Regenerative Agriculture, or Regenerative Farming, has in recent years become a term promoted by a number of farmers and organisations across Australia. It is also being supported and promoted by politicians at Federal and State levels as a panacea for the perceived degradation of natural resources and declining agricultural productivity. More recently government funding has been provided for its further development and promotion.
Regenerative Agriculture seems to mean different things to different people and is probably not completely understood by many.
For example, the organisation “Soils for Life” defines the principle of Regenerative Agriculture as achieving “strong, healthy soils with deep carbon levels (which) retain water, support strong, nutrient rich plants, and promote biodiversity”. Further, “Regenerative landscape management techniques generally focus on integrated management of soil, water, vegetation and biodiversity and becoming more efficient in the use of natural resources” (www.soilsforlife.org.au/about/why-are-soils-important.html)
The techniques being promoted include:
- applying organic composts, fertilisers and bio-amendments
- encouraging natural biological cycles and nutrient transfer
- adopting holistic management
- implementing time-controlled planned grazing
- using grazing management and animal impact as farm and ecosystem development tools
- retaining stubble or performing biological stubble breakdown
- constructing interventions in the landscape or waterways to slow or capture the flow of water
- fencing off waterways and implementing water reticulation for stock
- investing in regeneration
- pasture cropping
- direct-drill cropping and pasture sowing
- changing crop rotations
- incorporating green manure or under-sowing of legumes
- managing for increasing species diversity
- reducing or ceasing synthetic chemical inputs
- integrating enterprises (op.cit.)
Soils for Life emphasises that Regenerative Agriculture is not a “one size fits all” approach to land management. It follows that regenerative practices should be carefully researched and trialled before widespread adoption in varying climatic conditions, soil types and management systems.
The principle of Regenerative Agriculture in seeking to maintain groundcover, protect soils, and to improve soils for sustainable productivity is sound, and is supported by the Soil Knowledge Network.
The Soil Knowledge Network considers that the means of achieving improvements need to be supported by scientific data and/or well documented case studies with credible data to ensure that the reasons for the results achieved are understood and therefore able to be assessed across a range of climatic/geographic landscapes, soil types and seasons.
It is of concern to the Soil Knowledge Network and other soil scientists, biologists (particularly micro-biologists) and hydrologists that some management techniques promoted by some farmers and commercial entities and the results attained have been promoted as universally applicable, when this has not been independently assessed and/or is clearly not the case.
- scientific soil biology and biodiversity knowledge is still in its infancy, and the interaction of biology with management practice changes is poorly understood, particularly at the field scale. Yet there have been many unsupported claims made about biological soil amendments and the results of their use
- manipulation of stream flows to divert water will not be successful in many landscapes due to soil type, underlying substrate, position in the landscape and/or water tables. There are also legal implications for water licensing under the Water Acts
- the view that chemical fertilisers are not beneficial could be counter-productive in many soils that are nutrient poor. Plants do not differentiate between sources of nutrients, and building soil carbon requires organic matter, which in turn requires various ratios of N P K S and other nutrients. Nutrients removed with product are slowly depleted if not replaced with organic or inorganic nutrients.
Soil Knowledge Network Position Statement
The NSW Soil Knowledge Network’s position:
- the principle of Regenerative Agriculture in seeking to maintain groundcover, protect soils and improve soils for sustainable productivity is sound, and is supported by the Soil Knowledge Network
- however, the principle and practices of Regenerative Agriculture need to be refined and more clearly explained.
- there is a need to develop and promote regenerative land management packages that contain a blend of components from a broad range of sources based on sound science-based ecological/ biological principles, geologic/ geomorphic/soil conditions, agronomy and sensible long-term financial planning.
- the geographic applicability of these packages needs to be defined. Taking case studies from a landscape with a specific climate, soil type and enterprise and applying them to other landscapes and soils which may have different physical and chemical characteristics and expecting the same results is a potential problem which needs to be avoided. In short, management packages need to be defined by where they work and where they don’t work.
- caution should be taken in promotion of anecdotal land management alternatives. Rather, the Soil Knowledge Network supports well documented scientifically validated land management systems
- any application of organic or chemical fertilisers should be based on soil test results
- the Soil Knowledge Network has a broad expertise in soil and land management trials and extension, farm planning and soil survey, which it is committed to share.
- the Soil Knowledge Network welcomes liaison and co-operation with Soils for Life and other like organisations to further develop, assess and promote Regenerative Agriculture
Promoting the importance of soils through knowledge and expertise