“It’s not the COW, it’s the HOW”
Phyllis Tichinin is an Organic Dairy and Pastoral Group plant ecologist. She will be speaking on The Carbon Sequestration Aspects of Grazing Animals in NZ: The Consumer Demand and Human Health.
Consumers are attracted to plant based diets for assumed ecological and health benefits. However, vegetable cropping currently uses more energy and chemicals than pastoral grazing while releasing more greenhouse gases.
Long term human health, fertility and brain function depend on bioavailable fat soluble vitamin A only found in animal products. This talk will overview the science behind grazing for carbon sequestration and the possibly misplaced emphasis on plant based proteins for environment and health.
Ruminants get a bad rap from some global consumers based on the impression that red meat only comes from CAFOs – which are animal Auschwitz’s and environmental disasters. The concentrated feeds going into CAFOs are glyphosate-heavy GMO corn and soy crops that use much more fossil fuel energy than they deliver in food energy, while prompting soil erosion and polluting planetary waters. These are the same ag cropping practices that provide the starting materials for synthetic proteins.
Ruminant animals are required species for creation and restoration of rich topsoil grasslands – ultimately our cropping lands. With ruminants in the cycle we can grow soils, store tonnes/ha of atmospheric carbon, clean up watersheds and deliver the fat soluble vitamins crucial for human health and fertility. This occurs in a farm setting of lowered costs, better production and profit, with gains in farmer satisfaction and mental health.
Read on for more from Phyllis…
While we support its underlying intention to improve the environment through farming practices we have an issue with sustainable farming.
Farming is based on our soil resource. We have a degraded soil resource that is eroding, contributing water pollutants, often compacted, low in microbes and somewhat flat-lined in terms of profit and production.
We’re getting beat up in the press, beat up in the wallet and farming has one of the highest suicide rates by occupation.
Why would we want to sustain a degraded resource like this on into the indefinite future and pass it on that way to our children?
Why not aim to regenerate our soil resource?
We know it’s possible to grow our soils.
It’s an ecological reality – rock parent material is transformed by microbes into topsoil and we farm the topsoil that is created or grown.
For at least 60 years we’ve assumed we could only minimise the effects of erosion while continuing to lose soil carbon through farming.
We now have widespread proof it is not only possible but also profitable to farm so as to increase soil carbon levels.
Expanding the soil carbon sponge increases rain infiltration, water-holding capacity and the nutrient density of what we grow while reducing synthetic inputs. Soil carbon or organic matter levels are the strongest predictor of farm profit.
To those agricultural product suppliers who maintain we can’t farm without their inputs we say look more closely at what is happening overseas. To the academics or policy folks who assert New Zealand soils can only continue to lose carbon based on what they’re observing, we say where are you looking?
If you’re looking at urea and superphosphate driven farms then you will see soil organic matter being burned up and soils collapsing, eroding and becoming water repellent.
But where farmers create diverse, integrated, ecosystems based on soil microbe communities and observe principles of healthy soils you will see greater profitability, more friable, productive soils and greater farmer satisfaction and pride.
Regenerating soil function is largely about giving soil microbes good living conditions so they can get on with their complex soil construction and plant-feeding jobs.
What do they need for that?
Pretty much the same things as us – oxygen, water, food and comfort.
We’re mostly falling down in the comfort department.
We stress microbes when we slice and dice their communities with tillage.
We stress them chemically when we apply insecticides, fungicides, antibiotics and herbicides.
We stress them when we create compacted soils with low oxygen conditions.
We outright starve many of them when we allow bare ground without plant roots to feed the microbes.
Our premium markets are now additionally signalling they want ethical food grown by well-treated workers.
We support that and assert many of our challenges as producers will diminish if we all focus on treating our microbial workforce better as well, since everything successful on the farm – drought tolerance, low pest pressure, flavour, good animal health and pasture quality – depends on them.
We’re aiming too low with sustainable farming.
If we truly want to be world leaders in agriculture and get the premium associated with that we’re going to need to regenerate our soil capital asset.
Consumers are savvy.
The internet has provided them with screeds of information on farming practices and food quality.
With the intense interest in the human microbiome they’ll pretty soon figure out that quality food for their gut microbes absolutely depends on healthy, diverse soil microbes on our farms.
Then they’ll come asking about our soil microbe working conditions and we’ll have to prove we’re doing an exemplary job of that basic task.
There will soon be apps that give instant readings on pesticide residues and mineral content from simply pointing your phone at something edible.
There will be nowhere to hide.
We have to move now to be able to deliver true food quality to meet that disruptive technology.
We assert that we’re coasting on our laurels in much of NZ farming.
We need to aim higher to meet the market and ultimately be proud of our results while being generously compensated for the important, complex jobs we do.
Source: Farmers Weekly