By Kirra Grimes
THE South Gippsland, Bass Coast and Western Port farming communities were invited to join a “bottom up revolution” last week as respected sheep grazier, academic and author Dr Charles Massy visited the area to speak on the benefits of regenerative agriculture.
The manager of a 4500-acre Merino sheep stud at Bobundara, New South Wales, and author of ‘Call of the Reed Warbler: A New Agriculture – A New Earth’ (2017), Massy conducted five sold out workshops across southern Victoria last week, stopping at Poowong on Wednesday to address an audience of around 80 people, representing a diverse range of farming setups.
His presentation, split into two sessions and finishing with a q&a session, focused on some of the big challenges facing today’s farmers- specifically with regard to climate, soil health, water, and biodiversity- and the ways in which regenerative agriculture can provide practical solutions to these issues.
“Whether it’s cropping or grazing, we know new methods of agriculture can be used to rapidly regenerate landscapes, and in turn, provide solutions to some of our big challenges like climate change, water scarcity and also some of our major modern health crises,” Dr Massy said.
Describing an “underground insurgency” in which food and fibre producers were regenerating landscapes and partnering with urban communities to “create an agriculture, climate and planet of health,” Dr Massy said there were positive things happening but “we need that to accelerate,” and he called on those in the audience to consider adjusting their own farming practices to more environmentally-friendly methods, and to continue to think, read, and participate in “farmer-driven learning”.
“Agriculture is front and centre to our futures and I’m very passionate about the potential of regenerative agriculture to help save the planet and ourselves,” Dr Massy said.
“I have little faith in change coming from the top, so I’m preaching revolution from the bottom up- us farmers and the consumers that support us can turn things around and hopefully the government will step in in time… but I’m not holding my breath.”
With the use of herbicides and other “quick fixes” still popular, Massy acknowledged it would be difficult to shift farmers’ thinking, but said it was encouraging to see increasing acceptance and participation in alternative practices including biodynamics and agroforestry, and other new developments in grazing, cropping and silvo-pasture.
And with local food systems, smaller acreages, and a “really informed public,” the South Gippsland/Bass Coast area had good potential to “go down the path” of regenerative agriculture.
“There’s opportunities, but the challenge is to get the message across to get it to a tipping point,” Massy said.
“And I have certainly noticed a shift in the last two years- a lot more people are talking about it, and a lot of that’s driven by Landcare and the CMAs [Catchment Management Authorities], which is a real credit to them.”
The Poowong workshop was presented by the Western Port Catchment, Bass Coast, and South Gippsland Landcare Networks, in partnership under the Smart Farming in Western Port Project- a five-year sustainable agriculture focused project running from October 2018 to June 2023.
Bass Coast Landcare Network’s Sustainable Agriculture Program team leader Joel Geoghegan said it was great to see the level of interest locally in the “growing philosophy” of regenerative agriculture.
“The core basis of the Smart Farming project is to demonstrate innovative approaches to sustainability and promote a shift in thinking in what sustainable agriculture means.
“It’s not about preaching but just giving people the opportunity to engage, listen, digest, and see how these new approaches can complement what they’re already doing on their farms, and have a positive impact on the environment.
“And there is evidence as well that, if done properly, regenerative agriculture can reduce input costs,” Joel said.