- Graduate Certificate a "transformational experience"
- Why we cannot certify regenerative agriculture
- We are at war with nature?
- Southern Cross University regenerative agriculture degree a world first
- Australian of the Year Nomination
- Carbon Farming
- Growth is Risky Business
- Strengthening the resilience of farmers
Southern Cross University researchers presented data from their ongoing trials at a field day on Tuesday, September 13. The trials involve assessing the impact of multispecies cover crops in subtropical horticultural plantations.
Held at Zentveld’s coffee farm and roastery in Newrybar and David Grellman’s macadamia orchard in Dalwood, the event was part of a program of Regenerative Agriculture Alliance (RAA) projects funded by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF); aimed at quantifying the benefits of regenerative agricultural practices in restoring degraded soils.
Presented by Professor Terry Rose, Dr Karina Griffin and entomologist Dr Christopher Carr, the team discussed soil health and the cover crop trails they have been undertaking in the inter-rows of Northern Rivers coffee, macadamia and avocado plantations. They also detailed Dr Carr’s current findings as to the effect of cover cropping on beneficial insect populations.
While it is too early to come to any firm conclusions as to the efficacy of various cover cropping techniques, the use of lablab in coffee plantations was ruled out. By June 2022 at Zentveld’s, lablab was highly dominant and had shaded out all other ground cover, it also caused significant issues in the plantation as it climbed all over the coffee plants.
Another preliminary conclusion is that little positive impact on soils can currently be attributed to the summer cover crops sown, as the endemic perennial, summer-growing ground covers in the control plots produced an equal amount of biomass to the sown cover crops. Smothering from summer cover crops has the potential to weaken the existing summer-growing perennial groundcovers, which is not desirable.
Winter cover crops, however, appear to have made a noticeable difference in labile carbon in the winter-spring period. Presumably this is because more biomass was produced where winter cover crops were over-sown, compared to the control plots, where existing groundcovers were relatively dormant. Control areas were not mown for the duration of the cover crop cycle.
“Short story is, these winter cover crops do seem to be improving our soil health by producing additional biomass over the winter period. Further, these cover crops can be direct drilled into existing perennial groundcovers in autumn, so groundcover is maintained. Bare soil at any time of the year is undesirable in the northern rivers, where intense rainfall events can occur at any time of year and cause erosion on sloping lands. It appears that we can establish winter cover crops in coffee plantations without ruining our perennial base, so these winter cover crops look like they’re a bit of a winner in terms of soil health,” said Professor Rose. Winter cover crops are more challenging in many macadamia plantations, where nuts need to be harvested off the ground over the winter period.
This message was repeated throughout the day, the key takeaway being that regardless of what is growing in the inter-rows, whether it be weeds, native grasses or cover crops; they all have a beneficial effect, increasing biological diversity, biomass and holding the soil together in heavy rainfall. In summary, growing anything on the ground between your trees is preferable to bare dirt.
We speak to Kym Dibb, one of Southern Cross University's first graduates in the Graduate Certificate in Regenerative Agriculture about her solutions-focused learning experience and inspirational career pivot:
I am a mum of 3 young kids, living in Brisbane’s inner suburbs. I studied a Bachelor of International Business as an undergraduate and have worked in television content distribution, media, and corporate services. Thinking about pivoting my career, I decided to up-skill and get involved in an area I am passionate about. My interests in organic food, nutrition and permaculture led me to Charles Massy’s book Call of the Reed Warbler, and like so many of us I felt compelled to learn as much as possible about Regenerative Agriculture. I studied the Grad Cert part time over 18 months and chose the postgraduate pathway so I could build on my existing professional experience in a new industry without feeling like I was starting over.
Starting out I simply wanted to learn about regenerative food systems, however as the Grad Cert progressed, units covering human ecology, climate science and resilience have taken my thinking to the next level. Also, this course has given me an even greater appreciation for our farmers, our food, our first nations people and our natural environment overall.
