Why is fixing our soils so important?
Soil is the lifeblood of agriculture and is fundamental to our survival. Healthy soils are essential for healthy plant growth, food production for human nutrition and ecosystem services such as clean water and air. Healthy soils help to regulate the Earth’s climate and store more carbon than all of the world’s forests combined.
Since European settlement, our Australian landscape has lost two thirds of its soil carbon. Many of our land management practices, including agriculture, forestry and fire, have unwittingly caused significant damage to our landscape.
Notwithstanding some good farming practices supported by some good science, we are continuing to suffer from soil erosion and composition and a serious loss of soil carbon. This results in poor soil water holding capacity and compromised nutrient availability for plants. Changing weather patterns exacerbate the situation.
Much of our agricultural landscape remains under stress. We need to urgently change our land management practices to restore the health of our soil.
What is Regenerative Agriculture?
The principles are simple. Strong, healthy soils with deep carbon levels retain water, support strong, nutrient rich plants, and promote biodiversity.
It’s not rocket science. These principles have been practiced for millennia by land managers who see themselves as stewards with a responsibility to enhance and preserve the landscape for future generations. Regenerative landscape management techniques generally focus on integrated management of soil, water, vegetation and biodiversity and efficiently using natural resources. The Soils for Life case studies reveal that consistent principles, such as a holistic approach to management, underlie the application of regenerative agriculture, regardless of enterprise type or location. Regenerative agriculture is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach to land management.
Regenerative agriculture techniques 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 revegetation
- 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
Regenerative agriculture benefits include:
- Increased productivity, leading to increased profits
- Improved soil health – structural, chemical and biological properties
- Supporting a diversity of vegetation to moderate temperatures, provide habitat and build resilience
- Sequestering greater amounts of carbon from the atmosphere
- Retaining more water in the soil for uptake by plants and animals – extending the growing season
- Supporting health and biodiversity in soil microbes
- Facilitating healthy nutrient cycling
- Producing more nutrient-rich vegetation and livestock
- Producing healthier, more nutritious food and livestock, and therefore healthier people
- Regenerating, rather than degrading, the natural resource base
- Building a landscape which is more resilient, especially to climate extremes (such as flood, drought and fire),able to recover more quickly
- Reducing input costs
- Enabling sustainable production
- Smoothing out production and profit peaks and troughs
- Applying techniques that could sustainably feed growing global populations
- Encouraging neighbours to adopt regenerative practices, through leading by example
Read about how individual farms are achieving these benefits using these regenerative agriculture techniques in our case studies. You can search them by state and sector here.