Regenerative Grazing and the Benefits of Livestock on Soils in Northern New South Wales
By Raymond Mooney, SIT Study Abroad
After years of soil degradation due to chemical fertilizers and herbicides, livestock ranchers in Australia's New South Wales (NSW) started experimenting with regenerative agricultural practices to mitigate climate change and restore their soil. There is a historic reason the soil was failing.
After WWII nitrogen and phosphorous-based munitions stockpiles were converted into synthetic fertilizers and herbicides, and farmers and ranchers were encouraged to use them to increase their yields. Over time yields were lower and paddocks were not lush, indicating that the "more on" philosophy of adding nitrogen fertilizers wasn't working. One researcher said "with the high rate NPK use and synthetic fertilizers 'we inadvertently blow the microbial bridge' within paddocks and cropping fields."
Now emphasizing biological activity and the amount of carbon in the soil to restore health and increase the nutrients in food crops, many NSW grazers
are implementing a variety of regenerative strategies within their paddocks, that have resulted in improvements in both health and productivity of their grazing enterprises, closer ties to their community, and it is a movement deserving of more converts. (abstract)
The transition for these ranchers, to move from impacting the health of the soil to making possible the soil's carbon sequestration abilities, is made possible because of the kind of research highlighted in this paper. Learning of the benefits of increasing soil carbon levels leads these land managers into regenerative grazing programs to create a sustainable future for themselves and the planet. Sustainability in the context of these livestock operations means they want to continue to produce beef for local consumers and do it in a way that "maintains a healthy and natural ecosystem, or improves a degraded one, brings together community, and preserves small farmers' livelihoods indefinitely. In proper and sustainable management of livestock we can avoid the depletion of a critical resource—soil."
This research was completed in order to 'Investigate the benefits of regenerative agriculture (Ag), the reasons why it is being practiced, and to what extent it is being practice with livestock management in regards to traditional methods in Northern NSW?'
When the study was completed the data was given to Brunswick Valley Landcare, Inc., a unit of Landcare Australia. They plan to incorporate the data into their informational newsletters to teach area ranchers about the benefits of the RAg practices.
This paper is offered through the School for International Training and their participation in the Digital Commons Network. This research paper is published as open source. While this topic on the Dirt Doctor site summarizes some of the paper content, we won't publish it here. You are free to read the entire paper online or download a copy for yourself.
Conventional cattle grazing has received criticism for environmental degradation in the past. Regenerative grazing and the principles of regenerative agriculture show encouraging signs that proper livestock management and planned grazing can reverse degradation and mitigate climate change. An emphasis on soil health and increasing soil carbon and organic matter levels reveals positive feedback for environmental health, the economic security of farmers, and nutritional health of consumers.
In this study I looked to investigate the benefits of regenerative agriculture, reasons why it is being practiced, and the extent it is practiced within the grazing in comparison to traditional methods within Northern New South Wales. In times of climate unpredictability, struggling economic conditions of small farmers, and declining nutrient value in foods, regenerative grazing and agriculture is an alternative strategy to pursue in resolving all of these. In order to gather data to support the claims, I spent 145 hours sending out an electronic questionnaire (gathering 16 responses), consulting background literature, visiting 7 farmers’ properties, conducting both formal (1) and informal interviews (6), and attending one workshop.
I found that in the Northern NSW area grazers are implementing a variety of regenerative strategies within their paddocks, that have resulted in improvements in both health and productivity of their grazing enterprises, closer ties to their community, and it is a movement deserving of more converts. Yet, the extent of regenerative grazing in the area is variable, with conventional enterprises still holding dominance in numbers. I argue that with these results, regenerative grazing is a dramatically better strategy and system to employ opposed to the current state of contemporary, conventional grazing. With regenerative grazing: soil health is improved, paddocks are more resilient to climate variability, a more nutrient dense food supply is produced, water retention increases, GHGs are sequestered, livestock received a happy amount of feed, dependence on chemical inputs is reduced, beneficial microbial life is brought back to the rhizosphere, and biodiversity improves in the form of native plants and animals. Results reflect that RAg grazers also feel more in-touch with their local communities and economics. Thus, I contest that RAg grazing is a sustainable enterprise as it meets the triple-bottom lines of sustainability with the economy, environment, and social components.
Keywords: soil carbon, regenerative grazing, conventional grazing, climate change mitigation