An incredible time for change
Although agroecosystems are complex and context specific, most regenerative principals are surprisingly simple, especially when you start to take on a holistic perspective. Transitioning away from conventional practices may be daunting for some farmers, but there is a growing network of success stories and emerging scientific evidence demonstrating regenerative agriculture can have positive impacts on the triple bottom line. This is an incredibly exciting time, especially as we currently face so many socio-ecological issues; we are able to offer up solutions. However, our greatest challenge lies in our perception and the interconnectedness of how our food is grown, human health and the subsequent functionality of our landscapes and natural resources. Rest assured SCU are paving the way for a new wave of agricultural graduates and professionals to take on this challenge.
Our knowledgeable and passionate teaching staff collaborated with regenerative farmers and renowned regenerative agriculture pioneers as guest lecturers, which gave so much value to the overall learning experience.
Transformational experience that reshaped my trajectory
The Grad Cert has completely reshaped my career trajectory. In the immediate I am interested in further study in environmental management and public policy but can see future pathways in either research, state government, or in consulting, with a particular interest in carbon farming. And of course, I hope to manage my own regenerative agricultural enterprise one day.
On a personal level, it’s been a transformational experience which will influence beyond my career, hoping I can raise the kids with the level of ecological literacy that will be a requirement for their generation.
June 2021 - By Lorraine Gordon
As a movement, regenerative agriculture finds itself having to address many challenges. One such challenge relates to a question I get asked frequently: “Can we certify regenerative agriculture?”
While I understand consumers want a guarantee that the product they purchase has not damaged the environment, when you ponder the certification path from a holistic context, you can soon see that it is at odds with the fundamental principles that underpin regenerative agriculture.
You cannot certify a set of practices which are ever-adapting and evolving as part of a complex adaptive system. Farmers conduct their work within ecological systems that behave in complex, adaptive and often unpredictable and dynamic ways. These systems are constantly evolving. It is also important to see the earth as alive, and understand that human society itself is an interrelated ecological system. By certifying regenerative agriculture you are slipping straight into the old paradigm of putting everything in a box. Nature is a complex adaptive system and doesn’t understand the concept of ‘in’ or ‘out’ – certified or not certified.
Regeneration is in part a self-organising quality inherent in nature, which many practices consciously or unconsciously encourage. This is a quality where every living system has inherit within it the possibility to move to new levels of order, differentiation and organisation. Whilst sustainable systems must maintain productivity, regenerative systems go a step further in restoring what has been lost and improving what is currently there.
We cannot ‘certify’ regenerative practices because these practices are about continuous improvement and knowledge and therefore prescribing what is ‘in’ and what is ‘out’ goes against the basic principles of inclusiveness and continuous transformative learning and evolving with our landscapes.
Regenerative agriculture is about being comfortable with ambiguity. Not trying to control things, instead letting ecological systems self-organise and accept that we don’t have all the answers, and probably never will. This also means not attempting to ‘define’ or ‘certify’ how regenerative agriculture is understood in different contexts.
We must mirror the reflexivity of our ecologies by continuously evolving as they do.
For example, one regenerative practice – be it minimal tillage or cover cropping – may not be relevant in another few years because you might find something you can do better for a particular environment, in a particular bioregion, at a particular time.
By certifying regenerative agriculture you also run the risk of ostracising those who are on the path towards regeneration. There are lessons in the failures of the organics sector when it comes to the ostracising arguments that have occurred over the past 30 years through the process of certification. Certified organic is not a guarantee of environmental stewardship at all, in fact it can be the opposite.
Most farmers are already using some form of regenerative practice. They may be reducing their use of chemical inputs, adopting time controlled grazing, or experimenting with multi species cover cropping. Where do you draw the line and at what cost for those who fall just short of that line?
We don’t want a ‘them-and-us’ scenario which certification fosters. It’s about us all going on a journey together so we can be more resilient. It’s about farmers expanding the tools in their toolboxes and trying some techniques that might work well in their specific bioregions.
Verification, not certification
Whilst certification has the ability to stop us from evolving in the way we work with our landscapes, verification supports continuous improvement in landscape function through managing holistically.
The verification process identifies improvements to the environment and recognises land stewards who are committed to an evolving regenerative journey for the long haul.
