Looking after the soil, the earth, and that upon and beneath it.
What Does Regenerative Agriculture Mean To Us?
The term regenerative has a broad meaning but ultimately, to us, it means looking after the soil, the earth and that upon and beneath it. There are many benefits to a regenerative way of farming and agriculture:
1. Reduce and even stop the reliance and use of chemical and synthetic fertilisers – better for the soil and a big reduction in costs for the farmer.
2. An improvement in the health of the soil, plant, animal meaning our own diet is vastly improved for nutritional value and quality. The land is part of our own ecosystem and we all benefit from looking after it.
3. A natural improvement of biodiversity allowing livestock to benefit from eating a herbal spread rather than a monoculture. Animals are able to be stocked at a higher rate and their own health and well being is enhanced. Crops yield better and have a healthy vitality.
4. By improving the soil, the capacity to hold and evenly disperse water is greatly enhanced. Pasture is both drought resistant, able to cope in heavy rains and there is no water or top soil runoff.
5. We can show that by using our systemised approach to soil health, we can increase the digestibility of the feed and the weight conversion for the animal/productivity for the crop. When the animal or crop is healthier or of a higher vitality, pests and problems are not likely to happen. Thus the use of herbicides, pesticides, worming medicines, innoculations etc are able to be shelved. This saves time as well.
6. Carbon grows in the soil. These current times of carbon discussion show that it is important to treat the land well. But there is a greater benefit to the farmer – as carbon is built in the soil, the depth of the top soil is increased, which is like farming deeper – vs buying the block next door!
7. The atmosphere is also where Nitrogen comes from. Modern farming methods suggest that Nitrogen is only available from a factory, in a bag, but we can prove that the biological activity of the soil will produce just the right amount of nitrogen for the plant – at a level that the animal can eat and digest easily, without destroying either the ground or waterways (and the water quality is in serious trouble right now). Photosynthesis that is assisted by a biologically supportive system.
8. Pasture can be farmed for years and years. Modern methods mean that the grass is replaced every few years however we can show that there is seed in the ground just waiting for the right conditions to grow in. Traditional pastures of mixed and diverse species that just keep on giving. For decades even, without needing to be plowed up and replaced.
9. The tractor is generally only taken out of the shed once in summer for making hay or silage. And then to feed out in winter. It is often said that ‘diesel doesn’t grow grass’. There is another money saving opportunity for the farmer.
What Ecofarm Aotearoa Does To Walk The Talk.
We ourselves, farm our Angus Beef regeneratively and organically and we have greatly increased productivity in the animals and have been able to reduce costs to a fraction of that of traditional farmers. Other clients on board and enjoying the benefits are in the dairy, cropping, orchard and gardening industries. All are achieving high yield, high quality produce with low inputs, at a reduced $/ha cost.
By focusing on the health of the soil, we realise that we are really farmers of the biology that happens to grow cows (or other produce) on top! And it is the whole system that we look at as the soil health shows up first in the health of the animals.
We discovered how to work with the natural electrical current of the Earth and 'back in the day' took out a patent for our rather famous 'Probitas'. Probitas is used as part of our blend of fertilisers to amplify nature.
The soil is incredible in it’s ability to balance itself (you might like to read Ewan’s book about this which includes the scientific reasoning). And it is for this reason that using our soil system means we are truly sustainable alongside improving the land. A win:win for land and farmer and it isn’t long before the whole environment joins in on the win as well with birdlife, ducks, insects, fish, frogs etc returning to the waterways and trees.
So How Do You Go Regenerative Yourself?
Handily enough, there is a road map to follow.
1. Soil tests: We use Brookside Laboratories in Ohio, USA for specific tests including ‘TOTAL’ and ‘AVAILABLE’ tests. These show us what you have in the soil to start with, thus what we have to work with. Most are familiar with the Availables Test – they are what is easily accessed in the soil but what most don’t realise is that there is a whole lot of nutrient locked away – the point of the Totals Test is to find exactly how much and what the limiting factors are. It is like seeing what is hiding in a long term deposit account. The test takes about 3 weeks to come back from the States with the information of what is in the top 150mm and the bottom 150mm as well as the carbon content. What makes our soil testing different to the rest is not only finding out the value of your Totals, but looking at the Aluminium loading that most have, which locks up nutrient and is perfect for weeds to grow in. We can also find the carbon level in your soil and track the growth (sinking of carbon) over the years.
