holistically with nature through practices to enhance the water, air, soil, biological and biodiversity cycles in order to produce food and fibre.

As a regenerative farmer, the choice for me is clear. Every day I get to dance with Nature. As a dance partner, Nature always leads, selects the music and the dance, and like a good dance partner I follow the lead and learn the dance; the music and the steps. The dance determines how I manage my farming. I could choose to not dance at all with Nature, aka industrial farming, but I can’t choose to leave the dance hall.

Luckily I like to dance!

In my opinion, there are many practices that come under the regenerative farming banner.

Think holistic management or biodynamics. But to dance with Nature means that you need to have more than one dance on your dance card. There is no single recipe for regenerative agriculture. Just as Nature is complex with many interwoven layers (many we can’t possibly see or measure) so must our regenerative farming practices also be interwoven.

An argument that I often hear against regenerative agriculture is that products would be more expensive and that we wouldn’t be able to grow the amount of produce that we grow now. As I write this blog, costs for some chemical and artificial fertilisers have nearly tripled and supply for many of these products is limited. The news is filled with record prices per tonne and tonnes per hectare, but what is never discussed is the true cost of production. Natural capital is never mentioned and we have mined our natural capital to such an extent that it is only through the high use of artificial inputs that the production system can keep producing.

In choosing to partner with Nature, we build natural capital and through regenerative practices, we can look to minimise the cost of production and maximise the returns.

It isn’t a quick fix, but the overall returns are exciting and make the change very worthwhile on many fronts.

If your whole farming system is predicated on killing things to grow things, then you are not practising regenerative agriculture.

If it is predicated on high inputs of pesticides, herbicides and artificial fertilisers then it isn’t regenerative agriculture. Additionally, if farmers plant some trees in a single shelter belt while continuing to spray and set stock then they are not farming regeneratively (even though it might look good on their Facebook page).

Regenerative agriculture practices are becoming more ‘mainstream’ and knowledge of them is developing over time. It won’t be long before we have a true understanding of regenerative agriculture and what it can bring to agriculture.

In the next blog, I’ll outline four of the key practices that I believe contribute to regenerative agriculture and what this means for the broader regenerative agriculture discussion.

Post Script

Just the other day after I moved the cattle to a new paddock, something that I do every few days, I decided to walk home past a riparian area that we had fenced off and replanted. In there I found native flowering orchids. In 10 years on this farm, I have never seen any orchids. That tiny flower made my heart sing!