The future for agriculture is bright and there are changes that can be made to the agriculture production models to bring them into line with the goals of drawing down carbon and feeding the global population. The goal of these production systems should be to improve soil health as producing healthy soil can store large amounts of carbon to produce enough healthy food and in turn feed a global population of healthy people.
The development of regenerative agriculture has a number of pioneers who have successfully achieved these goals. This includes Gabe Brown from Browns ranch in North Dakota in the USA, Colin Sies from Gulgong in New South Wales and Alan Savoury from Zimbabwe who have changed the paradigm of how agriculture is practised. The key steps of regenerative agriculture to improve soil health are to use minimal soil disturbance, provide armour (plant cover/mulch), increase plant diversity, have living roots in the soil for as long as possible and use grazing animal impact to cycle carbon and nutrients.
As part of this process we also need to internalise the social and environmental costs alongside the economic costs along our food supply chain so that our produce can be valued more effectively for its true cost. This would give farmers the feedback to change their systems. The project drawdown list of the top one hundred ways to reduce our impact on climate change lists a number of these options for the food system and land use. This includes reducing food waste, moving to a plant rich diet, revegetating tropical forests and developing silvopasture on grazing land in the top 10.
Some examples of where these practices have been undertaken in Victoria on a large scale are Jigsaw farms near Hamilton in Western Victoria. The first carbon neutral grazing operation in Australia through the use of silvopasture as a form of agroforestry. Another example is Niels Olsen from West Gippsland who uses a specialised soil renovator, The SoilKee, and diverse cover crops to increase his soil carbon levels and has been the first to gain carbon credits for soil under grasslands.
Agriculture is at a cross road and due to a lack of policy to internalise the environmental and social costs the food supply chain has not provided the signal to producers to reduce their direct greenhouse gas emissions. However, the practices that will be the most productive into the future will be those that have the greatest ability to draw down atmospheric carbon while producing enough food to feed the global population.
Farmers for Climate Action
FCA is a movement of farmers, agricultural leaders and rural Australians working to ensure that farmers, who are on the frontline of climate change, are part of its solution. They are an advocacy group that aims to influence policy to implement a national strategy on climate change. This has culminated with the tabling of a report calling for a national strategy in Canberra a few weeks ago where a delegation of famers spent the week in Canberra and met with ministers, shadow ministers and members of the cross bench including Helen Haines who is pushing to declare a climate emergency. Other activities that the FCA undertake includes training farmers to undertake climate smart agriculture, mobilising farmers to push for a clean energy transition, advocating rural and regional politicians champion climate action and renewable energy for rural and regional Australia and assisting agricultural leaders to advocate for climate action.
*The author is a farmer near Perry Bridge and a member of the FCA