Think you know the principles of regenerative agriculture?

picture of livestock beneath a large tree with a lichen and moss on it

Recently, the National Farmers Federation (NFF) set the target of economy-wide zero net carbon by 2050.

Whilst I applaud the initiative, the science is clear that we don’t have 30 years to act. This target sits in contradiction with the plan for a $100 billion agricultural industry by 2030 – up from $60 billion.

This seems ludicrous with a changing climate and depleting soils.

Surely, agriculture should instead be value-adding more nutritionally-dense food whilst at the same time achieving zero net carbon; not extracting more from our already depleted landscapes.

How do we achieve this?

Below are the core (and evolving) principles of regenerative agriculture that my family and I follow in the management of our own farm in Ebor, NSW (pictured).

They are based on our experience and research, as well as discussions with like-minded colleagues.

Many organisations talk about the principles of regenerative agriculture – but all they do is list a set of practices.

Principles should instead reflect more fundamental truths about how we approach and perceive agricultural landscapes, and they should guide our behaviour and actions.

So what are the principles?

1) Think holistically

The roots of regenerative agriculture stem from holistic thinking. This is because farmers conduct their work within nested, living systems – these cannot be understood without a holistic approach.

2) Have an understanding of complex adaptive systems

To aid your holistic decision-making, it is important that you understand how nature behaves in complex, often unpredictable and dynamic ways.

3) Be comfortable in ambiguity

Do not try and control things, accept that we don’t have all the answers, and probably never will.

4) Have the capacity for continuous, transformative learning

We must mirror the reflexivity of our ecologies by continuously evolving as they do. Personal development is critical.

5) Make place-based decisions, within bio-regions

Our decisions need to be specific to the uniqueness of the places and landscapes we inhabit. Follow your intuition, do not act on advice that claims universal relevance without questioning its validity.

6) Understand that humans and cultures are co-evolving with their environments

We co-evolve with our environments on a biological level. But also on a cultural level. The cultural significance of landscapes needs to be reintegrated into land management approaches.

7) Acknowledge and involve diverse ways of knowing and being in landscapes

Last but not least, empathise with other ecological perspectives. Integrate their wisdom into your own practice whilst holding fast to your personal ecological vision.

8) Participate in cultural and ecological reconciliation

Be active in reconciling historical traumas enforced on landscapes. Understand that cultural and ecological colonisation must be addressed.

We cannot certify regenerative agriculture

We can only define regenerative agriculture as part of our own journey of understanding, and as we grow in our ecological understanding so do our individual definitions of regenerative agriculture.

We cannot ‘certify’ regenerative practices because they are about continuous improvement and knowledge but, as they are ever-evolving, these practices can be ‘verified’. For example, Land to Market Australia has a unique ecological verification program, developed in conjunction with the Savoury Institute, which recognises farmers’ own approaches to managing their farms holistically.

Regenerative agricultural principles propel us into new ways of doing agriculture. Practices such as ‘maintaining ground-cover’ are the result of deeper shifts in thinking, not principles in themselves.

However, if we continue exposing bare soil, creating monocrops that kill biodiversity, spraying out paddocks prior to sowing new pastures or crops, set stocking, overusing synthetic chemicals, fertilisers and pesticides and so on – we will destroy the very resource we rely upon for productivity – and there’s no $100 billion industry in that equation.


Lorraine Gordon is Southern Cross University’s Director of Strategic Projects at the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance and Farming Together Program. She is also an Associate Director at Southern Cross University’s Centre for Organics Research.
Lorraine Gordon

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