Regenerative Agriculture

by Ian Perkin* 

Regenerative Agriculture is a system of holistic land management practices that leverage the power of photosynthesis in plants to close the carbon cycle, and build soil health, crop resilience and nutrient density. It can be defined as a system of farming principles and practices that increases biodiversity, enriches soils, improves watersheds and enhances ecosystem services.(International 2018)

“Regenerative Agriculture” describes farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity – resulting in both carbon drawdown and improving the water cycle.(Massy 2017)

Regenerative agriculture is firmly based on principles described by Massy, Yeomans, Andrews, Savory, Tudge, Berry, Ikerd and many others.

Charles Massy describes regenerative agriculture as more than just sustaining something, but rather an active rebuilding or regeneration of existing systems towards full health. (Massy 2017) The term regenerative agriculture began to be used in the late 1980’s to describe agricultural systems that go beyond sustainability towards regeneration (Massy 2017) and is a term that covers a broad spectrum of agricultural and land management activities.  Charles Eisenstein, taking a bigger picture view describes regenerative agriculture as more than a shift of practices.  It is a shift in paradigm and in our basic relationship to nature. Regenerative agriculture seeks to mimic and participate in nature, not dominate it. (Eisenstein 2018) Eisenstein believes we have become separated from nature and from each other and it is this separation that we need to address. (Eisenstein 2013) The re establishment and strengthening of the relationship between people and nature is a cornerstone of regenerative agriculture

The principles of regenerative agriculture form the basis of a number of other developing agricultural systems across the globe. Colin Tudge describes Enlightened Agriculture as an Agrarian Renaissance bringing new types of farms – polycultural, low-input, skills intensive with appropriate markets and culture. He describes present day agriculture as being above all – industrialised, and a system that is failing to produce good food or to care for the land. (Tudge 2016, Tudge 2019)  Jules Pretty talks about a phase of ecolution and the need to recognize the tightly coupled nature of ecological and social systems, pointing out that our condition is linked to that of the planet. (Pretty 2007) He talks about ecoagriculture and suggests that agricultural systems with high levels of social and human assets will be more able to innovate in the face of uncertainty. (Pretty 2002) Simon Fairlie makes a good case for an ongoing involvement of livestock in agricultural systems and argues for moving towards a permaculture livestock economy. (Fairlie 2010) Judith Schwartz discusses the absolute importance of soil and presents an argument for the role of livestock in building soil, reversing desertification and mitigating climate change. (Schwartz 2013)

Ecological Agriculture is another term for a new ecological approach to agriculture. The Australian Institute of Ecological Agriculture believes that ecology is the foundation stone of all agriculture. The AIEA believes farming ecologically is the most appropriate road to producing healthy food and environment in a world beset with falling carbon reserves coupled with the dangers of climate change (AIEA 2018).

Disillusionment with the industrialised model of farming has resulted in the development of a wide range of alternative approaches to the production of food, fibre and any other products of farming systems. Impacts attributed to the industrialised farming system on human health, biodiversity, ecological sustainability, animal welfare and climate change are now widely described and have lead to considerable discussion among farmers, researchers, activists and consumers. These discussions have spawned the above descriptions and movements among many others.

Organic Agriculture has developed along with this movement, as an important principle of Regenerative Agriculture is reduction of artificial and non-renewable inputs. Organic agriculture has become a rapidly growing agricultural sector world wide.

The 2017 edition of FiBL and IFOAM’s statistical yearbook The World of Organic Agriculture, based on data from the end of 2015, shows that the organic market worldwide has grown to more than US$80 billion, with strong growth expected to continue in coming years. Consumer demand for organic products is increasing, as evidenced by double-digit growth in most major markets, including the largest organic market on the planet, the United States (Willer 2017).

The global market for organic food reached US$81.6 billion (AU$103.4b) in 2015, with most major organic markets demonstrating double-digit annual growth. The US led the pack at AU$53.4 billion; Germany ranked second at AU$12.8 billion. France came in third at AU$8.2 billion, with China hot on its heels at AUD$7 billion (but likely to grow faster than any other market).

More primary producers worldwide are farming organically and more land is now ‘certified organic’. By the end of 2015, reports the FiBL-IFOAM study, a total of 50.9 million hectares were managed according to organic principles – that’s 6.5 million more hectares farmed organically than were reported in 2014. This is the largest annual growth in organic farm and rangeland ever recorded. Australia continued to claim the largest organic acreage at 27.1 million hectares, up significantly from 17.5m hectares a year earlier. Most of Australia’s organic agricultural acreage is extensive grazing land used to raise ‘free-range’ grass-fed beef cattle (Willer 2017).

PHILOSOPHICAL UNDERPINNINGS

The movement towards organic, regenerative and ecological agriculture has solid philosophical underpinnings and for many advocates the agricultural and land management practices that the movement employs form an integral part of an holistic approach to life. Awareness of the perils of moving away from nature have been documented since the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution. In the late 1700’s and early 1800’s Wordsworth wrote, “Getting and spending we have laid waste our powers, little we see in nature that is ours” and Hopkins bemoaned, “… and nor can foot feel being shod”.  John Clare wrote with feeling and an accuracy born of experience of the impacts of the enclosure of the commons and the nascent development of industrial agriculture (Clare 1964).

Thoreau and Thomas Berry describe the awakening sense of the need for appreciation of grandeur in the natural world for human development to continue and the importance of understanding where we, humans, fit in the universe (Thoreau 1960, Berry 1999). Thomas Berry makes a compelling case for change based on awareness of the crisis and an appreciation of the place of humans in the broader cosmos.

The transformation required is a transformation from an anthropocentric norm of reality and value to a biocentric or geocentric norm.  This will affect every aspect of our human thought and action. “

“Each particular being in the universe is needed by the entire universe.  With this understanding of our profound kinship with all life, we can establish the basis for a flourishing earth community” (Berry 2006).

Wendell Berry, the American farmer poet describes in detail the removal of people from the landscape, the loss of knowledge, skill and stewardship and the resultant decline in the health of people and land (Berry 1981, Berry 2018).

Alan Savory, who has worked and taught extensively throughout Africa, the Americas and Australia describes the situation in graphic detail  “poor land leads to poor people, social upheaval and political unrest” (Savory 1988).

