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Former soldier fights for climate action through Regenerative Agriculture

Greg in field


Cloe Jager
27 October 2023

Former Australian Defence Force Infantry Officer Greg Colton has switched from serving his nation to fighting for a global cause: our climate.

Through his studies in Regenerative Agriculture, Greg is pushing for new farming practices for the benefit of future generations.

Following a distinguished career spanning more than two decades in the British and Australian armies, Greg and his wife moved to an over-grazed 100-acre (40.4ha) property in the Snowy Monaro region of New South Wales. Needing to regenerate the land, Greg enrolled in the Bachelor of Science (Regenerative Agriculture) at Southern Cross University.

While transitioning from the military to farming sounds unconventional, Greg’s career path seems to have been written in the stars.

“When I was in high school, I had a career guidance class and I completed a computer quiz. There were about a thousand questions and at the end it spat out the jobs that it thought you were most suited to. I only had two results. One said army officer and the other said farmer,” Greg said.

“I look back and laugh. Maybe they were actually on to something.”

 To me, it's about trying to make sure  that Australia, and the wider world,  
is able to produce food for my grandchildren's  generation without destroying the planet,  
and I'm really excited to be a part of that.  Hello, my name's Greg Colton, and I'm studying for  
a Bachelor of Science specialising in Regenerative  Agriculture at Southern Cross University.
Regenerative agriculture isn't actually defined,  which makes it so exciting, but in essence,  
it's working in harmony with ecosystems for the  profitable production of food or fiber. So it's  
a holistic way of farming in harmony with nature  rather than against it. Being an online student,  
one of the real highlights is coming  to the university for residentials.
We have two or three residentials a year  that we've come to, and that includes a lot  
of time farm visits, and we've visited  a whole range of farms across southern  
Queensland and northern New South Wales  from strawberry farms to cotton farms,  
beef enterprises, uh, horticulture.  And that gives us a real opportunity  
to speak to real farmers who are actually  putting into practice what we're learning.
In my second year, I was really lucky and  fortunate to be awarded the VRM Biologik  
Future Leaders Scholarship. And that allowed  me to keep studying. As a student, receiving  
a scholarship from a company like VRM Biologik,  and receiving the mentoring from them as well,  
not only has helped me through, um,  the last couple of years at university,  
but it's really given me an injection to  go forward into the workforce afterwards.
My wife and I have a small 100 acre farm in the  Snowy Monaro region, and it's been great putting  
into practice some of the things that we've  learned on the course. We have over 200 fruit  
trees, mainly cider apple varieties to create  a cider brand. But also we rotationally graze  
paddocks for the horses that my wife uses  in her equine assisted learning business.
And being able to put that into practice on the  farm and see the changes just in the last three  
years of the ecosystem, uh, we've put in over  200 natives to connect up wildlife corridors,  
and I know now that that's not  only good for the environment,  
but actually that has benefits  for our farming practices as well.
I'm not quite sure what the future,  um, holds after the end of this degree,  
but what I do know is that I'm really  excited about taking what I've known forward,  
not only into my own farm,  but into my local community.

Greg’s pursuits in regenerative farming were championed in his second year of study. A VRM Biologik Future Leaders Scholarship has further propelled his plans to enter agriculture.

“Not only has it given me confidence in my own ability and my studies, the company is also mentoring me so that I can go into the agriculture space and help others transition towards more regenerative practices,” he said.

The highlights of his course so far have been the people, from teaching staff to his peers.

“The academic staff have been brilliant. This is the fourth university I have studied at and these are the best lecturers and academic staff of all four. The other students are also fantastic. Within the cohort, there is such a rich variety of experience, ideas and passion.”

Greg said the hands-on residentials and farm tours have brought his degree to life. He has visited properties across northern New South Wales and southeast Queensland, including strawberry, cotton, macadamia, and cattle farms.

He is now incorporating his learnings into the management of his own farm in the Snowy Mountains.

“We rotationally graze our horses based off how the grass is growing and what the weather conditions are like,” he said.

“We’ve planted over 200 fruit trees, mainly cider apple trees, and we’re managing the orchard by using a lot of regenerative agriculture strategies, including testing the soil annually.

“We’ve also planted over 200 native trees to create wildlife corridors near our orchards. These produce ecosystem benefits, such as bringing pollinators and natural predators of pests into our farming system. The hope is that we can create a self-managing ecosystem that is also productive.

“It’s not just the practical things we’re doing; it’s the mindset of how we’re doing it. We’re not asking how we want the property to look in two years’ time, but in 100 years from now.”

Greg said there needs to be a mindset shift for how we care for our planet.

“I don’t understand who wouldn’t be an environmentalist with our understanding of climate science. Who doesn’t want to see a planet fit for habitation for their children and grandchildren?” he said.

“Instead of the Australian agricultural sector thinking about how we grow beyond $100 billion as an industry, I think we should be asking how we get beyond 100 years. How do we farm in this country and provide food for people to eat in the twenty-second century? I think the whole conversation needs to flip and it’s quite exciting to be a part of that.”

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