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Banking on Regenerative Agriculture

16 December 2020

The concept of ‘regenerative’ agriculture has engaged and united many landowners across the World with new enthusiasm for the adoption of sustainable farm practices.

Regenerative itself is an interesting term, because it describes the desired outcome, being the regeneration of soil, and diverse plant communities.

Whilst lacking strict definition, regenerative agriculture encompasses environmentally friendly practices like no-till farming, controlled livestock grazing, reduced synthetic farm inputs, increased biological inputs such as compost/compost teas, and increased biodiversity on-farm – practices that focus on building the soil carbon profile, structure and health, and improving the water cycle.

Benefits include:

• Increased soil carbon, carbon capture and storage
• Increased water retention
• Lower inputs
• Fewer chemicals
• Better quality, more nutritious produce

Some view organic agriculture as the ultimate expression of regenerative but, while sharing the same goals, organic excludes synthetic chemicals entirely, whereas regenerative agriculture may allow for some chemical use.

Robert Rodale, whose namesake US-based Rodale University today is the foremost research institute for the study of regenerative and organic management systems, was likely the first user of the term when he wrote about regenerative organic agriculture in the 1980s.

At its heart, regenerative agriculture recognises the significant economic, environmental, and social benefits of positive environmental stewardship and the conservation of natural capital.

There is a growing recognition of the bank-ability of bio-diverse, sustainable systems and a movement within the investment community away from conventional, fossil fuel intense industry (think synthetic farm inputs).

The winds of ‘ecological’ change and ‘regeneration’ are certainly sweeping Australian agriculture.

The sentiment is certainly captured in a recently released strategy from Australia’s National Farmers Federation (NFF) Get Australia Growing – Ideas for Economic Recovery, which recognises that “the World is trending towards a market-based system for valuing natural capital.”

It’s a theme amplified in the NFF’s 2030 Roadmap, which highlights as a key priority the need to recognise and reward good environmental stewardship, and calls for the development of a natural capital accounting system based on an ecosystems services approach – similar to those of the EU, UK, US, Canada and New Zealand. The NFF equates the net worth of such an approach as equal to 5% of farm revenue.

In an era of heightened climate change awareness, scientists and economists globally are looking at the inadequacy of traditional measures of GDP for capturing economic, social and environmental benefits.

Natural capital accounting, or ‘putting a price tag on nature’, recognises the economy as a tool that incorporates the environment, taking into account the value of ecosystem services and the true cost of climate change.

The Roadmap priority aims to ensure biophysical asset management balances production with conservation, that rewards are in place for positive environmental contributions, and that there is an active market for private investment in on-farm stewardship and reduced financing costs for best practice farms.

Sustainability = Bankability

The Weekend Australian recently reported that nab is the first bank to recognise positive environmental stewardship and the value of natural capital in a move to cut interest rates on parts of the Goondicum Station in Queensland, where successive generations of the Campbell family have been working to conserve and restore native vegetative since the 1960s.

Through demonstrating the value of the ecological services their land can provide, and
diversification into carbon farming, Goodicum Station is a working demonstration of an economically and ecologically sustainable agricultural operation.

Reduced stocking densities have been compensated by dramatic improvements in pasture quality and livestock condition, and the Station boasts diversified income generation from environmental improvements on farm, including being “home to one of Queensland’s largest carbon-farming projects.”

Positive signs that triple bottom line accounting for agriculture has moved from the conceptual to practical reality.

By Joanne Koehne

Further Information

Adapted with permission from the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia [NASAA].

The National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia (NASAA) plays a critically important role in supporting and promoting the adoption of organic agricultural practices that lead to safer and more sustainable food production systems.

NASAA’s subsidiary business, NASAA Certified Organic (NCO), is one of the most well-recognised certifiers of organic food production in Australia to meet all domestic and international export market requirements.

NFF Get Australia Growing – Ideas for Economic Recovery

NFF 2030 RoadMap

regenerative agriculturesustainable farm practicessoil carboncarbon capture and storage

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