Timothy Morton, the Philosopher Prophet of the Anthropocene talks about the trauma humans suffer as a result of severing the connection with non-human beings (Morton 2018). He talks about coexisting in a non violent manner with non-human beings and transitioning to caring about non-humans in a more conscious way (Morton 2018) Charles Eisenstein says “Human intervention is necessary to restore ecosystems to a state of health.  The question is not whether to participate, but how.” (Eisenstein 2018)

It is apparent from reading and talking to practitioners that regenerative agriculture, ecological agriculture and enlightened agriculture entail much more that a series of agricultural practices and ways of interacting with the landscape. These approaches, in fact involve a belief system, an entire philosophy and way of life and have common threads across the planet. The philosophical beliefs underpinning regenerative agriculture are shared across the world and are shared by urban and rural people, city and country dwellers.

AUSTRALIA

Australia has a long and valuable history of innovation in agricultural practices and modern, researchers, writers and farmers such as Charles Massy, Christine Jones, David Holmgren, Peter Andrews, Bruce Maynard and Col Seis are in the forefront of the movement towards a regenerative agriculture. Two hundred years of attempting to introduce European crops, animals and management systems to a profoundly differently environment have taken their toll and the time is right for change.

In Australia we are fortunate to have the experience of thousands of years of land management on which to draw and publications by Stephen Muecke, Bill Gammage and Bruce Pascoe have shed light on the incredibly complex land management systems employed by Indigenous Australians. (Muecke 1996, Gammage 2012, Pascoe 2014) Indigenous Australians lived with a unique understanding of the Australian environment, which encompassed cultural, spiritual and practical aspects of living. As with western poets and philosophers from Wordsworth to Morton, Indigenous Australians talk of the connections between humans and the non-human world.  Big Bill Neidjie (Neidjie 1989) says –

Listen carefully this, you can hear me.

I’m telling you because earth just like mother

and father or brother of you.

that tree same thing

Deborah Bird Rose talks of indigenous understanding of the connection between ecological and human rights and the requirement of recognizing that link if we are going to be able to truly care for country (Rose 1996). David Tacey has written eloquently on the importance of spiritual connection to land and the potential for indigenous knowledge and our ancient landscape to facilitate a true connection to country and a spiritual revival (Tacey 1995). The opportunity for that potential to be realized is growing in Australia as indigenous communities and people own and manage considerable areas of the country and recognition is growing of the sophistication and complexity of indigenous relationships to land. The ongoing process of reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians is absolutely fundamental to the future of survival in this country.

Authors and practitioners who have had a major influence on regenerative agriculture throughout Australia include PA Yeomans, Peter Andrews, Bill Mollison, David Holmgren, Allan Savoury and Charles Massy. (Yeomans 1981, Savory 1988, Mollison 1990, Andrews 2001, Massy 2017, Holmgren 2019)

Regenerative agriculture in Australia has developed its own unique approaches and has naturally tended to concentrate on issues which are of particular concern in the Australian environment. (Perkins 2008) These include extensive livestock management, management of water flows and water conservation in the landscape, fire management, soil health, salinity management and prevention and cropping and food production in an environment of unpredictable and highly variable rainfall. Areas of focus include –

  • grazing land management through holistic resource management theories, including such practical applications as time control grazing and self herding
  • water management based on Keyline and Natural Sequence Farming ideas
  • pasture cropping and conservation tillage using the techniques pioneered by Colin Seiss
  • the use of edible trees and shrubs in grazing situations
  • soil health, Australian soils are generally considered poor from an agricultural perspective and appropriate soil management is a key component of regenerative agriculture
  • carbon sequestration using a range of measurable techniques including savannah burning (Langton 1998, O’Brien 2012)

Livestock form an integral part of many regenerative agriculture systems and livestock are seen as an indispensible element of an integrated semi-natural environment, providing benefits such as carbon sequestration, soil disturbance, nutrient distribution and weed control. (Savory 1988, Harvey 2002, Pollan 2006, Fairlie 2010) Using a grazing system that ensures greater than 50% of the available green leaf remains after a grazing period results in more forage production, greater carbon sequestration and improved water retention (Jones 2018). Intensive grazing followed by rest, the value of animal impact and the use of natural herding behaviour are principles of grazing management which are now implemented widely across the extensive pasture lands of Australia. Flexible fencing and watering systems and self herding strategies are utilized to practice a variety of rotational grazing methods and a majority of Australia’s grazing animals are now managed under a type of rotational grazing system. The impacts of this change in management on soil health, biodiversity and animal production are widely recognized.

In a dry continent with unpredictable rainfall, water management and alternative approaches to movement, storage and water flows are an important component of regenerative agricultural systems in Australia and are described by practical land managers such as PA Yeomans and Peter Andrews. (Yeomans 1981, Andrews 2001) Holding water in the landscape, encouraging water infiltration and storage in the soil are critical components of regenerative agriculture in this country and the implementation of these principles is providing results across a diversity of situations throughout Australia (Mulloon 2019).

The pasture cropping revolution introduced by Colin Seis and Daryl Cluff in 1993 and conservation tillage have enabled Australian farmers to expand cropping to more arid areas and are being used to deal with salinity problems which have affected much of Australia’s cropping land. Conservation tillage, while extensively practiced across Australia’s cropping lands enabling moisture to be stored in the soil and the restoration of soil structure is heavily reliant on chemical use and does not fit into the category of regenerative agriculture. Pasture cropping however, reduces cultivation and works with nature to improve ground cover, water infiltration and use, soil structure and carbon storage in soil and is a technique being utilized widely across Australia’s cropping and grazing lands (Perkins 2008, Seis 2018)

Australian soils are generally considered to be low in nutrients, frequently highly erodible and fragile. Soil health has seen a resurgence in interest and understanding in Australia as in many parts of the world and this includes an appreciation of the life within the soil. Regenerative agriculture is a movement beginning in the soil. Elaine Ingham, Christine Jones and others in Australia have focused on soil health, soil microbiology and promotion of management techniques to enhance the life in the soil (Jones 2018, Ingham 2019) while David Montgomery has written extensively on “dirt” from a more global perspective. “Extending the life of our civilization will require reshaping agriculture to respect the soil not as an input to an industrial process, but as the living foundation for material wealth – as something other than dirt” (Montgomery 2008). This focus on soil, while not uniquely Australian is critical to regenerative agriculture in this country.

