Saturday, April 13, 2024

The answer is in the soil

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Regenerative agriculture flies in the face of conventional farming wisdom with soil management the key to profiting from nature, Canterbury cropping farmer Simon Osborne says. Annette Scott visited him onfarm to learn what it’s about.
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Farming for yield is not farming for profit, Simon Osborne, who is passionate about his stewardship of the land, says.

He has a clear focus on farming for profit from natural resources and biodiversity with the firm belief that a paradigm shift in agriculture can hugely boost farmer profits and crop diversity, curb pests and eliminate the need for tilling, pesticides and herbicides.

“So much money is spent to produce those yields that then don’t always make the profit they should be making.”

It’s also not doing the best for the soil.

A fourth-generation farmer on the family property at Leeston, near Christchurch, Osborne says soils are the most important asset and the key driver of farm productivity and environmental outcomes.

“You could say this property has had one careful owner since 1864.”

Operating in one of New Zealand’s most sensitive water quality zones, he’s setting an example of the existing untapped potential available to solve environmental sustainability challenges.

“The soil is a living thing so making sure you maintain the soil is plain good sense.

“The first way is not to till, tilling kills the soil and then that prohibits the soil from growing again – soil management is key to profiting from nature.”

Osborne says regenerative agriculture is a long-term vision, not just for his own farm but for NZ agriculture in general to reduce the farming footprint.

Crimson clover, vetch and oats grow happily together in a healthy soil.

A huge part of Osborne’s insect management stems from retaining habitats for insects and spiders with grass and diverse plant species along fence lines, laneways and in shelterbelts.

As for the cover crops, the issue is finding something that doesn’t interfere with cropping rotations in terms of contamination or pathogens.

“The ultimate goal for farmers is to produce healthy, nutritious food for everybody not just these who can afford it. Fundamentally it’s not right to be pouring poisons on the land so we have to learn techniques to get away from that.

“While there’s work being done in parts of the world there’s sweet all being done in NZ even though there’s a small group of passionate scientists working under the radar – it’s up to farmers.

“There’s a long legacy hanging over our heads in terms of what we as farmers have done in agriculture and I’m not saying we have done wrong, just we have better ways now so let’s move on. 

Osborne is a member of Regenerative Agriculture NZ with group members from Dargaville to Invercargill trying different techniques.

“It’s an incredibly positive experience at the moment, learning and helping others as well and I am prepared to share what I’ve learnt to genuinely help other farmers for the same reason.

“The way forward is about building knowledge and that builds confidence. Our monthly discussion groups have a big effect on the mental health of farmers.

“It’s hugely uplifting sharing hugely positive information and experiences.

“It’s hard in this game to make a profit but profit for me is paying the bills while producing healthy, nutritious food and knowing I am building my farm ecosystem from the soil up. 

“You have to think of an open-ended future so let’s not crap in the nest so the nest is no longer liveable.” 

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