Making the change from conventional agriculture to regenerative farming may seem like an enormous and overwhelming task for many family-owned farming operations, especially given the often many years and generations of precedent that have come before them. However, regenerative agriculture and a more holistic approach to land management are rapidly gaining popularity in Australia. This momentum is for good reason – not only do regenerative farming systems offer solutions to commonplace issues such as salinity, erosion and soil compaction, but these techniques also offer the potential for significantly improved productivity.
In an age where unpredictable weather patterns are expected to contribute to ever-decreasing environmental security for farmers, regenerative approaches have been shown to build resilience in the land by creating healthy soil systems, resilient pastures, and effective water use (even during drought). Those farmers who have already made the regenerative change share a few key pieces of advice; the most important step is beginning, and building a healthy regenerative farm system is very much an ongoing work in progress.
What is regenerative farming?
While many far more complex definitions exist, Soils for Life use the following concise definition to describe regenerative farming;
“Regenerative agriculture is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach to farming or land management. Principles and practices enhance and restore strong, healthy ecosystems (like soils). Together, these have benefits for the farmer in terms of productivity and profitability, but also have long-term ecological benefits and support a healthy agricultural landscape.”
Regeneration of a healthy natural landscape function, which is the key focus of regenerative farming, involves paying attention to the following systems. This summary includes the key focus areas of two regenerative pioneers and their respected methodologies – specifically Allan Savory’s Holistic Management and Peter Andrews’ Natural Sequence Farming.
- Soil health and biodiversity – creating healthy soils with high levels of nutrients, soil carbon, microbial biodiversity, a balanced soil structure and increased water retention capacity. The key to this is maintaining the sub-surface soil structure by avoiding disturbance through traditional farming practices such as ploughing soils when sewing crops. This is also an important step in combatting and preventing soil compaction.
- Water management & utilisation – restoration of the landscape function allows for rehydration of the soils by slowing water movement throughout the land (the focus of the Natural Sequence Farming methodology). This slowing of water movement is achieved by increasing the soil’s water retention capacity and creating natural barriers to inhibit water runoff. The resultant increased water security is key to the landscape’s resilience during irregular rainfall.
- Reduce the use of artificial fertilisers and chemicals – replacing synthetic fertilisers with natural mulching and fertilisation processes ensures a healthy soil microbe population. This promotes natural ecosystems and resilient plants which are not reliant on (or suppressed by) chemical inputs.
- Animals and livestock management – utilising animals to increase pasture health and conditions through carefully planned grazing, which mimics nature to stimulate plant growth.
Key Regenerative Farming Techniques
Specific techniques which are key to the health of these landscape systems include;
- Holistic planned grazing – managing the rotational movement of grazing animals across the land to mimic nature. This ensures the optimum recovery of plants after grazing while also maximising the benefits of animals’ natural fertilisation and hoof tillage.
- Composting – increasing the organic matter in soils (also known as soil carbon) by allowing plant matter to break down into the soil. This can be achieved by allowing plant matter to decompose through animal manure.
- No-till farming – avoiding the disturbance of the soil’s biological processes to consequently avoid the breakdown of fungal and microbial community structure, preserve moisture and to retain carbon. This is one of the most important techniques for tackling soil erosion and desertification issues.
- Cover crop and multispecies pasture cropping – ensuring a diverse variety of plant species to create complex sub-soil root systems and root mass. This increases efficiency in absorbing and retaining water within the soil while also breaking up soil compaction. These complex root structures facilitate healthy soil aeration and contribute to an increase in beneficial microbes. Above the surface, diverse species – including legumes and flowering plants – contribute to increased organic matter and natural mulch.
Resources – where to learn about regenerative farming
Research and planning are non-negotiable requisites to successfully implementing regenerative farming practices. This is especially important, as many techniques inevitably require careful and consistent implementation over months, years and even decades. While there is a large amount of information available on the topic of regenerative farming in Australia, we recommend the following organisations, which each offer a fantastic series of introductory resources;
- The Savoury Institute resource library, includes six introductory online holistic management courses as well as downloadable eBooks and discussion papers covering a range of topics.
- Soils for Life is an Australian not-for-profit organisation that produces a podcast discussing a range of specific topics relating to soil regeneration in Australia, as well as a range of case studies from farmers around the country discussing their own regenerative farming journeys, their challenges and the results of the work that they have done.
- Tarwyn Park Training offers in-person courses and online resources discussing Peter Andrews’ Natural Sequence Farming, which is a land and water management technique focused on restoring the landscape’s natural water cycles.
- A list of important books discussing regenerative farming can be found at regenfarming.news. This list includes (but is not limited to);
- Call of the Reed Warbler by Charles Massy
- Dirt to Soil by Gabe Brown
- Back from the Brink by Peter Andrews
- Holistic Management (third edition) by Allan Savory
Regenerative farming and the consumer – how to support ethical farms and positive environmental land management
Identifying where your food comes from is challenging for the consumer. While regenerative farming is gaining increasing attention, these methods still only represent a small percentage of Australian agriculture and food production. Unfortunately, loose labelling guidelines for food products in Australia mean that commonplace labels on supermarket items such as ‘grass-fed’, ‘free-range’, ‘organic’ and ‘additive-free’ do not make any guarantees with regards to how those products were produced.
The best way to ensure that the food you consume is ethically, regeneratively and naturally produced is to trace it back to the source. Building relationships with local farmers or choosing products directly from those who offer transparency regarding the practices that they implement is the most straightforward way to ensure that you know exactly what is on your dinner table. Your food will taste better and be better for you too! Provenir proudly works with farmers who implement regenerative land management techniques. All Provenir meat is sourced directly from these producers and is processed on-farm from 100% free-range, grass-fed and grass-finished animals. Each Provenir meat pack is fully traceable to the property and the farmer that produced it.
Scan the QR code on each meat pack to learn about the farm on which your meat was grown.