As the consumer appetite for regeneratively farmed food and fibre increases, we have to walk the fine line between encouraging demand with a trusted and transparent brand while also ensuring regenerative agriculture stays true to its principles as an ever-evolving set of practices aimed at restoring our already degraded landscapes and soils.
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.
How disconnected from landscapes we have become. I was disappointed by the metaphors that former fire Chief Greg Mullins used when responding to the 2019 Australian fires.
He said, "The enemy is geared up ... it's like [the enemy's] suddenly got nuclear weapons." Mullins remarked that, "Climate change was the enemy."
This was echoed by another former fire Chief, Lee Johnson. He went further suggesting, "national military-style training" to deal with the, "locality of battles in a greater climate change war."
I absolutely applaud the efforts of firefighters and have personally worked beside them in the recent NSW bushfires. However, I never thought for one moment that we were at war with Mother Nature.
Indeed, as the Indigenous fire practitioner and author, Victor Steffensen says,"the only reason we are seeing all this degradation to landscape is not just because of climate change, but it's because of bad management."
Perhaps we should all ask the question that Ethan Gordon, PhD Candidate at the Institute for Sustainable Futures, did in his recent article, 'How Language Shapes our Landscape Decision Making.'
He says, "What is the consequence of treating ecological systems, that are in distress because of human actions, as if they are a nuclear enemy? To fight and destroy the environment is to fight and destroy ourselves. Human beings are in no way separate from the natural world ... this approach has narrowed foresight; no longer can we see the potential for ecological reconciliation. Instead, we only see the 'enemy.'"
Let's contrast these metaphors with those of Indigenous people. They speak instead of "fire knowledge holders" and "becoming part of country."
Note the difference in metaphor use. Is it any wonder that we haven't been able to 'close the gap' when there are such stark differences between our conceptualisations of nature.
According to Gordon, these differences in metaphor use reflect competing discourses. The former is born of colonialism, "and hence carries heavy militaristic symbolism."
He says, "This is not a reflection of the individuals who have spoken these words, so much as it is a reflection of a society still gripped with colonial power. This power dynamic is clear in the metaphors as they reinforce independence, specialisation and control. They align with common conceptual metaphors that shape western thinking on nature."
My own approach is to work with nature, and do my best to understand the lessons she imparts.
It is worth remembering that we need her more than she needs us. I will watch this so called 'battle' unfold. It is clear who will win in the end.
- Gordon, E., 2020, 'How language shapes our landscape decision making,' www.linkedin.com/in/ethan-gordon
This article was originally published in The Land
Southern Cross University has officially launched the world’s first degree in regenerative agriculture, aimed to equip land managers in tackling the impacts of climate change.
The new degree is a Bachelor of Science with a major in regenerative agriculture. It will develop specialist knowledge in a whole-of-system approach to farming, food distribution and production, examining human ecology, agro-ecology, regenerative agronomy, soil management and planning rural landscapes.
Southern Cross University's rural champion Lorraine Gordon joins a lifesaving blood donor, a human rights activist surgeon and a slam poet as nominees for the 2020 NSW Australian of the Year Awards.
They are among 16 NSW people in the running to be named the state’s Local Hero, Young Australian, Senior Australian or Australian of the Year as the nation celebrates the 60th anniversary of the awards.
See the complete list of nominees and media release here.
New podcast about regenerative agriculture set to ignite change
A new podcast, produced by the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance at Southern Cross University, is set to ignite a much-needed national conversation about resilient farming practices in the face of climate change and drought.
The ‘Ground Cover’ podcast launched today with a double episode and thought-leading farmer Dr Charles Massey.
Hosted by the veteran voice of agriculture, Kerry Cochrane, Ground Cover is a podcast for farmers by farmers. It is a uniquely Australian series exploring real-life stories of land managers who have undertaken the transition from conventional farming to regenerative agriculture.
Each week the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance will share a unique and honest conversation about the challenges and opportunities of regenerative agriculture so farmers can make informed decisions about how best to manage their land.
Regenerative agriculture describes farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, mitigate climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity – resulting in both carbon drawdown and improving the water cycle.