Organic agriculture is rapidly growing in Australia as it is in many parts of the world. Australia has the world’s largest area of land under organic certification, 27.1 million hectares (Willer 2018). This represents 53% of the world’s organic farmland (Monk 2017).  The area involved is largely a reflection of the extensive scale of beef production in central and northern Australia where significant numbers of cattle are run on large areas under relatively natural systems. The number of certified organic operations is growing in Australia and the organic market is expected to surpass a value of $2 billion in 2018. (Monk 2017)

The annual growth of this market is estimated at 6.5% in the period 2015-2020. Large supermarkets stocking organic produce have increased the convenience of purchasing organic products by the general public. It is estimated that over 60% of all organic food sales are attributable to supermarkets. Meat & Livestock Australia, the peak meat industry body, have estimated that organic beef sales increased by 127% from 2011 to 2014. Despite such high growth, certified organic beef producer numbers remained relatively low, with an estimated 195 producers across Australia in 2013. (Wills 2015)

MLA are also heavily involved in the grass fed beef sector and have concluded that branded grassfed beef is a growth sector and more processors and retailers are launching programs that make guarantees to consumers about lifetime nutrition, meat eating quality, animal welfare standards, antibiotic and chemical use, and lifetime traceability. (Wills 2015)

Small scale organic and chemical free food production is increasing across Australia. Farmer’s markets with an organic or clean production focus can be found in capital cities and regional towns and cities across Australia. These markets provide opportunities for consumers to meet producers and encourage local production and consumption.  Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) models are found in many larger cities and community gardens are flourishing in many regional centres as well as large cities. Australians are per capita the world’s 16th highest spenders on organic produce buying mainly fruit and vegetables, eggs and dairy products. (Parkes 2018) There has been little government or industry support for organic agriculture in the past unlike some in European countries such as Denmark, and the organic sector remains small relative to conventional agriculture. However, this is changing and the organic market is expected to grow by 18.2% in the current year.(IBIS 2018)  Demand for organic products is driven largely by health concerns, a desire to know where food is coming from and a hunger to connect with production of food. (Perkins 2008)

As in other parts of the world organic certification is subject to interpretation and there are examples of industrial organic agriculture which do not fit the term regenerative agriculture. Small scale regional and local food production is in many cases filling gaps resulting from the industrialisation of organic agriculture.

Australia has a highly urbanised population in a very large country, most of which is lightly populated.  Much of Australian agriculture is conducted at considerable distance from population centres and in the form of medium to large scale enterprises. A large proportion of Australian agricultural output is exported. Innovative approaches aimed at facilitating regional production and consumption such as farmer’s markets, community supported agriculture and eco communities do exist but it will require innovative approaches to develop this movement beyond the current small scale. Examples of innovation that encompass governance, ownership, finance and distribution as well as production do exist in Australia as well as in other parts of the world including Food Connect in Queensland (FoodConnect 2019), The Agrarian Trust in the USA (Trust 2019) and Colin Tudge’s Campaign for Real Farming (Tudge 2019). These initiatives and many others have elements that will facilitate a shift towards sustainable regional production and consumption in this country and are facilitating change at a number of levels.

Charles Massy summarises the Australian situation well in his book, The Call of the Reed Warbler. (Massy 2017) He describes five landscape functions based on Savoury’s work –

  1. the solar energy function (focused on maximizing the capture of solar energy by fixing as many plant sugars by photosynthesis as possible),
  2. the water cycle (focused on maximizing the infiltration, storage and recycling of water in the soil),
  3. the soil mineral cycle (focused on encouraging biologically active and healthy soils that contain and recycle a rich and diverse lode of minerals and chemicals),
  4. dynamic ecosystems (focused on maximum diversity and health of integrated ecosystems at all levels) and,
  5. the human–social aspect (focused on human agency triggering landscape regeneration by working in harmony with natural systems) (Massy 2017) .

CONCLUSION

Regenerative agriculture is a term which describes old and new practices and approaches and is in itself a dynamic expression. The growth of regenerative agriculture is documented across the world and has the potential to bring about positive change to land use and management and to the essential relationship between people and nature with wide ranging results.

In a recent publication edited by Paul Hawken, titled Drawdown, in which an international coalition of scientists and practitioners researched and modelled the one hundred most substantive ways we can reverse global warming, regenerative agriculture figured prominently.  The study concluded that from an estimated 108 million acres of current adoption regenerative agriculture will increase to a total of 1 billion acres by 2050. This increase could result in a total reduction of 23.2 gigatons of carbon dioxide, from both sequestration and reduced emissions. (Hawken 2018)

A report published by the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (ibpes) in May 2019 has highlighted the plight of biodiversity across the planet and sheeted a considerable proportion of the responsibility for loss of biodiversity to agricultural practices (IBPES 2019). The importance of regenerative agriculture for the future of our planet cannot be overstated.

As in the original definition by Charles Massy, regenerative agriculture has the potential to address a range of issues caused by the industrial agricultural model while also facilitating a closer and more meaningful relationship with the non-human aspects of our world.

REFERENCES

AIEA (2018). “Australian Institute of Ecological Agriculture.” from http://ecoag.org.au.

Andrews, P. (2001). Back from the Brink. Sydney, NSW. Australia.

Berry, T. (1999). The Great Work. New York, USA, Bell Tower.

Berry, T. (2006). Evening Thoughts – Reflecting on Earth as Sacred Community. San Fransisco, USA, Sierra Club Books.

Berry, W. (1981). The Gift of Good Land. San Fransisco, USA, North Point Press.

Berry, W. (2018). The World Ending Fire. UK, Penguin.

Clare, J. (1964). The Shepherd’s Calendar. Oxford UK, Oxford University Press.

Eisenstein, C. (2013). The More Beautiful World our Hearts Know is Possible. Berkeley, California, USA, North Atlantic Books.

Eisenstein, C. (2018). Climate A New Story. Berkeley, California, USA, North Atlantic Books.

Fairlie, S. (2010). Meat, A benign Extravagance. USA, Chelsea Green Publishing.

FoodConnect (2019). “Food Connect.” from https://foodconnect.com.au/pages/howitworks.

