MEET GEOFF ROSS, A SOFTCORE RADICAL WHO, TOGETHER WITH HIS FAMILY, IS PROVING FARMERS CAN BE CLIMATE HEROES.
We sat down with Geoff Ross, owner of Lake Hawea Station (LHS), to talk about what Regenerative Farming is and how him and his team implement it on their property.
What is regenerative farming to you?
There (thankfully) is a lot of talk about regenerative farming.
There are many definitions to this term. Mine is that regenerative farming is based on what nature has done and perfected over millions and millions of years to create balance. To achieve balance nature has used diversity. Diversity of plants and species to create natural solutions to the constant flow in the environment we live in. That to me is what regenerative farming at Lake Hawea Station is. We have the lush diversity. So you don’t need sprays, you don’t need chemical fertilisers. You have that diversity and that balance through a very natural system. It is also healthier for the stock and very healthy for the soil.
What is the role of soil in regenerative farming?
Soil is so important and in many ways it is the forgotten part of a farming system.
We so often concentrate on what’s above the ground we forget what’s below it.
The United Nations issued a report around 4 years ago which said that if we increase by 0.4% a year the quantity of carbon contained in soils, we will bring carbon levels in the atmosphere to what they were before the industrial age. It’s a massive contribution that soil can make. With our soil testing here at LHS, we discovered that in a year we can sequester 1% in soil carbon. Ideally we can take this type of system to many other soils around the world and we can play a huge part in solving the climate crisis.
What is the key practice for LHS in Regenerative Farming?
The key practice for us in Regenerative Farming is really about our pastures. Multi-species pastures. For decades, when I grew up, it was all about monocultures or geocultures. Rye and Clover grass here in New Zealand are a prominent pasture type. What we are doing is planting pastures that have at least 30 different seeds. So every plant has a role. Not just in feeding the livestock but also in feeding the soil. For too long agronomy has been about chemistry. Regenerative agriculture is about biology rather than what you need to pour onto the soil in a chemical form. We are looking at bacteria. At fungi. Their relationship and the balance between them. What we are finding is that with less inputs we can actually produce more and that has been the really cool thing about regenerative farming.
We are putting down a lot of regenerative pastures, multi species pastures. They will be peaking around May or June. Right now it is pretty warm and lush, come May and June and here it’s very cold, it’s very frosty, the ground is almost frozen. So by that time we will have pastures that are going to be in full lush. It’s going to be like a salad bar for the stock and it is going to help them get through the winter. So right now we are getting those pastures into the ground. Getting water in them to make sure they will be in perfect conditions in a few months time.
What are some differences between Regenerative Farming and traditional farming?
For many years, and in the system I grew up in, we’d plow the soil, and then till it to get it in a very fine form because that would allow new plants to get root structure through the soil much easier. But with regenerative faming you don’t need to plow to get that result. The plants do it for you. So that’s actually the role of a sunflower, for instance. Their root structure is creating pathways, liquid carbon pathways, sequestering it from the environment and getting it down into the soil. Creating pathways for other plants to follow as well. So we don’t need massive tractors riding over the land for hours when we have a plant like a sunflower who is building those pathways into the soil for us. Some of the actions we are doing every day is not tilling the soil. We don’t turn over and break up the soil. So no more plowing. We drill seeds directly into the soil and keep that organic matter there. We are actually starting to scale compost, you know we all have some compost into our backyard, so we are trying to see how we can scale that up for 6.5 thousand hectares. We are trialling Biochar as well. A charcoal-like substance that’s made by burning organic material from agricultural and forestry waste. All different ways of feeding that healthy soil and making it stronger.
What’s the role of farmers in reversing the Climate Crisis?
Well the world needs more food and fiber. More natural food and fiber. Farming is tough. I am relatively new to it, I grew up in a farm but I am relatively new to it. Farming is a tough livelihood, it’s relentless, it’s in your face everyday. There are so many dynamics. Many of which you can’t plan for. Farmers now see themselves under a spotlight, in a way they have never seen themselves before. The pressure is greater. But rather than seeing that as a problem as farmers, I think we need to see this as an opportunity. Extensive farming systems like the ones at LHS are actually climate positive. We sequester more carbon here than we emit. Therefore we play an active role in changing the route this planet is on. Perhaps amongst all that pressure, farmers can see that opportunity. I hope we can move from being seen as villains to heroes in the climate battle. Two of the biggest sectors in the world contributing to climate change are Fashion and Agriculture. If you look at what Sheep Inc have done - not are doing - but have done, is creating a carbon positive position. They have demonstrated that fashion does not need to be contributing to the climate crisis. It can be part of the solution. What we are trying to do at LHS is something similar but in the agricultural sector. We are fortunate to have a big canvas to work with, we have a lot of vegetation that is sequestering a lot of carbon and we have an extensive pastural system. That is creating a natural fiber that, like Sheep Inc., is playing a role in dealing with the climate crisis.