Director and founder of the Regenerative Farming Alliance, Lorraine Gordon, who introduces each episode, said Ground Cover is set to spark conversations to drive necessary change at a critical time for Australia’s farming future.
Lorraine’s story and her mission to transition Australia to regenerative farming, will feature in our eighth and final episode of this season along with a very exciting announcement which is set to be a game-changer for agricultural education in this country.
Ms Gordon said, “Regenerative agriculture is the way we must go if we want to remain resilient and want our landscapes to remain intact. In these challenging times of climate change and drought, it is a sense of urgency is what drives me and Ground Cover is set to deliver the compelling story of regenerative agriculture to a large audience.”
In this Australia-first podcast you will hear from nine leaders and revolutionaries in this space. You will hear them speak about their incredible journeys from conventional farming to regenerative agriculture. You will also hear them speak of unexpected changes – in their values, in their connection to land and their overall economic, environmental and social wellbeing.
To listen on your preferred listening app:
Apple itunes: Ground Cover on itunes
Stitcher (android): Ground Cover on Stitcher
Spotify: Ground Cover on Spotify
"Farmers who continue to cultivate soil rather than use no till, will perish," a quote from Andrew Trotter, Latevo Famers Mutual.
Interesting comment coming from an insurance firm, so what does this mean for farmers? The time has arrived where both financial institutions such as banks and insurance companies will value a property or base the insurance premiums on how it stacks up under climate change.
The challenges ahead are enormous, however, at the same time, exciting. How do we put a value on our natural assets? It won't be long before those farmers who have invested in their landscape's environmental assets will see those assets sitting on the balance sheet of their farm.
In fact, already we are seeing properties with tree belts, fenced off waterways, mixed pastures of both improved and native species attracting a premium in the market place. Welcome to a new area of agriculture. Welcome to the era of carbon farmers.
I highly recommend the Australian Farm Institute's Changes in the air; defining the need for an Australian agricultural climate change strategy report supported by Farmers for Climate Action as very considered and well-presented.
According to the report, what is needed is "a successful natural strategy for climate change and Australian Agriculture must be underpinned by research development and extension to enable systematic adaption and identify the priority gaps where action and strategic policy are needed."
In other words we need a triple bottom line approach around the following actions: Strong research, development and extension, a transition to clean energy and to invest in the capture and storage of carbon.
If the recommendations of this report are taken up by our leaders and decision makers, we have a chance not only to save our landscapes but deliver real returns to farmers. So far what has been the norm is reactive policy rather than pro-active policy, working in silos rather than working collaboratively, having an internal focus rather than an external focus.
This mindset has not served us well and is greatly responsible for where we have landed. The sustainability ship has sailed, we are now responsible for repairing/regenerating for the benefit of future generations.
As Peter Mailler of "Sittara" Goondiwindi so aptly put it: "This conversation around productivity is shortening our natural capital - we will end up crashing the system".
From my point of view, consider it crashed! From the financial institutions point of view, climate change is increasing their risk and threatens their own balance sheets.
The work being undertaken by the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance based out of Southern Cross University is focusing on measuring carbon techniques, natural capital accounting and what is referred to as co-benefits through a collaborative approach with other organisations and researchers.
This is an exciting space for farmers and the Alliance coupled with the Farming Together capacity, is focused on assisting them to get there. NFF's Tony Mahar comments that "Farmers are at ground zero in regards to dealing with extreme weather events and climate change."
I'm not sure how we put a value on the likes of clean water, fresh air and quality food from healthy soils and landscapes, but together with the Alliance and NFF, I'm keen to make a start.
So the situation as I see it is as follows: whilst agriculture is responsible for 13 per cent of global emissions, it will be 100 per cent of the solution.
Baselining carbon isn't an exact science and it doesn't come cheap. An effective government strategy would have to be to pay farmers to do the initial baseline measurements or at least cover the cost until the farmers start to receive an income from carbon trading in the future (a bit like a HECS loan).
Overnight we could see real impact in the carbon capturing space and instil hope for our farmer's futures through being a market for offsets for the big polluters.
Let the era of Carbon Farming commence, let the economics drive that change for the benefit of our planet and future generations.
No one will play a more important role in the future in addressing climate change then farmers.
