The Difference Between Conventional And Regenerative Agriculture
Is conventional animal agriculture currently degrading our land and contributing to climate change? Yes. But can regenerative animal agricultural methods simultaneously reverse land degradation, desertification and climate change also? Yes.
NOTE: Regenerative Agriculture is currently ranked as the top 11th solution (out of 100) to climate change in Paul Hawken’s book ‘Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming’. It is estimated it can reduce and safely store 23.15 gigatons of carbon dioxide by 2050.
The statement that animal agriculture can actually help SOLVE climate change goes against mainstream science that suggests going vegan is the only option to stop harming our world. Even though we need more vegans to reduce the current demand, we also can’t face our rapidly growing environmental challenges without animal agriculture if we want to successfully address our challenges to extreme weather events such as drought and floods.
For those that say, yes we can do it without animal agriculture – the world can fix itself without human intervention…that may have been true at one stage however now we are facing something much more catastrophic. We are now experiencing a rapid temperature rise from our increasing dependence on fossil fuels and if we don’t intervene by rapidly drawing that carbon in the atmosphere back down for safe storage then we will see desertification and ecological collapse occur at a mass global scale.
Allow me to explain why I believe regenerative agriculture can help to reverse climate change and continue to bring us healthy, nutrient rich food while ‘greening the world’s deserts’.
Currently, conventional methods of agriculture have at least 7 main practises which are as follows:
1. Crop monocultures (one species of crop only).
2. Intensive tillage practises (constant turning of topsoils leading to loss of organic carbon).
3. Application of synthetic fertilisers to boost soil nutrients from annual losses.
4. Chemical control of pests and weeds.
5. Intensive irrigation (watering of crops).
6. Manipulation of plant and animal genetics (instead of natural selection).
7. Intensive factory farming of animals (which is simulated in open paddocks).
These conventional methods have two main goals that aim to maximise short term profit by increasing production. It comes at a significant cost to the environment which includes:
* Significant loss of macro and micronutrients in soils leading to plant and consequently animal deficiencies
* Significant topsoil losses from lack of focus on ground cover
* Erosion gullies from lack of vegetation cover
* Lack of water holding capacity due to loss of organic carbon and ground coverage
* Short term focus on financial outcomes rather than long term leading to further environmental degradation
NOTE: It is important to realise that conventional animal agriculture can mainly focus on intensive grazing in one paddock for long periods of time until most grass and vegetation is completely gone and then moving them on to the next. There is also a current lack of planning for droughts (such as lowering livestock numbers at appropriate times instead of ‘hoping’ it will rain next week).
This method of agriculture goes beyond ‘sustaining’ financial, social and environmental ecosystems but actively aims to restore and rebuild existing systems towards full health. It is based on a set of principles that are more open to constant and never ending learning processes.
This methodology aims to achieve the following:
1. Adapt to the impacts of climate change.
2. Work towards REVERSING the impacts of climate change.
3. Reversing desertification and land degradation.
4. Producing more organic, health and nutrient rich foods.
This can be achieved by addressing the 5 landscape/ecological functions and processes:
1. Solar Energy Cycle – ensuring plants and vegetation are maximising leaf matter to continue biological processes such as photosynthesis for essential regrowth.
2. Water Cycle – ensuring vegetation and organic matter has a maximum coverage on soils to increase infiltration and water storage capacity as well as conserve and stabilise topsoils.
3. Soil Mineral Cycle – ensuring all minerals in soils from the macro to micro level are adequate with a focus on increasing soil carbon (through effective sequestration and storage in root biomasses etc).
4. Dynamic Ecosystems – ensuring there is a high level of diverse and native plant species in paddocks that help to increase landscape functions numbers 1, 2 and 3.
5. The Human-social Element – first introduced by Charles Massy, this focuses on changing the human mind from the traditional and ‘mechanical’ mindset to one that is more aligned and ‘organic’ and in tune with nature itself.
NOTE: It is important to understand that within addressing these ‘5 landscape functions’ that it includes different animal and crop livestock movements and planning to conventional methods. This can include rotational grazing to mimic natural grazing herds, planned removal of livestock according to current rainfall and paddock grass (biomass) amounts and crop rotations using cover crops, minimal tillage and reduction in fertilisers/chemicals.
(Written by Environmental Scientist and Accredited Agricultural Advisor Khory Hancock*) June 2020)
*) Khory Hancock (known as The Environmental Cowboy) is a country boy & Environmental Scientist on a journey that aims to inspire a complete regeneration of our forests, oceans and soils. He is an Environmental Scientist with a vision to empower others to regenerate our natural world ultimately creating a more sustainable future for our world.
Climate change is by far the biggest threat the world faces and Khory (aka The Environmental Cowboy) is starting an industry wide movement to drastically reduce our carbon emissions (by using renewable energy) and capitalise on the economic and social opportunities to draw it back down out of the atmosphere and store it safely in our oceans, forests and soils (carbon farming).
Khory originally comes from a 30 000 acre cattle station on Carnarvon Gorge, central Queensland, Australia. Growing up on the land helping his family run cattle for a living taught him basic sustainability principles - about giving back and looking after the land so that it could continue to support us. Khory now works as an environmental professional across many different industries including carbon farming, land management and rehabilitation, water management, regenerative agriculture and Light Rail (public transport). He is a highly sought after public speaker and social media influencer that provides solutions to the environmental challenges we face at an individual and company level. He uses the 'cowboy' persona to communicate the messages more effectively to the public. Join The Environmental Cowboy for adventure after adventure that inspires and is full of laughs for all!
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