What are the principles of regenerative agriculture?
Recently, the National Farmers Federation (NFF) set the target of economy-wide zero net carbon by 2050.
Whilst I applaud the initiative, the science is clear that we don't have 30 years to act. This target sits in contradiction with the plan for a $100 billion agricultural industry by 2030 - up from $60 billion.
This seems ludicrous with a changing climate and depleting soils.
Surely, agriculture should instead be value-adding more nutritionally-dense food whilst at the same time achieving zero net carbon; not extracting more from our already depleted landscapes.
How do we achieve this?
Below are the core (and evolving) principles of regenerative agriculture that my family and I follow in the management of our own farm.
They are based on our experience and research, as well as discussions with likeminded colleagues.
Many organisations have started talking about the 'principles' of regenerative agriculture - but all they do is list a set of practices.
Principles should instead reflect more fundamental truths about how we approach and perceive agricultural landscapes.
The practices, on the other hand, are the actual application of those principles.
So what are the principles?
- Think holistically: The roots of regenerative agriculture stem from holistic thinking. This is because farmers conduct their work within nested, living systems - these cannot be understood without a holistic approach.
- Have an understanding of complex adaptive systems: To aid your holistic decision making, it is important that you understand how nature behaves in complex, often unpredictable and dynamic ways.
- Be comfortable in ambiguity: Do not try and control things, accept that we don't have all the answers, and probably never will.
- Have the capacity for continuous, transformative learning: We must mirror the reflexivity of our ecologies by continuously evolving as they do. Personal development is critical.
- Make place-based decisions, within bio-regions: Our decisions need to be specific to the uniqueness of the places and landscapes we inhabit. Follow your intuition, do not act on advice that claims universal relevance without questioning its validity.
- Understand that humans and cultures are co-evolving with their environments: We co-evolve with our environments on a biological level. But also on a cultural level. The cultural significance of landscapes needs to be reintegrated into land management approaches.
- Acknowledge and involve diverse ways of knowing and being in landscapes: Last but not least, empathise with other ecological perspectives. Integrate their wisdom into your own practice whilst holding fast to your personal ecological vision.
These principles propel us into a new way of doing agriculture. Practices such as 'maintaining ground-cover' are the result of deeper shifts in thinking. They are not principles themselves.
If we instead continue exposing bare soil, creating monocrops that kill biodiversity, spraying out paddocks prior to sowing new pastures or crops, set stocking, overusing synthetic chemicals, fertilisers and pesticides and so on - we will destroy the very resource we rely on for productivity. There's no $100 billion industry in that equation.
- Lorraine Gordon is Southern Cross University's Director of Strategic Projects at the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance and Farming Together Program. She is also an Associate Director at Southern Cross University's Centre for Organics Research.