Where is agriculture today?
In Charlie Massys’ epic assessment of today’s agriculture “The Call of the Reed Warbler”, he puts it this way. The Human Emergent Mind has been over-ridden by the Human Mechanical Mind. We have spiralled into the vortex of a systems-based approach agriculture that wants to rescue all the things that can go wrong. We have a system for almost everything because, well, humans seem to like it that way.
The opposite of a systems approach is diverse reasoning; some might say it’s not far from chaos. The Mechanical Mind abhors chaos, which is understandable yet, ironically, Natural Systems are grounded in chaos.
So, the question remains, is Regenerative Agriculture just an ideological theory or can you put it into practice with the result that is as good or better than the Conventional Rescue Remedy system.
A little history reflection might help here.
Before World War 2, there were some awful agricultural practises. Before World War 1, there were also some destructive agricultural practices. In fact, centuries earlier, the Spanish were spreading salt on conquered lands to prevent it from being productive for the natives. Only difference was, the Conquistadores knew what they were doing!
The Conventional Rescue Remedy system of farming didn’t result as the brainchild of one farmer, or a cult, or a king’s decree. Instead, it lurched forward into a popular food growing method with some healthy shots in the arm from an industrial revolution that was growing to replace the preceding agricultural revolution.
First came steel-bladed ploughs to whip those soils into shape through comparatively effortless ploughing. Then came steam-powered engines to assist the steel ploughing, though the horse-powered horse teams were a hard habit to break. Next came oil and its refined products that made farming even more effortless and the real new-age food and fibre production systems went up multiple gears.
Industrial agriculture changed up again with the advent of affordable phosphorous, when the American steel industry was looking for a way to deal with excess sulphuric acid. The mixture of the two compounds formed superphosphate fertilisers and immediately agriculture was on an even higher production trajectory.
Pre-20th century, the recipes for chemistry applied to agriculture in the form of insecticides, fungicides and herbicides were somewhat tightly held by apothecaries, the early versions of today’s chemists. However, small family farming communities often shared brews and remedies for all kinds of preventions and cures of crop and animal ailments.
These family farmers were not so production-driven since the constraints on transport of produce were a severe limitation to their market population. We can possibly describe this farming system as more labour-intensive, time-rich, soil-rich, plant-diverse, rotation-breadth and animal-focused…today we call it holistic. It resulted in a general environmental positive health edict. Well-nourished plants and animals out competed the pathogens and hostile predators since nature was pretty much in balance.
The Rescue Remedy System
Play that timeline forward to today’s Conventional Rescue Remedy system, and what have we created?
- A planet where every 163 people owe their survival to just one farmer, who is planning at the behest of their advisors to create enough production to feed 210 people by 2050.
- A first-world food production system that discards approximately 25% of gross product deemed ‘outside of specifications’ to animals or landfill.
- A second and third-world food supply system that is so impaired by trade barriers and conflict, it causes over 10% of the world’s population to suffer hunger. 
- 70% of global food supply is generated by small farmers, herders and fishermen in rural populations who are themselves at a food insecurity threshold.
- An industrial food production system largely driven by yield per hectare, regardless of the nutritional value, mineralisation, flavour, storability and complexity of that food.
- A grain supply system rooted in acid-coated fertiliser, nitrogenous dependent, weed-intolerant, insect-predated, fungal-challenged plant physiology.
- Plants genetically modified that can be over-sprayed with herbicide and not die, only to have their seeds enter the human food chain carrying that herbicide.
- Excessive horticultural tillage methods which destroy soil structure, water-holding capacity, carbon sequestration and soil-microbial life to a new low in total biodiversity.
- A mono-cultural tradition so strong that one plant growing in the wrong place earns the label of weed and the entire crop is treated with a herbicide as a preventative measure.
- Learning institutions funded by the creators of all of these challenges.
And specifically, locally, what does the face of Australian landscapes look like as a result of this?
- An Arid-Zone landscape which water flows over before it runs through.
- Murray-Darling Basin Rivers that run too fast for the structure of their banks to retain their form
- Great Barrier Reef catchment waters that run turbid and nutrient-rich with silt and fertiliser leaching and run-off.
- Wimmera-Mallee soils that are increasingly non-wetting with a water-repellent wax coating
- Wheatbelt crops that suffer frost damage regularly.
- High-country grasslands prone to wildfires with abundant invasive plant species
- New England tablelands with mono-cultural grasslands of annual based pastures
And so, the list goes on.
So how do we turn it around?
When there seems to be so much wrong with where we’ve ended up, at RCS we believe there is a hugely exciting future for agriculture if we take a new road from here on. Leaving behind the practises that don’t work or DEGRADE our agricultural lives and systems, it stands to reason that this new road leads to REGENERATION – Regenerative Agriculture.
Regenerative Agriculture has some critical differences from the Conventional Rescue Remedy system. For a start, it’s not a system like the one we’ve grown used to. It is guided by principles, underwritten by the re-introduction of biology. It changes the Mechanical mindset from killing the undesirable species that we deem intolerable to Holistically creating life and Regenerating balance between species.
Our dependence on cropping prescriptions, our ignorance of ecosystem services as a critical tool in farming and our continually downwards-spiralling soil carbon fraction has taken us to where we are. We have painted ourselves into a corner with white 20-litre drums marked S7. The warrior-like farmer who goes out to battle Mother Nature every day.
However, at RCS we believe that striking a deal with her is not Regenerative. Working with her is. This is the foundation of our training, coaching and mentoring.
The author of this article, Nic Kentish, is a recovering Conventional Rescue Remedy farmer. He and his family have acknowledged that their Mechanical Mind approach to farming was not working economically, ecologically or healthily. He is a trainer, coach and senior consultant with RCS and lives in the Adelaide Hills.
RCS Trainer, Coach and Advisor