Gammage, B. (2012). The Biggest Estate on Earth. Sydney, Australia, Allen & Unwin.

Harvey, G. (2002). The Forgiveness of Nature. London UK, Vintage.

Hawken, P., Ed. (2018). Drawdown, the Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming. Random House, London, UK, Penguin Books.

Holmgren, D. (2019). “Holmgren Design.” from https://holmgren.com.au/.

IBIS (2018). Organic Farming, Australian Market Research Report October 2018. IBIS.

IBPES (2019). “Global Assessment Report.” from https://http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/may/06/human-society-under-urgent-threat-loss-earth-natural-life-un-report.

Ingham, E. (2019). “Soil Food Web.” from https://http://www.soilfoodweb.com.au/.

International, T. G. (2018). “Regenerative Agriculture.” from http://www.regenerativeagriculturedefinition.com/.

Jones, C. (2018). “Light farming : Restoring carbon, nitrogen and biodiversity to agricultural soils.” from http://www.amazingcarbon.com/.

Langton, M. (1998). Burning Questions. Darwin Australia, Centre for Indigenous Natural and Cultural Resource Management, NTU.

Massy, C. (2017). Call of the Reed Warbler. St Lucia, Australia, UQP.

Mollison, B. (1990). Permaculture, A Designer’s Manual. Washington DC, USA, Island Press.

Monk, A. (2017). Australian Organic Market Report 2017. A. C. Organic.

Montgomery, D. (2008). Dirt, The Erosion of Civilisations. Berkeley and Los Angeles, California, USA, University of California Press.

Morton, T. (2018). Being Ecological. St Ives, Great Britain, Pelican Books.

Muecke, S. (1996). Reading the Country. Fremantle, Australia, Fremantle Arts Centre Press.

Mulloon (2019). “The Mulloon Institute.” from https://themullooninstitute.org/.

Neidjie, B. (1989). Story About Feeling. Broome, WA., Australia, Magabala Books.

O’Brien, K. (2012). Northern Savannah burning to earn carbon credits, ABC.

Parkes, B. (2018). “Growing Hunger for Organics; Can Australia keep up with demand ?”. from https://http://www.intheblack.com/articles/2017/09/01/organic-food-demand-australia.

Pascoe, B. (2014). Dark Emu. Broome WA, Magabala Books.

Perkins, I., Gleeson, T., Keating, B. (2008). Review of Farmer Initiated Innovative Farming Systems, Land and Water Australia.

Pollan, M. (2006). The Omnivore’s Dilemma. London UK, Bloomsbury Books.

Pretty, J. (2002). Agri-Culture. Reconnecting People, Land and Nature. London, UK, Earthscan.

Pretty, J. (2007). The Earth Only Endures. London, UK, Earthscan.

Rose, D., B. (1996). Nourishing Terrains Australian Views of Landscape and Wilderness. Canberra ACT, Australia, Australian Heritage Commission.

Savory, A. (1988). Holistic Resource Management. Washington DC, USA, Island Press.

Schwartz, J., D. (2013). Cows Save the Planet. USA, Chelsea Green Publishing.

Seis, C. (2018). “Pasture Cropping.” from http://www.pasturecropping.com/pasture-cropping.

Tacey, D. (1995). The Edge of the Sacred. Blackburn, Victoria, Australia, Harper Collins.

Thoreau, H. D. (1960). Walden. New York, Signet Classics.

Trust, A. (2019). “Agrarian Trust.” from https://agrariantrust.org/.

Tudge, C. (2016). Six Steps back to the Land. Cambridge UK, Green Books.

Tudge, C. (2019). “The Campaign for Real Farming.” from http://www.campaignforrealfarming.org/.

Tudge, C. (2019). “The College for Real Farming and Food Culture.” from http://collegeforrealfarming.org/.

Willer, H., Lemond, J., Ed. (2017). The World of Organic Agriculture, Statistics and Emerging Trends 2017, Research Institute of Organic Agriculture, FiBL, Frick, Switzerland; IFOAM – Organics International, Bonn Germany.

Willer, H., Lernoud, J., Ed. (2018). The World of Organic Agriculture, statistics and emerging trends summary 2018, FiBL & IFOAM.

Wills, M. (2015). Increasing Beef Production on Australian Farms. MLA. North Sydney, Australia, MLA.

Yeomans, P. A. (1981). Water for Every Farm. Katoomba, NSW, Australia, Griffin Press.

*Ian grew up on a sheep farm in Western Australia; trained as a vet; and has spent 35 years in the agricultural sector as a vet, a researcher and a resource manager.  Much of his current consultancy work is with indigenous people and community land and enterprise management using the principles of regenerative agriculture. 

Only a Climate Revolution can Cool the World

This from the Climate News Network

by Paul Brown, London July 31 2019

An academic book on fossil fuel consumption reaches a startling conclusion: only a climate revolution can force governments to act to stop the planet overheating.

Governments have completely failed to make progress in tackling the planetary emergency, and a climate revolution is the sole hope that they will do so.

This sounds like a sound bite from Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist who is inspiring schoolchildren worldwide to go on strike, or a slogan from Extinction Rebellion, which has been disrupting city life in the UK and elsewhere to secure an urgent government response to the climate emergency.

Both campaigns might agree with the statement, but it is in fact from a scholarly book, Burning Up, A Global History of Fossil Fuel Consumption, a detailed study into the burning of fossil fuels since 1950.  It looks at fuel consumption in individual countries but also at the political forces that have driven and still drive the ever-growing inferno of fossil fuels, coal, oil and gas, across the world.

The book illustrates the reasons behind the rather frightening fact that since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, despite many promises and warnings, governments have failed to take decisive action on climate change and in fact have made it decidedly worse by continuing to subsidise fossil fuels more than renewables.

Simon Pirani, a senior research fellow at the UK’s Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, takes the reader through an exhaustive examination of fossil fuel consumption and the driving forces behind it.  One point he makes is that governments, particularly in the US, have contrived to kill off the use of buses and trains and instead promoted private cars.

And even if people wanted a choice, they don’t have the chance to make one, so we have to contribute to the increased use of fossil fuels if we want to lead a normal life. Producing many consumer goods and nearly all food depends on fossil fuels. Agriculture depends on oil-based fertiliser; and buying cars, washing machines and fridges leaves customers willy-nilly indirectly consuming fossil fuels.

