Regenerative agriculture has suddenly become flavour of the month. I do not say this lightly, as ever since this concept was mooted by the Rodale Institute in the 1980’s it has been gaining momentum. In Australia, it got another boost by various permaculture practitioners earlier this century and now it is being taken up by many mainstream organisations. A few years ago the Rodale Institute renamed their direction as Regenerative Organic Agriculture, as some Regen Ag proponents still use some chemicals as part of the farming mix.
While conventional cropping practices required that all weeds and vegetation be killed (usually by herbicides) before sowing and during crop growing, there are many farmers who now practice no-till, minimum till and a whole host of different techniques that build soil. Building soil, farming based on the principles of ecology and better farming practices became the basis for ‘sustainable agriculture’: a phrase that was coined by Australian agricultural scientist Gordon (Bill) McClymont in the 1950s.
Regenerative agriculture is now seen as “beyond sustainable”. Historically, regenerative agriculture was seen as management practices within organic farming, but these principles and techniques can be applied to a wider variety of farming enterprises. There is certainly increasing scientific evidence that these techniques do work, and there is marked improvements in soil and nutrition levels in plants and animals.
Organic farmers work to improve the soil and our local environment, but those promoting the concept of regenerative agriculture extend this ideology by also advocating the regeneration of community, our health and wellbeing, and the broader biosphere.
Like most organic farming methods and philosophies, it has always been more than the ‘agriculture part’ of farming. But we also need to keep this in context: agriculture is still the backbone of society and the foundation for modern civilisation. We all need farmers!
All agricultural farms are businesses, and they exist to make money for the farmers. Various enterprises are undertaken to generate income and cash flow, and these enterprises can change from one year to the next. Farmers need to make a living and they can do so by incorporating a range of regenerative and restorative techniques.
Regenerative agriculture is an umbrella term for any agricultural practices that lead to building more carbon in soils and thus healthier soils, increasing biodiversity and hydrology in the farming landscape, and still making all of this economically viable and profitable.
In this context, Regenerative Agriculture embraces aspects of Organic farming, Holistic Management, Polyface farming, Keyline, Pasture cropping, Permaculture, Natural Sequence Farming, Natural Intelligence Farming, Agroecology, Biodynamics, Regrarians Platform, Restoration ecology and MasHumus, (a biological farming method from Latin America that makes biofertiliser from manures), and no doubt other ideals and practices.
Many of these disciplines are techniques of farming methods, while the permaculture aspect provides the holistic overlay of design – where things are placed so that everything acts as one and all elements or components in the system are integrated.
While various courses and workshops exist around the world and throughout Australia, there are no accredited training units or courses as part of the Agriculture, Horticulture and Conservation Training Package. It is time for this to change. Industry demands it, the consumer demands it and the community as a whole demands it.
It is time to develop and offer specialist training units in Certificate 1 right through to Diploma level in regenerative agriculture and showcase many of these unique strategies to grow soil. While whole courses could be devoted to regenerative agriculture, in the first instance we need to develop a series of units that slot into existing AHC courses.
As an example of this, here are some unit (working) titles (unit codes example only) to illustrate the kinds of learning outcomes that are typically found and expected at each level:
Unit AHCREG101: Observe and Support Regenerative Agriculture Practices
Unit AHCREG201: Carry out Regenerative Agriculture Practices
Unit AHCREG301: Evaluate Regenerative Agriculture Practices
Unit AHCREG401: Plan and Design a Regenerative Agriculture System
Unit AHCREG501: Develop and Manage a Regenerative Agriculture System
The other two options are to develop a specific skills set of say four units on Regen Ag to complement existing courses or to modify existing agriculture and permaculture units (CIV and Diploma mainly) to embrace the Regen Ag direction and difference.
If you wish to support any of these proposals and these to be considered by the AHC Industry Reference Committee then please email Andrew Horgan.