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An agricultural insurgency – Late Night Live – ABC Radio National (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
This is the World Organic News for the week ending the 15th of January 2018.
Jon Moore reporting!
This week we are looking at a segment from an ABC program, Late Night Live entitled: An agricultural insurgency.
In this segment, Charles Massey from the Monaro high plains in the Australian Alps on the New South Wales side of the Snowy Mountains, talks about regenerative agriculture. Charles is a fifth generation farmer in the area. I spent seven years in this country where my two children were born as was my understanding of landscapes and my farming/gardening philosophy.
A little about the Monaro. The difference between a good year and a bad is as thin as a cigarette paper. Droughts are brutal and good years have between 10 and 16 inches of rain. Not quite a montaine desert but not far from it in a long drought. Purely by coincidence rather than good planning we were keeping Shropshire sheep when the 1990s drought gripped the area. These docile sheep would fatten on what appeared to be dead feed. All around us people were supplemental feeding merinos and our girls just put on weight looking at the feed. Well not quite, but close enough. Summers can hit 40 degrees C but with really low humidity. These temperatures are rare but do occur.
Winters can be brutal, especially frosts in dry years. Minus ten to minus fifteen overnight and up to 15 to 20 during the day was not uncommon. The frosts were things of great beauty. Snow falls were relatively rare with peaks of the alps and the ski fields taking most of the snow but we could get falls at any time of the year.
Settled in the 1860s and strip cleared by hand, the soil profiles on the creek lines told the story of settlement. The top profile where we were consisted of a sandy decomposed granite, yellow in colour. The second layer consisted of light grey soil with scattered pieces of charcoal from the clearing and burning of the tree cover. Below that was a thin, 3 to 5 mm layer of burnt material. These top three layers were the evidence of white colonisation.
Below those levels were what was once the topsoil. Black in colour and varying from 15 to 50 mm. Lovely looking stuff. Then an original subsoil level then the granite bedrock.
The point I’m trying to impress upon you is this: A hard climate, a short growing season, wrecked soils and overgrazing with merinos and beef cattle. That being the case, Charles Massey, the guest on the linked interview has come from a place where regenerative agriculture was and is a necessity rather than a luxury. Most on the stored strength of the country has been lost. There is very little in the bank of soil fertility.
Regenerative agriculture is the only answer if the district is not to become a montaine desert.
The interview is well worth a listen. It emphasises the importance of biology in soil science rather than just the chemistry and physics. Indeed the biology is the key to regenerative agriculture. So instead of lowering stock numbers to allow the plant cover to grow, larger numbers of stock are used but in a different way. Set stocking, x number of sheep, say, on a 200 acre paddock all year is replaced with twice as many sheep moved across twenty five paddocks on the same 200 acres.
This has several effects. The grasses are grazed hard for a short time. They are smothered in droppings and then left alone. This mimics nature and the great herds of the African Savanna as well as the bison herds of North America. Once the stock have been moved on and might not be back for between 9 and 18 months, the grasses re-grow, recovering from the periodic grazing they evolved to withstand. They produce deeper root systems, more feed and better water retention. An added benefit for the stock is the breaking of the parasite cycles as they parasites aren’t able to continue their life cycles through the stock because the stock aren’t there to ingest the eggs.
In a similar way the Fukuoka’s sowing methods Massey talks about farmers direct seeding into grazing paddocks as the summer grasses seed off for the year. By not ploughing but direct seeding soil structures are preserved and the cycle requires far less inputs.
On the question of inputs, he talks about glyphosate. He believes a coverup on glyphosate has occurred and that the backlash will make the reaction to the tobacco industry’s attempts to hide evidence look like a Sunday school picnic.
He points out the growing evidence for glyphosate destroying gut biota immune systems and as a consequence our own. He talks about the ubiquity of this chemical in the environment and points out it was found in the top four hop varieties in Germany.
Massey also discusses the correlation between the rise in glyphosate usage and the rise in obesity and autism rates amongst other things.
I would highly recommend you listen to this interview. There is a link in the show notes.
I am firmly of the belief, based upon my reading and practical experience we need to move the world’s agricultural practices over to regenerative methods. Not just for the benefits to the soil and the stock and even to us but because of another point Charles Massey made.
If 15% of the world’s agricultural land was farmed in a regenerative manner and the soil carbon on the 15%, remember that number, a mere 15%, we could remove all the excess carbon added to the atmosphere since the start of the Industrial Revolution.
Now to achieve this will take some political will, some courage and the decimation and re-writing of agricultural support legislation across the US and the EU. It is doable, but it isn’t going to be easy.
And with that thought I’ll finish for this week.
A transcript of this episode is available at worldorganicnews.com
Thank you for listening and I’ll be back at the same time next week.