Pirani is also scathing about the rich world’s reaction to the sort of crisis that is here already and will become more commonplace in a warming world.  He gives the example of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, when there was indifference from the government to the poor and disadvantaged who were most affected – an attitude mirrored across the world in subsequent disasters, especially in developing countries.

Climate change is already affecting swathes of Africa, causing crop failures and famine – again largely ignored by the rich world, which he identifies as the main cause of climate change, continues to cause it, but refuses to take responsibility for its consequences.

His third example is our attitude to refugees. He admits that most of the migrants converging now on Europe and the US are on the move because of wars or political oppression, but says that when millions are forced to migrate by climate change the pattern has already been set.

“There is little hope of world leaders taking the action required to keep the world temperature from increasing more than 2°C, let alone 1.5°C”

The attitude of governments in the rich world, increasingly in the EU but already in the US, is to build walls to keep them out rather than tackle the problem at source.

Altogether it is a fascinating and disturbing analysis of how the influence of the fossil fuel industry and its short-term financial advantage has come to outweigh the scientific evidence and the welfare of humanity in the minds of politicians. It certainly demonstrates why there is little hope of world leaders taking the action required to keep the world temperature from increasing more than 2°C, let alone 1.5°C.

However, Dr Pirani claims that ordinary people can have an impact on governments.  He points to the example of China where the government, fearful of the reaction of its people to the effects of air pollution on its children’s health, has taken decisive action to reduce the damage. India is currently going through the same process.

His book was written and with the publisher before the rise of Extinction Rebellion and the school strikes, but perhaps that is exactly the sort of citizen action he would advocate.

His conclusion is that unless ordinary people reject the continued dominance of the fossil fuel industry and force governments to act by continued acts of civil disobedience. there is no hope of keeping the world temperature below a dangerous level. − Climate News Network

EFRACOM calls for written evidence for its new enquiry: Agriculture and Net-Zero Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The House of Commons Environment Food & Rural Affairs Committee is launching an inquiry into the challenges for agriculture of achieving the UK’s net-zero greenhouse gas emissions target.

In June 2019, the Government legally committed the UK to reaching ‘net-zero’ greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050. The agriculture sector accounts for approximately 10% of the UK’s GHG emissions, and many of the options for absorbing carbon emissions such as planting trees or restoring peatland involve changes to the use of land. Therefore, achieving net-zero will pose significant challenges for farming and farming communities.

Climate change is also a major risk for UK agriculture. For example, farmers already face water shortages, heat stress on livestock, and crop loss owing to hotter summers. More intense rainfall will mean accelerated soil erosion and more flooding. Sea-level rise could also lead to substantial losses in crop production from low-lying areas.

The Committee on Climate Change has argued that existing policies are not working, as agriculture’s contribution to UK GHG emissions remains virtually unchanged at 10% since 2008. It has therefore called for stronger action to reduce agricultural GHGs and a better land strategy to fully deal with the challenge of climate change.

The EFRA Committee inquiry will examine how agriculture can achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 whilst maintaining food production. It will also look at how those affected in farming communities can be supported through the transition fairly.

Neil Parish MP, Chair of the Committee said:

Climate change is a huge threat to farming in the UK. Agriculture must play its part in getting to net-zero emissions, and that will involve tough choices. But, we must do it in a way that maintains food production in the UK. If we don’t, farmers and the public won’t support the actions that we need to take, and we risk seeing higher emissions in other countries as they produce food to sell to us.

We therefore want to explore what are the most practical ways that agriculture can achieve net-zero emissions, and how we best support the farming communities who are going to be affected by the transition.”  

Questions: The Committee is asking for written evidence relating to:

  1. How could 20% of UK agricultural land be repurposed to increase forest cover, restore peatlands, implement catchment-sensitive farming and enable agricultural diversification, whilst maintaining current levels of food production?
  2. Are there other practical and economic ways for the agriculture sector to achieve net zero emissions?
  3. How important will the financial payments proposed under the Agriculture Bill be to incentivise actions to reduce, capture and store GHG emissions, and how should the payments system be designed?
  4. What support, skills, training and information will land managers need to adapt and thrive; and how should this be provided and funded?
  5. How could innovative technologies and farming practices help the agriculture sector achieve net zero? Are they currently commercially viable or is there a viable path to market for them
  6. What impacts would large-scale changes in land-use have on rural communities and how should the transition be managed to achieve sustainable and just economic, environmental and social outcomes?
  7. What impact would encouraging a shift in diets towards lower red meat and dairy consumption have on agriculture, and how could any negative impacts be mitigated?
  8. How can any reduction in UK-agricultural GHG emissions be achieved without ‘offshoring’ emissions to other countries via increases in the consumption of imported foods in the UK?

Deadline for submissions

Written evidence should be submitted through the Committee’s web portal by 30 September 2019. We recommend submitters familiarise themselves with the Guidance on giving evidence to a Select Committee of the House of Commons which outlines particulars of word count, format, document size, and content restrictions.

Diversity: We encourage members of underrepresented groups to submit written evidence. We aim to have diverse panels of Select Committee witnesses and ask organisations to bear this in mind when we ask them to choose a representative. We are currently monitoring the diversity of our witnesses.

Further information:

Committee membership: Neil Parish (Chair) (Conservative), Alan Brown (Scottish National Party), Paul Flynn (Labour), John Grogan (Labour), Dr Caroline Johnson (Conservative), Sandy Martin (Labour), Kerry McCarthy (Labour), Mrs Sheryll Murray (Conservative), David Simpson (Democratic Unionist Party), Angela Smith (Independent), and Julian Sturdy (Conservative).

Specific Committee Information: Tel: 020 7219 5528; email: efracom@parliament.uk  

News and updates from the Committee’s webpages and Twitter, @CommonsEFRA

Inquiry-related questions:

Andy French Committee Specialist, EFRA Committee on 020 7219 7158, or by email to  frencha@parliament.uk.

 

Big business agriculture could be bad for pollinators, which need crop diversity. And that could mean very bad news for an ever-hungrier world.