If two-thirds of the non-frozen planet is in the hands of farmers according to the World Wildlife Fund for Nature's (WWF's) Ian McConnel, it will be farmers that will save the day.
Finally, congratulations to both Meat and Livestock Australia and the NFF for signing up to carbon neutral beef by 2030. Given we waste 40 per cent of the food we produce - creating a shocking equity issue around the planet - we have much work to do, so let's get cracking.
Lorraine Gordon is Southern Cross University's Director of Strategic Projects and the Program Director at the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance as well as the Farm Co-operatives and Collaboration Program. She is also Associate Director at SCU's Centre for Organics Research.
This article first appeared in The Land:
How can we be expected to produce more in the face of degraded soil and climate change?
This question was on my mind during the 'Farming in a Risky Climate Conference' on June 26 in Brisbane, and I would like to congratulate the Australian Farm Institute on delivering this factual and timely event.
The Hon David Littleproud MP, recently-appointed Minister for water resources, drought, rural finance, made the statement in his opening speech, that we need to "ensure we go from a $60 Billion industry to a $100 Billion industry," referring to exporting our rural produce.
I believe this creates a real conundrum for Australian farmers and the landscapes of which they are the caretakers.
The question I propose is how do we continue to extract this sort of return from "the land" when we have depleting and degraded soil profiles and less water resources coupled with the reality of climate change?
How do we mitigate against drought and flood events which by all accounts scientists are telling us will continue into the future.
I think it is time to perhaps take a breath, and reflect on the continuous focus on economic growth at all costs.
One of the many impressive speakers at the conference was Dr Peter Hayman who is the Principal Scientist in climate applications at the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI).
As program leader of the climate applications science program area, he works with industry stakeholders in dryland and irrigated industries to identify key climate risks and then form appropriate research and development partnerships to address the issue.
Hayman provides a two-way flow of information between climate scientists from the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO and agriculture in South Australia.
Based on data acquired from CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM), Climate Council and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) "this is a mature science".
In other words, the temperature is rising due to our interactions, be it fossil fuels and human influence, and by 2020 we will be some between 1.5 per cent and 2 per cent warmer.
This means worldwide, it will be between 2 degrees Celsius and 4.5 degrees Celsius warmer, which will make it wetter in the tropics and drier down south.
So, we now have 97 per cent of our climate experts agreeing humans are causing global warming.
Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARES) are highlighting that profits have decreased by 70 per cent overall from 1950 to 2000.
Much of this due to poor policy around drought which slows both innovation and adaption.
CSIRO's Dr Zvi Hochman, who is the Senior Principal Research Scientist and a research team leader for integrated agricultural systems, made the comment that since 1990 crop yields have become "stagnant", 47kg per ha per year less - a 27 per cent decline.
The solution is to mitigate by decreasing our greenhouse emissions by the use of red marine microalgae being fed to cattle, dual-purpose crops, focusing on genetics, the environment and our management such as preventing soil organic matter run down and depletion.
According to Hochman, "What we are seeing are farmers, advisors and scientists working harder just to stay in the same place!"
The trends are what we should be concerned with rather than the term drought.
Yet we have government telling us to produce more. Shouldn't this conversation shift from producing more to increasing value-adding with a focus on premium products?
So if we focus on mitigating these issues, should we not be looking at incentives to increase soil carbon and decrease our greenhouse emissions - the carrot approach rather than the big stick approach.
Food for thought!
Lorraine Gordon is Southern Cross University's Director of Strategic Projects and the Program Director at the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance as well as the Farm Co-operatives and Collaboration Program. She is also Associate Director at SCU's Centre for Organics Research.
This article first appeared in The Land:
By Lorraine Gordon
For a country that proudly trumpets its ‘green and clean’ credentials, it’s surprising to discover that Australia invests less public monies in environmental outcomes in rural regions than the EU or the US.
Expressed in terms of expenditure per unit of agricultural land, this represents A$0.63/ha/year across all agricultural land compared with agri-environment expenditure of A$16.89/ha/year in the EU and A$15.39/ha/year in the US.
