Why Provenir Supports Regenerative Farming
By Chris Balazs
Why Provenir Supports Regenerative Farming
The founders of Provenir came together with the shared vision of producing the best beef in the world by providing the highest welfare meat production system in the world > On Farm Processing.
Whilst On-Farm Processing will always provide superior meat quality to traditional static abattoirs through the simple process of removing live transport stress; the best beef can only come from the best farms adopting the best farm management practices, which is reflected in the taste and nutritional value of the meat produced.
Provenir believes that the best farming practices for animal welfare, environmental management, long term financial return and building social capital is achieved through regenerative farming.
Provenir’s co-founder and CEO – Chris Balazs, has been regeneratively farming on his small-scale cattle farm in southern Victoria, and has been keen to see regenerative farming grow from “renegade hippy farmers” to the mainstream alternative, backed by solid science and public support.
“When I started farming 17 years ago, I thought of myself as a cattle farmer, the first real drought taught me that I was in fact a grass grower, the second drought taught me I was a rain harvester and now through support of the growing regenerative farming ecosystem I now realise that I am in fact a soil biodiversity developer.”
What is Regenerative Farming
There is no universally accepted definition of Regenerative Farming, mainly because it has so many different interpretations based on the outcomes needing to be achieved and hence it is more an ideology than a prescribed practice.
In its simplest interpretation, it merely means to leave the environmental ecosystem being managed (often referred to as a “farm”) in better shape than it when you started – however this prompts the question > in what capacity is the farm left in better shape > from a productivity point of view, from an ecological point of view, from a financial point of view, from a biodiversity point of view – the list goes on…
From a land management perspective, regenerative farming aims to progressively increase the productivity of the land by using natural biological systems.
The productivity of a farm is directly related to the productivity of the soil, which is dependent on the biodiversity of the soil (referring to the micro-organisms in the soil – bacteria, protozoans, fungi etc).
The ability of the soil to effectively make the nutrients of the soil “available” to the plants is dependent on the soil micro-organisms – or biodiversity
“Regenerative” farming is nuanced from “Sustainable” farming in that sustaining an already degraded farm does not address the environmental and ecological challenge our country and planet is faced with – it merely sustains the status quo.
Regenerative Farming actively seeks to improve year on year, to take degraded land and return it to its previously productive biodiverse state and to farm within the ever-changing environmental boundaries that we are presented with.
Regenerative farming requires farmers to understand, and farm within, nature’s local cycles and that a Gregorgian calendar and British farming heritage has little to do with how to manage a farm on the oldest land in the world.
Why is Regenerative Farming referred to as a “Journey”
Regenerative Farming is often referred to as a “Journey”, this is because changing from conventional chemical based farming utilising monoculture production systems, large chemical inputs, set stocking rates, social norms and often, rural finance company indebtedness takes years of transition, commitment and lets face it… yes – bravery.
It often can take between 3 and 7 years [some would say that it takes several lifetimes] to transition into a fully regenerative farming system.
Regenerative farming can be viewed, in some rural farming communities as “counter-culture” because it adopts farming practices that aren’t taught at most Agricultural Colleges (Southern Cross University being the notable exception), though possibly more divisive is that Regenerative Farming looks to build soil structure and microbiological diversity which requires the significant reduction in chemical inputs such as chemical fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides.
The fabric of many rural communities is interwoven with generations of farmers using agronomists and agents to provide (sell) these inputs to the farm in ever increasing amounts.
Regenerative farming utilises natural biological systems which significantly reduces the utilisation of these inputs which can cause social fracture in rural communities when farmers are no longer spending hundreds of thousands with these companies – which have been operating in these communities for generations.
This relationship becomes even further complicated when farmers have their financial matters (business loans) provided through the same companies as their chemical inputs.
This all makes for a scenario where many farms wont or cant adopt regenerative farming practices until generational change occurs…. Which brings the complexity of agricultural succession planning – which is a whole other thing!
Chris Balazs’ Regenerative Journey
For myself as a farmer that needs to run a financially viable operation to support my family, I adopted regenerative farming back in 2009, not from any great vision to increase soil biodiversity or to return the farm to its prior ecological landscape, but rather that conventional chemical farming was leading me to bankruptcy.
As a scientist, working in biological pharmaceuticals for over 20 years, I soon started to look at my farm as a biological entity, not dissimilar to a human body.
Like the human body, chemicals (pharmaceuticals) have relatively immediate and well-known impacts on the body, from simple paracetamol to illicit drugs – which in general, have short term impacts.
Biologics however, have far more complicated and permanent interactions with the body as they do just have an impact on the way the body operates but rather actively participates in the bodies functionality.
The same is true for our agricultural systems. Simple chemical inputs have short term predictable positive and negative impacts on our land.
In the case of chemical fertiliser or NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium), they have a direct, almost immediate chemical interaction with the plant (generally grass) to accelerate growth. What isn’t taken up by the plant is either washed away in the next rain event, causing havoc in our fragile waterways, or released to the atmosphere – in particular the nitrogen component.
These fertilisers have been the backbone of the Australian and indeed global agricultural system for the last two generations and have created some of the most powerful companies in the world including Monsanto.
The alternative to a chemical agricultural system is a biological or regenerative agricultural system that looks at creating a system that ties into the local landscape, that promotes soil biodiversity, that will sequester carbon from the atmosphere and promote improved pasture growth through the highly efficient but fragile micro-fungal subsurface network that makes micro-nutrients bioavailable to plants.
This delicate subsoil community is what actually fuels plant growth in regenerative systems but is easily destroyed through chemical fertiliser use and/or heavy tilling.
We can accelerate our regenerative journey by using bio-fertilisers, which are a biological active tonic for the soil that is made from the paunch of the cow [grass content of the cow’s stomach] – this bio-fertiliser solution “seeds” the ground with the bacteria that will start to create the soil biome.
These biofertilisers are starting to become available and able to be used on a commercial scale.
Large scale composting is another way to increase the soil carbon content.
It is exciting for me to see that some of the Provenir farmers are leaders in this space and aren’t not only turning their farms in to highly productive landscapes but highly profitable one’s as well.
And so, I see treating a regenerative landscape as very similar to treating a human with biological pharmaceuticals.
The treatment pathway is more complex and slower but the ultimate outcome is one that restores the entity – be it human or landscape – to its natural state and provides a permanent resilience to positively interact in the biological system that we call “mother nature”.
For many, this may seem like a load of “mumbo-jumbo” but as a scientist, I understand that humans have a propensity to assume that they know everything about a system or process – of course until the next discovery is made.
We feel more comfortable espousing what we do know rather than what we don’t – and the truth of the matter is that there is far more we don’t know, than what we do.
Hence this is why regenerative farming is often seen as much as a philosophy as a science.
Regenerative farmers need to embrace the unknown aspects of the microcosm and rely on the fact that – given the opportunity – nature will return the land to the productive state it once was.
Having said that – science is rapidly plugging our knowledge gaps [and ironically opening new ones at the same time] and now carbon testing is becoming commonplace, with carbon sequestration verification now readily available.
(If you would like to know more, please contact Land to Market)
Our next challenge with the regenerative farming journey – is how do we commercialise the output of regenerative farming and market it in such a way that consumers can support the farming systems that support a better world.
To be continued…
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