Last weekend we were in Bathurst to speak at the Farming for the Future conference organised by Greening Bathurst. What an exciting and inspiring event. The venue was full not only with older farmers but a surprising number of young farming families keen to grow sustainable food. the Conference certainly delivered. The program brought together the leading practitioners in regenerative farming:
Col Seis who helped facilitate the pasture cropping movement world-wide and in 2015 was named one of the top 6 most influential farmers in the world.
Charles Massey, grazier and author of the Call of the Reed Warbler
Graham Finlayson a farmer of the year and Nutfield Scholar who is demonstrating how grazing in the semi-arid zone on 7000 ha, could be turned around using stock to to regenerate whole landscapes.
Martin Royds who has turned traditional agriculture in his neighbourhood on its head, and increased his productivity to 230% per DSE. He has won a number of awards including:
And Peter Andrews OAM who has gained fundamental insights to the natural functioning of the Australian landscape that leave him almost without peer.
What all these speakers have in common and made clear, is that agricultural practices, operating in isolation from the environment and only focused on the productive unit rather than the the geography, the climate, the soil and the environment, as all aspects of the farm, do not work.
So what is regenerative farming?
It applies ecological principles to food / farm production, while taking care of natural resources and valuing biodiversity.
Agroecolgy is the term being used by international policy makers. It is not a farming practice as such but provides the principles or the ethos for food production. It links ecology, culture, economics, and society to sustain agricultural production, healthy environments, and viable food and farming communities.
It is about:
Since 2014 the United Nations Food & Agricultural Organisation has embraced the term Agroecology. Natural Sequence Farming, Holistic Farming, Biological Farming, Permaculture and so on, are all Agroecology in action as they all essentially follow the same ethos or principles.
It was a great honour for Wynlen House to share the stage with these leading innovators in the farming sector. We were also the only women farmers on the program. (One for the team) We were included because we are a highly productive, very small farm, practicing ecological farming and intensive poly-culture, in recognition that small farms are as equally as important as large farms.
By 2012, in the international arena, the United Nations Food & Agricultural Organisation had radically changed its thinking acknowledging that diversified farming systems in which the small-scale farmer produces grains, fruits, vegetables, fodder, and animal products in the same field or garden out-produce the yield per unit of single crops such as corn grown alone on large-scale farms.
A large farm may produce more corn per hectare than a small farm in which the corn is grown as part of a poly-culture. But, productivity in terms of harvestable products per unit area of poly-cultures developed by smallholders is higher than under a single crop with the same level of management. Yield advantages can range from 20% to 60%, because poly-cultures reduce losses due to weeds (by occupying space that weeds might otherwise occupy), insects, and diseases (because of the presence of multiple species), and make more efficient use of the available resources of water, light, and nutrients.
The inverse relationship between farm size and output can be attributed to the more efficient use of land, water, biodiversity, and other agricultural resources by small farmers. So in terms of converting inputs into outputs, society would be better off with small-scale farmers.
This brings us back to Wynlen House.
From little things big things Grow
The recent warm weather and spring rain has been great for the produce garden. Every day you can visibly see the the garden growing. It is abundant with energy and life. The bees are buzzing and the wrens & finches are fluttering in the shrubs and flowers.
While the garden is blooming at this time of year unfortunately so are the weeds. Just as all the herbs, vegetables, and fruits are growing joyfully so are all the unwanted plants we commonly call weeds. In fact they often seem to grow at greater pace than the plants.
At this time of year when there is so much planting to do, weed management is a high priority, especially in fallow beds. By late winter we have a number of beds which are no longer productive and of course end up completely overgrown. As you can see from the photos wild weeds is no exaggeration, hence the need for extreme mowing.
Our current management of wild weeds starts with extreme mowing. With overgrown weeds under 40cm we use the mower and catcher. The waste caught in the catcher we spread on other beds to be turned in. On wild weeds that are closer to 60cm or higher we do not use the catcher on the mower as it is quite difficult to mow wild weeds of this height with a standard mower. If you have a slasher you might choose to use this to cut back the wild weeds. I am not a fan of these tools hence my practice of extreme mowing. Once the bed is mowed it is then covered with plastic to solarize (kill the weeds) in the bed. With the heat of the last few weeks, the solarizaton process is complete in less than a week. The bed is then turned over with our trusty tiller or this can be done with a garden fork or broad fork. Over the course of a week a totally overgrown wild weed bed is ready for planting.
Bronwyn Richards has cared for animals and has been growing vegetables successfully all her adult life. She is principle gardener for Wynlen House Farm