After more than 80 years of industrial-style agriculture dominating Australian broad acre production, a new way of assessing the land's worth is now gathering momentum, says director of the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance, Lorraine Gordon.
Ms Gordon was the key note speaker at a biosecurity forum in Lismore on Wednesday, during which she outlined a future of diminishing returns, should producers not begin to adopt a more sustainable approach to farming.
"I believe we have opened a Pandora's Box by creating the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance," she told a pavilion full of listeners at the Lismore showground. "This is destined to become a massive movement. Regeneration is going to come at us from every angle. Put simply it means to leave the environment in a better state than we found it."
Based at Lismore's Southern Cross University the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance, part of the Centre for Organics Research, Ms Gordon said the movement had the ability to galvanise a groundswell of public support because "everybody can do their part" by adding compost to soil, by implementing planned grazing to increase soil carbon and to reduce rainfall runoff through the creation of softer soils.
"We have already put a strategy to government so that there can be pro-active solutions to drought and climate change."
She said the time would come soon when farmers would be paid for their role as custodians of regenerative land management and already lending institutions and insurance companies were nutting out ways to value sustainable land assets, or natural capital.
"It is important that we put a value on the environment," she said. "what are shelter belts worth? Clean water?"
Meanwhile "traditional" extraction farming was already leaving lending institutions exposed during drought risk by not looking after future soil quality while yield of broad acre cereal crops has, since 2000, reached a plateau.
Quoting David Tilman in a 2002 issue of Nature she said nitrogen application was continuing to increase in order to achieve the same past results while peak phosphorous was a major concern, with Russia and China now holding the last reserves of phosphate rock, which are predicted to run out in 50 years.
There is also a link with healthy soils, livestock and people.
Danish organic farmers have a higher sperm count, she said, while people on diets of industrially farmed food showed reduced fertility and higher rates of lymphoma along with greater chance of obesity.
Grass fed beef had much higher rates of healthy Omega 3 fats compared to grain fed animals which showed higher amounts of less-healthy Omega 6.
At the core of the matter is the fact that 60 per cent of Australian land is farmed for food or fibre production and there was a "no-brainer" requirement to support those farmers in doing the right thing for their soil, the wider environment and the greater climate.
But to start with land managers needed to benchmark their soils - especially carbon levels - and measure increases using data and documentation so that government bureaucrats and economists can begin to come on board with regenerative agriculture.