2. Analysis and plan: We read the results, look at what is hiding away (or not) and prescribe a blend to suit your farm and budget. Some farms go the ‘full monty’ and others need to go a little slower.
3. Transition: Some farms are able to go ‘cold turkey’ off the nitrogen and sprays. Others need to transition using dramatically reduced, but managed N applications, application of fish and molasses. We love using the solid information of Nitrogen testing and herbage testing to guide us. Often a test will prevent an expensive knee jerk reaction that costs money and shows up in the milk.
4. Observation: It is useful to watch as the farm responds to this new way of being treated. As our fertiliser is only applied once a year (which is a mind bend to start with), we like to get you to dig holes, look at soil consistency, the smell changes, the worm activity – evidenced by the worm castings on the surface or worm count, the change in soil colour, the change in what plant is growing or not, and the improving quality of the soil evidenced by kinesiology (if you know how).
5. Resistance to fiddle: this is a tough one for many as they feel guilty for not following the cows around, sitting on the tractor, using diesel. But when your soil is working for you, when nature has the job covered, why would you interfere?
A specifically blended Ecofarm Aotearoa fertiliser mix is a system specific for your farm. Incorporating the minerals of the sea, trace elements, biology, fungal species, humates and silicas of the correct form will give you a true fertiliser system that absolutely suits the regenerative farm.
We trial everything on Ewan Campbell’s farm first (of course) and then Phase II testing with the clients who truly understand the value of nature and working with it.
And it is all supported by testing of leaf and soil, strong observation and science. Ewan always finds out WHY something will work or not. The information is out there if you dig deep enough!
Nature gets the opportunity to provide, in a balanced form that which it always has. Think back to the olden days of farming – grass systems with no sprays. No pesticides or herbicides. No animal health ‘remedies’. Healthy animals are able to defend themselves against worm infestation and pests. Healthy soils and plants growing in them, are the same. They are more robust and have a vigour that the pests are repelled by. You may have noticed that it is the sicker plants and animals that get attacked by pests? That it is the ground with sparse cover or impacted soil that gets a weed?
We hate glyphosate. (Yep, we said it). It is a poison and is showing up in the food chain, in grains, honey etc but we understand that today’s farming practices have created a need to give nature a bit of a shove. Have a look at Dead Grass which we have developed. It is not intended to replace glyphosate but to give farmers an alternative. Biology is kept in tact (vs traces of the poison remaining in the soil for a minimum of 11 years after killing the biology first – even a ‘little bit’ as some farmers like to say, will cause enormous damage and not in our opinion, regenerative at all).
And All This Results In....
Plant growth is vigorous and full of the mineral nutrition that both animals and people need in order to be healthy themselves.
Plant growth is more diverse – like eating a salad! The animals deck the paddocks (and we pick our salads out of the paddocks too).
The animals are able to put weight on and keep it there.
The animals are able to cycle better, retain the foetus and birthing is easier, with better offspring weights.
Rain water (or irrigation) is dispersed further through the soil as it turns into a ‘chocolate cake’ like texture. This means that dry weather is not so impactful and neither is very wet weather. In a very wet season (like we had in 2023), the animals made a mess of the paddock but the plants that grew back were the herbal sward that was there in the first place. Not dock or buttercup. (But the animals eat those anyway if they show up as they are sweetened by the fuller nutrition).
Aeration and compaction is gone. We have even seen paddocks where stones have been buried by the worms as they come to the surface, the stones fall. On one farm we were not able to get further than 50mm for soil tests. A year later we got 150mm tests done. The power of a healthy worm sinking carbon and growing soil!
Better nutrition availability leading to improved health and weight for the animal. And better nutrition for us.
We have become so busy. Busy driving the tractor, busy being sold to, busy, busy, busy. Our system of regenerative fertiliser allows a change in lifestyle to an easier one. It is a common phone call – what do I do now with my spare time? I haven’t had calving issues, they are milking better than last year, my vet bill is going down. Next comes the ‘I’ve got so much grass’ type of phone call.
Are you ready for that? Sometimes it is mindset that gets in the way of change.
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