Meanwhile, an environmental imbalance is revealing its impacts through Australian agricultural research.
- replacing native woody vegetation with European-derived crops and grazing systems has been named as a possible cause of regional climate changes, notably warmer and drier conditions.
- the run-down of natural resources, especially soil fertility and carbon, is likely to constrain further potential gains in crop productivity.
- current best estimates for Australia’s major irrigated agricultural basin, the Murray–Darling, suggest 10–20% rainfall declines could be associated with 20–40% reductions in water availability for irrigation.
- erosion rates in much of Australia’s agricultural lands are 10 times greater than the estimated average natural rate of erosion, and soil acidification studies reveal about 11% of all Australian agricultural land has <5.5pH.
Australia’s national drought policy formulated in 1992 shifted responsibility for adaptation away from government agencies and onto farmers, after economic analysis indicated some aid programs were ineffective, inequitable and encouraged poor management practices.
There is growing recognition that arable land has values beyond commodity production and since 1990, Australian Government investment in natural resource management has focused on strategic issues such as salinity and biodiversity protection.
Aware of the pressing need for a new way of thinking around agriculture, the Regenerative Agricultural Alliance was formed with support from Southern Cross University.
It aims to:
- Strengthen resilience of Australian farmers to withstand impacts of climate change;
- Encourage sustainable, science-based innovation in Australia’s agribusiness sector; and
- Support a thriving farming community and generate broader economic returns for regional, rural and remote Australia.
It seeks to lead in the agricultural-innovation space through a distinct focus on three outcomes areas:
- Climate change adaption
- Drought resilience
- Research and development into alternative approaches to agricultural production
The early work of the alliance suggests that the best strategy for drought and climate adaptation is in the ongoing regeneration of Australia’s natural capital: its landforms and the soil/water systems supporting them.
We suggest that these adaptive mechanisms should be applied further into regenerative agricultural systems to deliver benefits that are quantifiable and qualitative.
What is the Regenerative Agricultural Alliance? It comprises highly regarded farmers, service providers and researchers, all leaders in environmental science, soil and plant science, marine and forestry science.
It is an independent, non-partisan and inclusive coalition offering high-quality, scientific, evidence-based and practically orientated solutions for stakeholders. It aims to tackle issues related to climate change adaption and drought resilience through regenerative agricultural research, education and practice.
Although only six months old, the Alliance footprint is already impressive. Its signatories include industry-leading ‘hands-on’ participants.
Our monthly e-newsletter now has more than 13,600 readers. It includes funding alerts, general news and a science digest.
You can subscribe by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
In addition, we have many individual farmers linking up with the initiative through our Facebook page www.facebook.com/regener8ag
Our first public interface, an offer of free soil carbon testing saw the email server crash under demand. From Mataranka to Meekatharra and Millmerran, soil-conscious farmers rushed for tests offered by Southern Cross University, a signatory to the Alliance.
The offer attracted farmers from across Australia, from large stations to small organic landholdings and across a variety of sectors – dairy, red meat and horticulture. The response indicates the increasing interest among Australian farmers in benchmarking their soil carbon levels, and in soil health more generally.
The alliance incorporates other faculties within the university, notably its plant science, forestry and marine science expertise as well as its leading soil and water labs and the Centre for Organic Research. These researchers are coupled with some of the nation’s more forward-thinking farmers and farming groups to see both high-end R&D alongside practical application of regenerative farming principles.
The alliance champions regenerative agriculture to improve the resilience, productivity and profitability of the Australian landscape; returning us to prosperity-creators, not adversity-managers.
We have identified national strategic solutions to pro-actively work with Australia’s volatile agricultural climate and managing its fragile soils and landscapes.
- Establish a national Regenerative Agriculture Advisory Group to work with the Minister
- Deliver innovative, pro-active Government incentives schemes supporting regenerative agricultural practices
- Develop a credible and cost-effective natural-capital accounting framework and environmental measurements
- Introduce incentives for farmers to build and maintain carbon stocks through biodiversity bonds, increasing soil carbon, tree cover and/ or ground cover
- Recognise the relationship between soil health, plant health, animal health and human health.
This article was originally published in RGD Magazine