It’s HOW we farm that matters
The power of photosynthesis. Farmers who understand the power of photosynthesis and the soil food web, use practices that build soil fertility. And many farmers in Australia are doing just that.
Land management practices in Australia, have contributed to a significant loss of carbon from our soils, up into the atmosphere. Australia has lost over 80% of the stored carbon in the soil. From the spongy and productive soils with high levels of carbon of 8-12 % in the top 30cm of soil (in our temperate areas) in the 1840’s, much of Australia’s soils are now down to 1% or less, they are compacted and lifeless, requiring chemical inputs to grow plants. With little humus left in the soil, it becomes dirt, unable to absorb and hold water and susceptible to erosion and in some areas, significant loss of topsoil; it just blows away or swept away with flooding. Agriculture in Australia contributes to approximately 16 to 20% of its total CO2 emissions.
Practices such as tilling destroy the structure of the soil, breaks up the fungi and released carbon stored in the soil into the atmosphere. Pesticides used for pests also wipe out the beneficial insects and fungicides destroy fungi, including the mycorrhizal fungi, so essential to good functioning soil. Chemical fertilizers trick the plant into easy food so they don’t send sugars down their roots to feed the bacteria and fungi in the soil. Overgrazed land leaves only the unpalatable plants and bare soil. Bare land in arid lets it get too hot for life in the soil to survive. Much of the arid and semi arid zones areas of Australia have seen the total or partial loss of native perennial grasses leaving land bare, ripe for erosion and ready for takeover by annuals and weeds.
Excitingly there is an emerging group of farmers that are building carbon in the soil. It’s a world wide movement gathering momentum and Australian farmers are at the forefront.
Each farmer’s story about their transition is different according to their situation and the landscape they farm. Called regenerative agriculture, these farmers focus on building healthy soil as they supply quality food. Regenerative agriculture is not a series of specific practices or procedures, rather general principles are followed, such as minimum tilling of the land, always having plants growing, keeping living roots in the soil, building diversity in crops, and in their operations, limiting chemical inputs and integrating animals in farm system.
Coined in the mid-1980s, “Regenerative agriculture” is a general term that puts an umbrella over all the different modalities of approaches in farming and agriculture. It’s a farming approach that in building healthy soil, ensures the soil biology can do its job and the water cycle is protected. Building a healthy farming system gives the farmer the ability to better able to withstand drought, and the changes they face due to climate change.
While each story is different many farmers report increased profits. A common theme is that the need for chemical inputs declines. (Chemical inputs are a significant cost of production). The regenerative farmers become part of a cooperative and collaborative community, sharing information and providing mentoring to new entrants.
For more information on the Principles of Regenerative Agriculture, click here.
Listen to the stories of our inspiring farmers and how they have changed their farming practices and started their journey into regenerative agriculture and what it has meant for them.