What is Regenerative Agriculture?
At Swainstown Farm we are dedicated to producing healthy, nutrient dense food while promoting ecosystems, biodiversity and reducing carbon emissions and waste. We are constantly learning and adapting to the best-known methods to do this. Here are a few of the current management practices we use to reach our goal.
Conventional vegetable production involves ploughing, rotivating, harrowing and tilthing to create a clean smooth seedbed upon which to sow vegetable seeds. This usually requires high energy inputs in the form of fossil fuels and more importantly, the process of turning over soil depletes soil life and oxidises carbon converting it to CO2 which is released into the atmosphere. No dig eliminates any turning over of the soil which has a number of benefits;
- Without cultivation, carbon remains in the soil forever
- Soil structure and biological communities remain intact encouraging further carbon sequestration and methane oxidation reducing atmospheric greenhouse gases
- Beneficial fungi are encouraged helping plants find more nutrients and moisture.
- By encouraging healthy soil our vegetables have access to a wider range of major and micro-nutrients
Conventional agriculture is focussed on 3 nutrients; Nitrogen, Potassium and Phosphorus. These three nutrients are essential for plant growth. However, plants in healthy soils have access to a wide range of micronutrients which, like us, maintain a fully functioning, healthy system. Plants grown in healthy soils have a much higher nutrient density which in turn are much more nutritious to us when we eat them.
Livestock are often demonised as one of the most significant contributors to the production of greenhouse gas emissions. While often vastly over-exaggerated raising meat and dairy accounts for 5% of global carbon dioxide emissions. However, managed correctly mixed livestock farming can help regenerate degraded soils and restore healthy ecosystems, which in turn helps lock carbon deep in the ground (carbon sequestration).
We currently incorporate two key strategies to ensure our livestock are managed in such a manner that promotes ecosystems and carbon sequestration; Mob grazing and silvopasture.
Mob grazing seeks to mimic wild grazing herds. In nature, plains herbivores stay in close-knit herds continually moving to avoid predators. When predator pressure is removed and animals kept in permanently fenced paddocks the animals tend to spread out and since fences restrict movement, grass becomes overgrazed. With mob grazing, we bunch up our livestock into one tight “mob” using temporary fencing. The mob is moved frequently based on analyses of grass condition and recovery rate and don't return to the same place for at least three months. This allows grasses to grow extensive root systems of up to four feet into the ground which vastly increases the carbon sequestering ability of the pastures.
According to Project Drawdown, a group of international scientists focused on management solutions for reversing climate change, if mob grazing could be amped up worldwide, it could sequester over 16 gigatons of carbon by 2050.
What managed grazing does not do, is eliminate methane and nitrous oxide emissions. And yet, Project Drawdown found that carbon sequestration more than offset them (https://www.drawdown.org/solutions/food/managed-grazing).
Mob grazing has knock-on impacts too; by allowing the grasses to grow longer and encouraging a more diverse range of grasses and forbs the pasture accommodates a highly diverse range of insects and invertebrates which in turn feed birds and larger animals further up the food chain. Our animals are healthier too, because they never stay on a patch of grass for too long and don’t return for a long time, parasites such as intestinal worms which are so common in conventional systems are virtually non-existent. We consequently do not use routine wormers and preventative medicines, a common practice on most farms.
Silvopasture is a form of livestock production that integrates trees with pasture. In the last two years, Swainstown farm has planted over 2000 native trees with much larger plans currently being finalised incorporating over 50,000 trees over the entire farm. Silvopasture vastly increases soil biodiversity and the carbon-storing potential of animal husbandry. Project Drawdown estimates that silvopasture can sequester almost two tons of carbon per acre per year, making it one of the most effective carbon-storing tools in agriculture and ranked it 9th out of 80 modelled solutions at returning climate CO2 levels back to pre-industrial levels (https://www.drawdown.org/solutions)
To be a truly sustainable operation we must address all areas of the farm. This is no easy task and will take years of work and investment. We are currently investigating biomass energy to generate carbon neutral heating and electricity to the farm. We are also looking into technologies to reduce our dependences on fossil fuels in the vehicles we need to keep the farm running such as biogas generation from waste products from the farm.
If you are reading this we are very impressed you made it to the end :)
We are excited to share this journey with you all.