Regenerative agriculture is one of the most frequently mentioned topics in modern food production as it has become increasingly clear that we need to transcend the farm practices of the past, when inputs were heavy handed, and the environment was seen as something to overcome rather than to work with in harmony.
At RCS, we’ve been advocates of regenerative grazing and cropping for more than 30 years.
Our commitment to this approach extends back to the 1980s when co-founder Dr Terry McCosker began exploring ways to help Australian producers do things better. Since then, we’ve grown to become Australia’s leading private provider of education, training, and advisory services in the agriculture industry.
So, what does the term regenerative agriculture really mean? And how do we measure its success?
“Regenerative agriculture is about achieving outcomes and the first outcome we’re chasing is soil health.
“If we’re improving our soil health we improve our plant health, which leads to animal health, business health, and ultimately human health and community resilience.”
David McLean, Chief of Delivery, RCS.
Firstly, regenerative agriculture is about balance. It requires simple but highly effective processes that replenish the landscape and repair the damage inflicted by production systems that degrade the soil and ecology.
We begin with the soil – understanding how to build microbiology and reduce chemical inputs to achieve a topsoil that is loose, friable and alive with biomass, leading to greater productivity and complete ground cover.
In cropping, minimising soil disturbance and using cover crops between production periods helps nurture the ecosystem, while longer and more diversified crop rotations reduces the impact of pests and disease.
Rotational grazing guards against stocking regimes that leave the ground bare and vulnerable to erosion and runoff. The growth cycle of grass requires a period of rest for the plant to flourish.
The rest period depends on location, plant composition, season, infrastructure and what you need to achieve, and how we manage grazing has an enormous impact on plant roots. With deeper root systems comes healthier grass, more productive livestock, and a more profitable business.
Just rotation and rest are powerful when applied, but rainfall use, property design and a range of other holistic management measures further the profound impact a regenerative system can achieve.
It’s about balancing many things to create an upward spiral toward improved biodiversity and health. It is building natural capital and seeing the benefits flow on to planetary, animal and human wellbeing.
Secondly, and importantly, regenerative agriculture is about measurable outcomes.The balance and harmony created by the proven methods we teach at RCS lead to outcomes that can be quantified. Over a period of more than 30 years, we’ve been working alongside Australian farmers with programs like GrazingforProfit® and have seen clear results – increased biodiversity, increased soil carbon and greater economic profitability and resilience in farm businesses.
While regenerative agriculture has been around for some time, the growing urgency to produce food in a way that prioritises ecological health has brought it to the forefront of global discussion.
It demonstrates how regenerative agriculture has entered an exciting and profound phase, where its principles are being recognised for the results they deliver, not just to the natural capital that is our land, water, and air but to the health of our animals, our people, and our community.
We begin our regenerative transition when we consciously decide to work in sync with Mother Nature, to do no harm with our agricultural practices and align our attitude with a more natural system.
Building our understanding of soil health grows our knowledge of how biology, physics and chemistry combine to create the foundation of life on the land.
The journey through the RCS Pathway also includes regenerating our business to provide economic stability for current and future generations of farmers. Staying in business whilst adapting to and growing our production systems is paramount.
Regenerative land management methods aim to grow plants, fibre and food without harming soils or our wider environment, including water catchments and oceans.
Applying inputs that enhance plant physiology and build resilient and stable soils defines regenerative agriculture. Growing healthy plants, animals, and people and having communities prosper starts with defining and knowing our goals. Once established, we can use various new and old management tools to grow healthy production systems that enhance ecological stability.
Continually seeking knowledge, skills and methods that build upon the ecosystem services that Mother Nature already provides underpins regenerative systems.
If you’re looking to buy agricultural land, we recommend the following process.
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We cannot change what rainfall we receive. However, we can change how much we retain in our soils. We can hold more water in our soils for longer by building soil microbiology populations to grow our soil organic matter and humus content.
Plants with deeper, more fibrous root systems host greater populations of soil life which are more likely to remain there and not oxidize to the atmosphere. Decomposed soil life can become soil carbon. This has the greatest subterranean affinity with soil moisture and nutrients, creating a more complete and regenerated water cycle.
We can significantly reduce soil erosion by managing the soil life and plant roots that hold it in place. When we take care to hold soluble soils in place with plant root exudates, soil fungi and microbiology, we revert to a more stable landscape that is still capable of producing food, fibre and profitability.
Soils that are actively managed to become stable and grow in carbon, humus and altitude set a new vision for RCS clients and the land they crop or graze.
As soils and landscapes naturally weather and change form, so we teach farmers the skills to regenerate and grow their entire ecosystem, of which soil is the primary resource.
In regenerative cropping systems, we aim to empower you to grow your soil moisture retention, particularly in the topsoil. You can achieve this by enhancing the soil’s biology, physical structure and chemical properties. Soils that increase in organic matter and humus retain more moisture for longer in most situations.
The same principles apply to growing grass for livestock. Matching your Stocking Rate to the Carrying Capacity of the land by controlling the mouths applied will avoid creating feed deficits. As seasons come and go and vary in nature, so too do our management strategies. RCS clients are empowered through training to read and measure these variations and manage their grazing accordingly.
Discover RCS’ recommendations for preparing for, managing through and recovering after drought in our free self-paced online course RCS Drought Preparedness.
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