Regenerative agriculture

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HON DIANE EVERS (South West) [6.28 pm]: I want to speak specifically about regenerative farming because it does not really fit into the GM sphere. I want to talk about regenerative farming because I see a change, I see hope, I see a future and I see a lot of things happening that are affecting that future. I hope that somehow over the next 10 years or so we will see a change back and we will move forward and take up new ideas and work to make our soils healthier, our food healthier and our farmers healthier and better off financially.

Regenerative farming is more than just sustainable farming. Sustainable farming wants to keep things as they are and not get any worse, but regenerative farming wants to improve the soil so that we can grow more produce more easily that is healthier and more nutritious and basically keep regional areas and people coming into regional areas healthier.

It is simple. It begins with having livestock. This is very appropriate at this time, because we are talking about what might happen with live exports. I, along with many others, am saying that things need to change. However, I am also saying that we cannot damage or hurt the farming industries and livestock growers. We need them, and they need us—it is part of who we are. We need to make sure that if we lose some of our live export markets—as I believe we will because of what is happening with sheep and cattle exports—we keep that livestock.

Livestock is a strong part of regenerative agriculture, because it provides the nutrients and manures that feed the microbiota and other living organisms in the soil. We will then be able to store carbon in our soil—not dead carbon, but living carbon that grows and transfers nutrients and water and helps our plants to grow. There are a number of simple concepts that we need to put together.

The first is that we need to lower our chemical use. That will result in lower costs to farmers. Lower chemical use also means lower pesticide residues in our soils that are taken up by plants. Lower pesticide residues means that our food will be healthier. We need to look at how we can reduce chemical residues in our soils to keep our soils healthy. The pesticides, herbicides and fungicides that we are putting in our soils are killing the things that make our plants grow. We seem to be going backwards, along with the rest of the world, by letting industrial agriculture tell us that this is how we have to do it.

The second is diversity. We often have monocultures that extend for kilometres and kilometres of the same thing. That means there is a lack of diversity in the soil and we have less chance of expanding the types of creatures and types of biota that will provide different types of nutrients to the food that we grow.

The third is plant variety. We eat about 300 different varieties of vegetables and grains. There are 300 different varieties of corn. However, the varieties that are grown are limited to the few varieties that can be produced on a large-scale basis. It is like the McDonald’s of agriculture. There is no choice. We can have this one, this one or this one, but they will all be the same.

Our bodies need a variety of foods. We need a breadth of nutrients to help us grow strong. We need a breadth of diversity in our plants, and our plants will grow stronger if they are fed with a variety of nutrients. It all works as part of the system. We have been killing that system by whittling it down to one or two varieties and we have taken a lot of nutrients out of the soil by killing off what is in there.

The important thing about having living carbon in the soil is that it needs to be kept moist. Soil needs to have moisture content at all times. A dry soil is a dead soil. We need to keep the moisture in the soil. Low till or no till is a great idea, but it does not keep the soil moist.

We need different varieties of cover crops. We should not clear the land every time we grow something. We need to have things growing in our soil all the time. We then bring in the animals. The idea of regenerative agriculture is that we end up with more livestock.

We need a lot of animals to enable us to diversify across this country and develop other sorts of industry and other sorts of products so that we can regenerate our regional areas. We need people to go to regional areas. We need to have a diversified economy, with further processing of the things that we grow. We need to learn how to preserve and store the things we grow.

There is now an industry in Manjimup that processes and vacuum-packs food for babies. They are looking at processing food for aged-care facilities as well. Produce that is grown in the area is being processed and vacuum packed. Crabs that are preserved in this way can be stored for over a month and are still healthy to eat and transportable. All sorts of things are happening.

We had a dearth of resources in the former Department of Agriculture and Food. I am pleased the department is growing and getting stronger. However, it has 10 years to make up. The department has just been toeing the line of industrial agriculture and of the large pharmaceutical companies, chemical companies and seed owners. That has made it very difficult to try anything else.

We still think that the only way is the way of large industrial agriculture, with mega-sized equipment, and one single monoculture, and to just throw more chemicals on any problem we find. That is not how the problem will be solved. We need to move forward. If we can move forward and establish new agricultural industries, it will lead to greater job availability and increased interest in agriculture.

We will no longer be discussing whether agricultural schools are opening or closing and the small number of students in agricultural schools and whether they come from the city or the country. We need agricultural colleges, not only because we need agricultural workers, but also because somehow—I do not have the answer to this one—we need to let young people who are coming up through the school system know that they will be appreciated and will find a job out there. If we can farm on a smaller scale rather than on a mass scale, as we have been doing, it will not cost people so much to get into the agricultural industry.

Imagine how difficult it would be for someone to start a new farm if they do not inherit it or buy it through a multimillion-dollar company that may be foreign owned or owned by a superannuation fund. They will not be the family-owned farms that many of us would remember from our childhood. We need to get back to small family farms that are supported by a thriving and healthy agricultural system and a healthy agriculture department and regional development department, because that will enable regional areas to grow, and that is what we need. We need lower-cost entry, healthier soils, and fewer chemical residues in food.

I have not mentioned genetically modified crops. GM means more chemical use and more residues. The fact is that 99 per cent of the GM crops grown around the world are grown for herbicide tolerance or to grow their own defence for keeping bugs away. The chemicals are either within the plant as it is growing or sprayed onto the plant. Those crops are not grown to feed the world; they are grown so that more chemicals will be used.

That is hurting us. Rather than mining our soils and looking only at large-scale industrial agriculture, which is killing our soils, and nearly growing our food hydroponically, as though we have the water for it, we need a depth of variety to provide nutrients for the microbiota and mycorrhizal fungi in the soils so that they can provide nutrients to the plant roots and enable food to be grown that will enable us to be healthy. Thank you.

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