In a recent article in The Conversation, a professor from the University of Washington busts some myths about industrialised agriculture and presents his findings on worldwide regenerative farming practices, which suggest that ‘the key to sustaining highly productive agriculture lies in rebuilding healthy, fertile soil’.
A recent United Nations Food & Agriculture Organisation report shows that, contrary to popular belief, over three-quarters of the world’s food production happens on small family farms. This is opposed to the large-scale industrialised ones which feed most of the developed world. Linked to this, Montgomery points out that large farms are not, in fact, likely to be more efficient than small ones:
“According to a 1992 agricultural census report, small, diversified farms produce more than twice as much food per acre than large farms do.”
Add in a 2015 meta-analysis which showed less than a 10% gap in food production between conventional industrialised farms and organic farms where cover crops were planted and crops were rotated to increase soil fertility. Combine it all with the fact that about a quarter of all food produced worldwide is never eaten, and it begins to seem like industrialised farming really isn’t necessary to meet food production needs after all.
Rapid and effective soil regeneration is possible and it is the key to ‘a stable and resilient agriculture’. The adoption of regenerative farming practices such as no-till methods, cover cropping and complex rotations, along with the deep understanding of the particular qualities of the land and socioeconomic environment made possible by small-scale farming, leads to the ability to use fewer inputs to produce higher yields.
In order to speed along the uptake of farming practices which focus on soil health, David Montgomery calls for system-scale research, demonstration farms and, perhaps most importantly, changes in agricultural policy and subsidies, to encourage farmers to adopt regenerative practices.
Read about Starfish’s work in this area:
Biochar For Sustainable Soils is a project which seeks to share knowledge and build capacity around using biochar-based organic amendments to improve soil quality.
The Living Classroom in Bingara is a visionary project working to turn the Town Common into a visually beautiful, working regenerative farm as a centrepiece for education, research, tourist activities and functions.