Responding to Crisis: Regenerative Agriculture & Other Solutions

Maddy Harland
Friday, 21st February 2014

Scientific predictions about the state of the planet are dire. Maddy Harland talks to farmer, Rebecca Hosking, suggests some regenerative solutions, and asks how do we really want to live?

In 2008, the celebrated scientist, James Lovelock, said global warming is irreversible and we should now focus on enjoying life because planting trees, recycling and other eco-activities are a 'waste of time'.

From December to February 2014, Britain has experienced the wettest winter in over 100 years. The mainstream media and politicians are beginning to realise the financial and human cost of climate chaos.

Whilst things are looking dire for humanity and our planet, we need to remember Joanna Macy's counsel: We do not know whether we are nursing a terminal patient or birthing a new civilisation. We must not despair but integrate the practice of detachment into our work. We need to continue to do what is right simply because it is the right thing to do, not because we are seeking outcomes with given deadlines.

Regenerative agriculture

Nature is a profoundly powerful force. Regenerative agriculture teaches us that small actions can have large effects. We can rebuild soil and regenerate landscapes at rates that are surprising. Nature responds to our ministrations.

Rebecca Hosking, a Devon farmer, who uses all sorts of soil building and carbon sequestering regenerative agriculture techniques, told me, "People are finally realising how we manage and farm the land affects not only how much carbon is released but also how much we can sequester.

"Similarly how much water, which once washed off our fields, is now being absorbed. In just 18 months of soil building on the family farm we've noticed our herb and grass regrowth dramatically speed up and increase in density; all the time acting as a large carbon sink.

"Throughout the recent severe weather that hit the UK, the real eye-opener for us was the clarity and low flow levels of water leaving our land compared to that of our neighbours. Just by implementing simple money saving land management changes we have seen dramatic results which are now not just benefiting us but others around us. Imagine if many other farms in the UK were to do this, we'd see a high reduction in floods and all of us sequestering carbon to build fertility - it's a win- win."

Where two streams meet - Rebecca's farm & her neighbour's

Rebecca and her farming colleague, Tim Green, have been practising mob grazing with their flock of sheep on their land, fertilising pasture with compost teas, laying old boundary hedges and planting fruit trees on the margins of grazing areas. Re-establishing a more mixed ecology and mimicking nature by mob grazing with animals has kickstarted the farm into a regenerative state, building soil, improving the sward, augmenting animal health and creating greater biodiversity.

We do not yet know what a global movement dedicated to reforestation and sequestering carbon through new regenerative agriculture practices could do. Nor do we have an understanding of what whole countries are capable of in terms of energy conservation. For example, after the tsunami and meltdown at Fukushima nuclear power plant, the Setsuden movement was formed to encourage energy conservation and attempt to avoid power blackouts. With a public education programme, energy saving innovations and some government restruction, Japan was able to save 20% of its total energy use in 2011-12.

We also know that Germany and Denmark are both capable of being net generators with their network of renewable energy solutions. Why then are we advocating fracking and nuclear power in the UK, for instance? Is it a total lack of imagination on the part of our politicians? Partly, but I think it is mainly because these dirty technologies make money for a very few. We cannot allow a tiny percentage of humanity who want to stay obscenely rich to dominate our energy choices.

Whatever we do now will not change the climate chaos that is coming to us in the next few decades. Lovelock is right, the carbon load is already doing its work in our planet's atmosphere. Climate change is as implaccable as a supertanker that has gained momemtum and it takes a long time to reduce speed and turn the ship around. What we can do is work towards stability for future generations. We owe them that.

Lovelock, who I once met in Winchester Cathedral of all places during a green event, has no sense of the global movement and its power or of regenerative agriculture, permaculture and all the other life enhancing practices we publish about in this magazine. I have no doubt that things are going to get worse but there are still solutions to our global problems. We just need the collective will to initiate them and the courage to ride the storms.

Another thing Rebecca said to me was a paraphrase of Tim Bennett: What do you want to do with your life? Sit and watch the end of the world with a coke in hand in front of a flat screen TV? Or do you want to be a guardian of a small plot of land, growing your own veg and trying to do what you can to make things better?

I know what I have chosen.

Further Resources

Watch: How to Green the Worlds Deserts and Reverse Climate Change

Watch: Why Wolves Change Whole Ecosystems

Fossil Fuels v Fertilisers: Compost teas on the farm

Please see our Farming & Smallholding section for more in depth infomation

Useful websites

The Work that Reconnects

Regenerative Agriculture

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Hijacker |
Sat, 22/02/2014 - 00:53
It's a shame that regenerative agriculture is being turned into a cash grab by small groups of self motivated Entrepreneurs with little thought to the greater good - using permaculture as a marketing strategy. Here in Australia people are charging outrageous fees to consult on this stuff. Struggling farmers who need to put these practices into action can't afford the advice or training to participate. I'd really like to see some of the fruadulently registered 'not for profit' businesses out there put money where their mouths are and start doing something for the struggling, drought and flood affected farmers.