This piece from Tim Radford of Climate News Network outlines the findings of a new report in the journal Global Change Biology titled: “Global agricultural productivity is threatened by increasing pollinator dependence without a parallel increase in crop diversification”

The full report can be found here

Tim’s summary including comments from the authors as follows:

Tomorrow’s world could be a hungrier world. That is because as large-scale agribusiness gets busier crop diversity diminishes, and the pool of potential pollinators will become increasingly at risk.

Those crops that rely on pollination by the animal world can only deliver the reward of nourishment to bees and other insects for a very short time. As developing nations switch increasingly to massive plantations of soy, canola and palm oil, the creatures farmers rely on to set seed and begin the process of setting fruit will have a problem finding a food supply for the rest of the year.

The message of the latest research is simple: a sustainable world must be a diverse one. And that means a diversity of crops and crop varieties as well as a diversity of forest, grasslands and wildflowers to keep the honeybees buzzing.

Scientists from Argentina, Chile, the US, the Netherlands, Germany, South Africa and Korea report in the journal Global Change Biology that without an increase in crop diversity, agricultural productivity worldwide could be put at risk by its increasing dependence on pollinators – and insects of all kinds could be on the decline, even as crop-devouring predator insects could be on the increase.

The researchers looked at data from the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization on the cultivation of field crops between 1961 and 2016. They found that more and more land is being colonised for agriculture, and the area cultivated for crops that rely on pollinators has increased by 137%. But crop diversity has increased only by 20%. And 16 of the 20 fastest-growing crops require pollination by insects or other animals.

Efficiency above all

The researchers paint a picture of a world in which vast tracts of landscape have been converted for maximum efficiency into plantations producing just one crop, while bees and other pollinators − already at hazard from climate change, pesticides and invasive infection – face a fall in the variety of their own potential food supply.

“This work should sound an alarm for policymakers who need to think about how they are going to protect and foster pollinator populations that can support the growing need for the services they provide to crops that require pollination,” said David Inouye of the University of Maryland in the US, one of the authors.

And a co-author, Robert Paxton of the Martin Luther University at Halle-Wittenberg in Germany, said: “Just a few months ago, the World Biodiversity Council (IPBES) revealed that up to one million plant and animal species are being threatened with extinction, including many pollinators.”

The researchers found that developing nations in South America, Africa and Asia had invested in vast monocultures grown for the global market: soy, for instance, exported to Europe as cattle feed, had risen by about 30% per decade globally, at great cost to natural and semi-natural tropical and subtropical forests and meadows that might otherwise have provided the blooms that pollinators could turn to once the cash crop seeds and nuts had set.

“Studying how this mismatch will affect the reproduction and survival of plants and insects could give us clues to how global warming is affecting the overall ecosystem”

“The bottom line is that if you’re increasing pollinator crops, you also need to diversify crops and implement pollinator-friendly management,” said Professor Inouye.

In a world of potentially catastrophic climate change, global food security is already a worry. Researchers have repeatedly warned that extremes of heat could slash yields and even precipitate global famine.

They have warned that rapid ecosystem change could affect global food supplies and that rapid warming will accelerate the spread of crop pests and diseases.

And even the shifts in the growing season – and in particular the earlier flowering each spring – may soon no longer be matched by the appearance of vital pollinators.

Bees avoid cold

Researchers in Japan report in the Proceedings of the Royal Society that they monitored the emergence of the flower Corydalis ambigua and its pollinator bumblebee in the forests of northern Japan for 19 years.

The earlier the snowmelt, the earlier the flowering. And the earlier the snowmelt, the more likely it was that the flowers would emerge before the bumblebees, which hibernate underground until the soil temperatures reach 6°C, could begin looking for food and, in the course of doing so, pollinate the flower and set seed for the next generation.

“Our study suggests the early arrival of spring increases the risk of disruption to the mutualism between plants and pollinators,” said Gaku Kudo, who led the research.

“Studying how this phenological mismatch will affect the reproduction and survival of plants and insects could give us clues to the larger question of how global warming is affecting the overall ecosystem.” − Climate News Network

 

Thames Valley Farmhack August 16-18

This from the organisers:

“Join us for a weekend exploring and developing technologies and tools for progressive farming.

FHTV19 is being organised by volunteers as a collaborative event. You can find out how you can get involved helping put the event together or collaborate in the design of some tools that we hope to build during the event here

The program for the weekend is still under development, you can input into the process, or keep track of the latest here

We want FHTV19 to be open to everyone, but there are costs to cover. If you can afford to pay more than the base ticket price we request that you do, so that we can offer more reduced rate places.

You can click on the ticket price and increase to what you wish to pay. Any money left, after expenses have been covered, will be put aside as a seed fund for future Farm Hack events.

If you can’t afford a ticket, but would like to join us for the weekend, please contact us at thamesvalleyfarmhack@mailo.com to enquire about subsidised places.

Ticket price includes a camping pitch on site & beautifully prepared vegan food, from Friday evening, until Sunday lunch. You are welcome to bring your own food, but cooking facilities on site are limited.

Getting to Thames Valley Farm Hack 2019

There is very limited parking on site and public transport links are not great.
We will be arranging pick-ups and drop-offs from Goring and Streatly train station.
We also have some additional parking available, but it is a couple of miles away from the site.

We encourage people to use public transport where possible and to car share.
Please contact us to make parking arrangements if you hope to drive to the event thamesvalleyfarmhack@mailo.com
We ask people who are driving, and have space to bring someone else to add themselves & contact details to the car share list on the transport pad”

Greenbroom Farm, near Reading

Tickets are £50 for the weekend

To book, click here

The Re-Generation Launches at the Port Eliot Festival this week – Colin Tudge one of the speakers

The Re-Generation will be launching at Port Eliot Festival in Cornwall UK (July 25-28), with several events over three days, featuring Russell Brand, Colin Tudge, Bruce Parry, Shane Mauss, Amanda Feilding, Jojo Mehta, and others. Please see programme and ticket options here.

Colin Tudge will be in conversation with The Re-Generation Founder, Rory Spowers, on Friday July 26 on enlightened agriculture and regenerative farming

This about Re-Generation

Respect, Restore, Regenerate

The Re-Generation will highlight people and projects for ‘systems change’ in six definitive areas — Food, Health, Economics, Community, Culture and Consciousness.

