You may have heard talk about regenerative agriculture being a solution to the climate shift and land degradation somewhere before. What is it, and why does the agricultural industry all around the world currently not practise it at large scale? How can it be used to improve soil health and fix eroded gullies like this one shown in the photo?
This method of agriculture goes beyond ‘sustaining’ financial, social and environmental ecosystems but actively aims to restore and rebuild existing systems towards full health. It is based on a set of principles that are more open to constant and never ending learning processes.
This methodology aims to achieve the following:
1. Adapt to the impacts of climate change.
2. Work towards REVERSING the impacts of climate change by increasing soil carbon levels.
3. Reversing desertification and land degradation.
4. Producing more organic, health and nutrient rich foods by reducing the need for inputs such as chemicals and fertilisers and simultaneously increasing outputs.
This can be achieved by addressing the 5 landscape/ecological functions and processes:
1. Solar Energy Cycle – ensuring plants and vegetation are maximising leaf matter to continue biological processes such as photosynthesis for essential regrowth.
2. Water Cycle – ensuring vegetation and organic matter has a maximum coverage on soils to increase infiltration and water storage capacity as well as conserve and stabilise topsoils.
3. Soil Mineral Cycle – ensuring all minerals in soils from the macro to micro level are adequate with a focus on increasing soil carbon (through effective sequestration and storage in root biomasses etc).
4. Dynamic Ecosystems – ensuring there is a high level of diverse and native plant species in paddocks that help to increase landscape functions numbers 1, 2 and 3.
5. The Human-social Element – first introduced by Charles Massy, this focuses on changing the human mind from the traditional and ‘mechanical’ mindset to one that is more aligned, ‘organic’ and in tune with nature itself.
NOTE: It is important to understand that by addressing these ‘5 landscape functions’ the methods include different livestock and crop movements essentially aiming to ‘mimic nature’ by incorporating long term planning in comparison to conventional methods. This can include rotational grazing to mimic natural grazing herds, planned removal of livestock according to current rainfall and paddock grass (biomass) amounts and crop rotations using cover crops, minimal tillage and reduction in fertilisers/chemicals.
Photo: By Derek and Kirrily Blomfield, top photo taken in 2014 and bottom photo 2016. Kirrily says ‘the only thing we did was use the cattle to heal this area’.