Regenerative agriculture is sometimes dismissed as meaning all things to all people, but to David McLean from Resource Consulting Services (RCS) the answer is clear. “Regenerative agriculture is about the outcomes you achieve, not the inputs you use.”
To achieve regenerative outcomes, you need to adopt practices that regenerate healthy soil, that improve plant health, that regenerate animal and human health, that regenerate businesses, and together they support thriving communities.
David McLean is Chief of Delivery at RCS, Australia’s leading provider of education, training, and advisory services in regenerative agriculture. “There is no one silver bullet for regenerative agriculture. It is about balancing many things, and fundamentally you need to have your agricultural systems spiralling up towards improved biodiversity and health, rather than spiralling down towards degradation.”
Moving forward, verification is going to become increasingly important in regenerative agriculture as opposed to accreditation. “Again, it is about outcomes. If you can demonstrate that your soil carbon is increasing or that you’re building natural capital, you’ve got evidence that your farm is regenerating,” McLean said.
Promoting biodiversity is central to the success of regenerative cropping, and photosynthesis drives biodiversity.
“Research shows that many plants are only operating at 11% of their photosynthetic potential, so you can have a paddock full of green stuff that isn’t reaching its potential. We are finding that as soil health improves, photosynthetic capacity increases, akin to having more solar panels in a solar farm.”
“Under irrigation, where water is not a limiting factor, it is possible to increase photosynthetic capacity five fold, which inturn increases yield five fold. But under dryland conditions our goal would be to double it,” McLean said.
“The plant knows where it needs to direct its energy and the healthier the soil the more the plant partitions enery into production. As soil health improves, the plant directs more carbohydrates into above ground production and shunts less carbohydrates through its roots to drive soil health repair.”
Another benefit of improving soil health is reduced risk. Regenerating soil results in higher Brix measurements in crops – a measurement of dissolved sugar in the leaves. Two of the many benefits of higher Brix readings are improved frost tolerance and reduced insect predation.
Ran Mitchell, a regenerative cropper west of North Star in NSW, witnessed this first-hand two months ago. “For three days, I watched a thick swarm of plague locusts fly right across my healthy cowpea crop to eat a struggling crop on the property next door. It was quite incredible,” Mitchell said.
Alexandra de Blas
RCS Communications Specialist