By bringing together world luminaries and thought leaders in all these key areas, The Re-Generation will present a series of dialogues, debates and panels at festivals, gatherings and other events around the globe.

All of these will be made available as audio and video recordings onto this one platform, along with podcasts and other original content.

Every living cell on the planet, from micro-organisms in the soil and phytoplankton in the oceans, to the cells of our very bodies, the tallest redwood trees and the largest mammals, are now threatened by human activity – by the waste products we have created and which cannot safely be sequestered by natural processes within the time frames required.

While phasing out the industries that are inherently out of step with natural processes, can we actively implement new processes and technologies that are inherently regenerative by design, thereby restoring resilience to the biosphere, regenerating biodiversity, habitats and communities around the globe, through a combination of circular economics; decentralised, bioregional governance; restorative ecological design; regenerative farming and renewable energy technologies? And if so, how will this be possible?

 

 

The Future of Business in the 21st Century: presentation & workshop with Kate Raworth & Juliet Davenport

Join Kate Raworth and Juliet Davenport at Hawkwood Centre for Future Thinking on Friday July 19 2019 from 9.00am – 2.30pm

BACKGROUND
In the 20th century, modern society started chasing the false goal of economic growth, that has pushed many societies into deep inequalities and is driving ecological collapse. This century calls for a new goal: meeting the needs for all within planetary means. What we do to this earth in the next 12 years will shape the next ten thousand, so let’s replace that last century goal of endless growth with the goal of thriving in balance. In other words, it is time to get into the doughnut – the sweet spot for humanity.
Kate Raworth’s concept of Doughnut Economics has been widely influential amongst sustainable development thinkers, progressive businesses and political activists, and she has presented it to audiences ranging from the UN General Assembly to the Occupy movement.

OUTLINE OF THE DAY

AT A GLANCE

  • An in-depth introduction to the concepts behind Doughnut Economics
  • A chance to look at a playful-serious approach to frame the challenge of doing business within social and  planetary boundaries
  • An opportunity to share and discuss the business opportunities of working in this way

CAN WE DO BUSINESS IN THE DOUGHNUT? with KATE RAWORTH

If humanity’s challenge in the 21 st century is to meet the needs of all people within the means of the planet, what does this mean for the future of business?

Join Kate Raworth to explore the many different ways that business is responding to the Doughnut’s challenge, and to the opportunity of becoming regenerative and distributive by design. Through examples of companies big and small, dive into the importance of the design of business itself for achieving the transformations that our economies need.

Kate Raworth’s internationally acclaimed idea of Doughnut Economics has been widely influential amongst sustainable development thinkers, progressive businesses and political activists, and she has presented it to audiences ranging from the UN General Assembly to the Occupy movement.

GOOD ENERGY, RUNNING A BUSINESS ALONG DOUGHNUT ECONOMICS LINES with JULIET DAVENPORT

Juliet Davenport is founder and CEO of Good Energy – a business that’s successfully subverting the conventional giants of the energy sector.  Juliet became frustrated by the lack of change in an industry she knew to be so central to our culture of carbon emissions. She took matters into her own hands and founded Good Energy in 1997. By playing a maverick role in a very conventionally-run industry, Juliet has been part of driving a bigger change among energy’s multinational players.

For more information and how to book:  see here

Darren Doherty teaching at Ragmans Farm June 18-21

A great opportunity to learn from one of the leading teachers in regenerative farming, combining the disciplines of Keyline Planning, Holistic Management, perennial planting, building carbon in the soil, mapping, and market access.

This from Ragmans Farm website:

Regenerative farming has been developed by key people over the last 70 years such as P A Yeomans, Bill Mollison, Alan Savory, Jairo Restrepo, and Andre Voisin, and is now becoming recognised as the key tool in combatting climate change.  Darren Doherty has bought together their thinking into a cohesive programme that enables farmers to plan profitable enterprises that are not only resilient in the face of a changing climate, but help build soil carbon, rehydrate landscapes and create diverse systems . His work is based on solid practical experience across a wide range of production.

Farm Planning outcomes 

1. Produce stable environments with sound watersheds
2. Restore profitability via integrated & regenerative agricultural development & management
3. Increase wildlife species, numbers with species & stability of populations
4. Improve water, soil & vegetation resources of cities, industry & agriculture
5. Re-establish riverine & riparian areas
6. Prevent waste of financial, human & natural resources
7. Entrench regenerative design & living principles within the education system, communities & organisations
8. Develop viable decentralised energy production systems
9. Restore local, regional & global mineral & water cycles
10. Provide value to our collaborators, course participants, clients & community

His current tour is taking in NZ, France, Spain, the UK, Sweden, Uruguay, Brazil, Chile  and Mexico. The course is aimed at commercial farms, but of interest to anyone wishing to learn more about regenerative farming and healing landscapes.

For more information and to book click here

 

Climate change, farming & the vegan – beef controversy

Why pasture based livestock farming could be part of the solution – and the huge importance of good impartial science

by Catherine Broomfield*

Whatever the eventual outcome of Brexit, the soft regulatory power of society may prove to have the greater impact on the long-term direction of UK farming than the hard regulation of State.

Millennials, now joined by Greta Thunberg’s Generation Z, are acutely aware of the half burnt platform on which they stand to face an uncertain future.  They are self-organising on local and global scales to demand agency over how natural resources are used to sustain our lives on earth, including what we eat, how it is produced, packaged, distributed, and at what environmental cost.

They are better informed and connected than any generation before them, acquiring and sharing content in a 24/7 digital world where opinion can become global fact in less time than it takes to eat lunch, and where nuance and complexity are more hindrance than help to points of view which seek to enlighten debate.    

In part this may explain why those who vociferously advocate the end of livestock farming as the silver bullet to all our woes, have been successful at pinning UK farming onto its back foot in the public debate over exactly what constitutes a sustainable food and farming system.  Nowhere in this debate is society’s need for balance and impartiality more needed, and currently worse served, than on the matter of beef, and by extension, what role cattle farming can or should play in providing both nutritious food for a healthy people, and a bio-diverse environment for a healthy planet. 

The scientific community has a clear leadership role to play in facilitating an evidence-led debate, notwithstanding its performance todate which has been a mixed contribution of some less-than-impartial reports, and science overly focused on a single metric, insufficiently tested out there in the messy complexity of real-world farming systems.

