My name’s Charlie Massy. I’m a farmer down
here on the Monaro, but currently
finishing a PhD at ANU in the Fenner School for
Environment and Society. And I’m looking at innovative
agriculturalists and change. I guess the farmers,
men and women, that I’ve been
looking at are what I call transformative
agriculturalists. And by that I mean
that they’ve made a complete change in their
mind and their approach to how they go about agriculture
from a previous practice. What’s been really
interesting is– and that’s been one
of my key questions– is what made them change. And one of the surprising
results is that in over 60% of the cases– and I interviewed
over 80 people across Australia– in over 60% of the cases there
was some sort of major life shock that, if you like,
cracked open their mind and made them really start to
hunt around for doing something differently. And in the remaining cases,
35% to 40%, it was similar, but it was delayed. It was more gradual,
but the same effect that they ended up with– this
disquiet, this disequilibrium, that got them thinking that
there must be a better way. How do I go about it? And that set them on a path
of finding information to– So I interviewed 80 farmers
right across Australia, in Southern Australia. I tried to look at the, sort
of, agro-climatic zones. And I looked at 12
different approaches to it, whether it was grazing
or cropping or agroforestry– that sort of thing. So what I found was that
the farmers have almost done a mental flip in their
mind from what you would call, and historians call it, a
sort of mechanical metaphor, the way they think, over to
an ecological, or an organic. And with that goes remarkable
change in practices. And a lot of it comes down to
generating healthy soils that don’t degrade and wash
but absorb moisture, and you’ve got more grass,
ground cover, and healthier animals and livestock,
and healthier crops. It’s interesting– in any
field, and particularly in agriculture, if you
do something different, you usually stick your
head up above the parapet. In agriculture, the dominant
way we conduct agriculture is what’s called industrial
agriculture– and so a lot of chemicals, a lot of
fossil fuel, big machines, a lot of monocultures. And that dominant paradigm,
the dominant practice, is driven by the biggest
companies in the world– all the big multinationals,
most of the big multinationals in chemicals, petrochemicals,
fertilizers, seeds, machinery, and so on. And if you start
doing something that’s going to disempower them, or
take away their business– it’s the way power
works in society– they’re not going to like that. And so a lot of
these farmers who have turned their back
on the traditional ways and the industrial ways, there’s
been opposition– some overt, some more subtle. But it’s there. And that’s what
happens in society if you take on the big
boys, the big league. Agriculture has to start nearly
doubling its food production to meet this increasing demand. And what we’re doing
isn’t sustainable. It’s the old saying that
Einstein and others have said, that today’s thinking
that’s created today’s problem isn’t going
to solve tomorrow’s issues. So we have to have a
new way of thinking. And what’s emerging is this
transformative agriculture does seem to provide a way of
producing food commercially without a lot of the
destructive impacts. When I talk about
transformative agriculture, I was looking at 10 or 11
different, what I call, case studies. But if I was asked– and some
of them were in agroforestry or growing shrubs or whatever– the two that really
stand out for me, because they apply
so broadly and are so important and fundamental
to the whole thing– bearing in mind that
having healthy soil underpins all agriculture– the two cases that stand out
is what I call holistic grazing management. And that’s based on the
African savannas, the big herds that move through in big numbers
but don’t stay long and come back about six months
later, or whatever it is. And that’s been adapted. It came out of Africa. It’s practiced now widely– well, not widely–
but it’s practiced by an increasing number of
farmers in Australia, Africa, North and South America. And it’s transforming
landscapes. Because the farmers, just by
adapting management and putting mobs into big herds,
are improving their soil by resting the plants after
a quick graze, et cetera. And the second part of that
is that the big breakthrough in cropping in Australia,
what’s called pasture cropping, they’re using animals, through
their cropping landscapes and grazing their
crops, to use the animal energy and the
recycled nutrients to replace a lot of their
fossil fuel and chemicals. Pasture cropping, I’d
probably have to say, is a real breakthrough. I mean, there’s people
in Western Australia, for example, growing
really good wheat crops off six inches of rain. Now, the application
of that worldwide, especially in a drying climate
and in marginal countries, is just huge. And if you can start putting
animals through a landscape and have, as an excellent
byproduct, good crops, it’s starting to say we can
feed the world in the future without harming the earth
that we’re trying to grow the food and the crops off. I happen to think it’s
fundamentally important, even to the extent of the survival
of our species and the planet, because at the
moment we’re racing towards a sort of multiple
compounding effects that point towards disaster. We’re running out of oil. We’re running out
of key nutrients with which to grow food. And we’re going to end up with
another, conservative, two billion more people by 2050. We’re running out of land
because of urbanization and more land degradation. We’re running out of water. And so on and so on. And current
agricultural practices based on chemicals and fuel,
et cetera, aren’t sustainable. We know that. It’s slowly poisoning
the land and the soil and that sort of
thing, and the waters. And what these transformative
farmers, agriculturalists, have shown is that
we can grow food in a sustainable way
with a lot less use of those scarce resources
and with a lot less damage. And so I think
they’re signposting a pathway how we can conduct
a sustainable future.