The value proposition of regenerative agriculture keeps getting stronger

Value = benefits – costs

This simple formula describes why we do what we do. As an example, I like to buy produce at the Whāngarei Growers Market. There are some minor costs – I have to make sure I have cash on hand, I have to get out of bed Saturday morning and the market is in the open and exposed to the weather. But these are minor in relation to the benefits, fresh healthy produce, getting to know the growers and farmers, knowing that I am supporting the local economy, and the sense of community. This generates a value proposition that means I rarely miss a market.

Here are some reasons that the value proposition for using regenerative farming practices got even stronger in 2022.

1. The weather

We have had a lot of rain in Te Tai Tokerau (Northland). For example, rainfall in November in Whāngarei was 367 mm., more than five times the average. Some conventional farmers struggled to get access to paddocks or get tractors onto paddocks. For kumara growers in the Northern Wairoa this created delays in planting. And as synthetic fertilisers deplete organic matter (aka soil carbon) over time, soil structure depletion will inhibit the recovery of paddocks from heavy rain.

Field day at West Wind Farm

West Wind Farm, south of Te Kopuru, had heavy rain too. David Cole had considered canceling the field day scheduled for 16 November. He thought the paddocks would be too wet. The paddock in the above image had been under water a few days earlier, but the diverse, lush pasture with the inclusion of some deep-rooted plants ensured that the paddock drained effectively and retained a lot of water. As the discussion in the paddock continued, some of us sat down on the ground!

Janette Perrett, commented on conditions on her farm.

 We use the tractor as least as possible with the concept of feeding nil supplements out over the winter period. This season has been wet, wet and more wet, what more can I say? The winter was easy, the late spring/early summer a real nightmare!

We have used a fast rotation regime to ease paddock damage and only now beginning to move onto the proper round. We are dairy, 180 cows plus all replacements, organically/biologically managed.

The soil cannot hold any more water at this stage, but I think it is withstanding the wet extremely well. Others have commented on how we have a different ‘green’ and paddocks are growing evenly all over.There is no ‘drowned, yellowing’ areas and you don’t see the wet patches until you walk into them.

Max Purnell is another organic dairy farmer who has been applying regenerative practices for several years. He notes that as pasture diversity increases, so does the resilience of his paddocks after rain. The deeper rooting species helps to improve soil; structure enhancing the ability of the soil to absorb and retain moisture. Max also points to farm management practices that reduce compaction caused by machinery.

2. Supply chain and agrichemicals

There is a confluence of problems generated by global events, such as the pandemic and increasing issues with agrichemicals. Here are a few that I have spotted recently – please add others in the comments below.

  • Phosphorus supply is increasingly disrupted. The bulk of the world’s phosphate comes from Morocco, China, Egypt, Algeria and South Africa – all countries that are “geopolitically complex” according to this article from The Conversation.
  • Drench resistance is increasing according to this Rural News article. The law of diminishing returns is kicking in for drench producers who have to invest too much in research for marginal returns.
  • Generally farm inputs increase when petro-states (like Russia) do crazy things. Alongside increases in fossil fuels, the pandemic has increased the cost and availability of supplies.

Generally, regenerative practices are buffered from external influences. Over time their stock gets healthier and animal health costs diminish. Fertiliser application also diminishes with some being more locally sourced, for example, seaweed products.

Janette Perrett shares her experience.

The supply chain has no affect on our fert program, we make our own at little to no cost. Drench resistance was a problem until we moved to organics. We do have the odd one who may need a chemical drench but generally we haven’t used conventional methods since 2006.

In saying that we have changed how we manage and graze our young stock to break the worm 21 day cycle. Antibiotic resistance also reared its head before we changed our farming techniques.

These trends will continue. Climate change is delivering more extreme weather, and the decades of the relative ease of accessing products appear to be over. We can anticipate a greater squeeze on conventional agriculture as synthetic nitrogenous fertilisers become increasingly undesirable and expensive, and consumers demand cleaner produce.

It is vital that regenerative farming practices are adopted by all farmers, and the sooner the better. It grows healthier, more nutrient-dense food, dramatically reduces the amount of biocides and synthetic fertilisers finding their way into soil and water, is kinder to animals and farmers, and helps to cool the planet. The value proposition is overwhelmingly beneficial.

One thought on “The value proposition of regenerative agriculture keeps getting stronger

  1. convince conventional farmers that regenerative farming is more profitable in the long run. Give examples. Explain how to deal with the bank during conversion time. Name successfull conversions in New Zealand.
    Regenerative farming practices can lead to increased profits for farmers in a number of ways, such as:

    Increased yields: regenerative farming practices, such as cover cropping and crop rotation, can improve soil health, leading to increased crop yields. For example, a study in Wisconsin found that farmers who used regenerative practices saw a 30% increase in soybean yields and a 36% increase in corn yields compared to conventional farmers.

    Reduced input costs: regenerative practices such as reduced tillage can reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, resulting in cost savings for farmers. A study in Australia found that regenerative farmers were able to reduce their fertilizer costs by 50% and their pesticide costs by 70%.

    Carbon sequestration: regenerative farming practices can help farmers to capture carbon in the soil, creating new revenue streams through carbon offset markets. A study in the United States found that regenerative farming practices could sequester enough carbon to offset the emissions of 1.2 billion cars annually.

    Increased resilience to climate change: regenerative farming practices can also increase the resilience of farms to extreme weather conditions, such as droughts and floods, reducing crop loss and increasing overall farm profitability.

    With regards to dealing with the bank during the conversion time, farmers can demonstrate the long-term benefits of regenerative farming through the research data and the examples above. They can also work with their bank to develop a comprehensive plan that outlines the costs and benefits of the transition, and how they plan to manage any short-term financial challenges. Additionally, they can look into various regenerative farming grant and funding opportunities, which can help to offset the costs of the transition.

    In New Zealand, some farmers who have successfully converted to regenerative farming include:

    The Organic Dairy Hub, which is a network of organic dairy farmers who have seen increased profitability and reduced costs through the implementation of regenerative practices.
    The AgriTech Accelerator, which helps farmers to transition to regenerative farming through education and training, as well as access to funding and resources.
    A farm in Waikato, New Zealand, who converted to regenerative farming and saw a 30% increase in profits, as well as improved soil health, water retention, and biodiversity.
    It’s important to communicate with the bank, be open to their concerns and work together to come up with a plan that is beneficial for both the farmer and the bank.

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