But with every rule there is an exception, and in this case, it takes the form of Rothamsted Research’s North Wyke site, near Okehampton.  North Wyke hosts a unique national capability of three discreet 20ha farms forming its Farm Platform, where long-term farm scale experiments are monitoring and measuring all inputs and outputs arising from pasture-based livestock farming.  Importantly all of Rothamsted’s long-term strategic programmes, including the North Wyke Farm Platform, are funded via the public purse rather than by private interests.

Head of Site and Head of North Wyke’s Sustainable Agriculture Sciences Department, Prof Michael Lee, believes this combination of independence, and long term farm-scale experiments places Rothamsted in a unique position to raise the quality of debate on what our future farming systems should be to deliver healthy people and planet. 

“North Wyke’s unique capability to carry out long term farm-scale experiments enables us to assess the ability of different grassland farming systems to fit within all three pillars of sustainability; social, environmental, and economic.  Food has to be safe and nutritious.  Farming has to maintain our natural assets of clean water, clean air, good soil health, and bio-diversity.  And farmers have to be able to make a profit. No system can be considered sustainable unless all three criteria are met.” 

Prof Lee believes that one of the grand challenges for society is to decide what agriculture we want and where to place our red lines in terms of food production.  He goes on to say, “The first red line needs to be animal welfare.  The industrial “feed lot” system of beef production commonly practiced in the Americas, depends on routine feeding of anti-biotics to ensure cattle do not develop liver abscesses because of their intensive grain-based diet.  This is not in my view, ethically sound.  It crosses the red line.  I would personally not consume beef if I could only eat beef produced in a feed lot system. 

The second red line is no more loss of habitat to agriculture.  If we want to protect bio-diversity, if we don’t want to lose anymore of the Amazon, the Steppes, and the Pampas, we have to get more out of the agricultural land we have currently got without harming the environment and natural world.  Really important  and unique work is being done right here at Rothamsted to create a blue print of land nationally and globally; soil types, meteorological conditions, nutrient profiles, in order to build a picture of what we can sustainably grow where to deliver the most good for the least harm.  In the future, all the arable land we have needs to be used exclusively for feeding humans, not feeding livestock to feed humans. That leaves a lot of agricultural land that is not suitable for growing crops because of the climate, weather, soil type, and access requirements.  In the UK, that amounts to a lot of land, about 60% of UK farmland.  We still need to produce food from this land, and the only option is grazing livestock if we want to produce food sustainably for a growing population.  Looking into the future, there is definitely going to be parts of the UK where it will be better to remove livestock, but other parts – predominantly in the west and north  – where we will absolutely need to keep grazing livestock.”   

Put like that it is difficult to understand why the argument for a 100% plant-based human diet has gathered so much traction and credibility as the morally superior and only sustainable way forward.  Professor Lee argues this is because the wrong things have been measured when it comes to land use efficiency.  “The argument used against ruminants (cattle and sheep), is land use efficiency.  Ruminants require a lot of land comparative to other types of food production, but the measurement should be ARABLE land use efficiency which will clearly show that for certain types of agricultural land, such as the grasslands of the west and north of the UK, grazing ruminants deliver the highest land use efficiency compared to other agricultural means of food production.” 

The different farming treatments carried out on each of North Wyke’s discreet farms are now entering their 4th year, when according to Prof Lee, his scientific team’s diligence and patience will really start to pay off.  “We now have 3 years’ worth of data measuring all aspects of the whole farming system.  The sophistication of our in-field measurement systems have enabled us to capture more than 21 million data points on water quality alone, to which we add data points on levels of ammonia, nitrous oxide and methane in the atmosphere.  As well as the large emphasis on environmental parameters we assess the economic sustainability of each system and key social parameters such as animal welfare and the quality of the nutrients provided in the food produced. This also allows the assessment of key nutrients (essential amino acids and fatty acids, selenium, iron, zinc, vitamins) per area of non-arable land to fully determine the role of grassland systems in a sustainable food system. ” 

One begins to appreciate the value of the work already undertaken by Prof Lee and his North Wyke team.  However the next stage of North Wyke’s farm platform has potential to shed significant light onto the heated debate as to what, if any, role grazing livestock should play in our future food and farming system.

“If you say that there is no place in our future farming systems for grazing livestock, it begs the question what are you going to do with all those farms predominantly on the western side of the UK representing ~1.2m hectares of land?  Some will inevitably be taken out of productive farming and could be ‘re-wilded’ but the vast majority will want to stay in farming.  And under the zero-livestock scenarios the only option open to them is to convert to arable. 

To test this scenario, we are converting one of our farms to arable to simulate just such a situation.  Our parameters are that the arable crop produced will have to be bread wheat quality or equivalent because in the future we should only be growing crops to feed directly to humans. In our scenario there will be no market for straw as bedding/fodder, and no farmyard manure with which to build soil fertility because there will be no livestock.  Using our long-term, multi-disciplinary approach, we can answer the question of what would happen in grassland livestock regions, such as here in the south west if given over to growing an arable crop.  What is the true impact of ploughing up all the grassland?  What are the environmental impacts in terms of carbon emissions, and nutrient loss in soil? We will measure the yield and compare it with a grassland system in terms of both nutrient loss and nutrient output of the food produced.  We will conduct the experiment over the long-term and at a whole farm level.  Our science at Rothamsted is for the benefit of society so the evidence will be published and available to all.  I am firmly of the view that if the science tells us that growing bread wheat in an area like the south west is much better use of land from a sustainability point of view;  society, environment, economy  – then fine, let’s do it.”

‘Eat Less Meat’ may become one of the slogans of our times.  Whilst it is undeniable that we should reduce our meat consumption to improve the health of ourselves and our planet, in our rush to reduce, we risk throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  To quote Patrick Holden of Sustainable Food Trust “there is farming that is part of the problem and farming that is part of the solution.” For those of us who believe that pasture-based livestock farming is an essential part of the solution, Rothamsted’s unique long-term experiments will make a vital contribution in enabling society to get beyond the slogans and arrive at an informed decision about the farming system we need to sustain healthy people and planet.

*This article originally appeared in the Western Morning News. It is reproduced here with permission of the author