THE REGENERATIVE HOUR: A natural farmer’s big vision for Australia

The UN is preparing to declare 2021-2030 the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. Adrian Drew is part of a group of farmers and land owners who think Australia should take a leading role in making that happen.

What to call the equivalent of a modern-thinking ‘urban farmer’ or permaculturalist, who works with growing food on a big piece of land on the countryside, but in a very different style than how the conventional farmers do it?

I suggest we introduce the expression the natural farmer.

My definition of a ‘natural farmer’ would be that it is a farmer who is focused on observing, understanding, following and making good use of the way nature works – the interaction between plants, microorganisms, animals, the landscape and the weather – rather than being directed by the way the agricultural and industrial economy works.

In The Renerative Hour today, I visit one of Australia’s natural farmers: Adrian Drew. He is part of a growing group of intelligent farmers and ‘landscape mechanics’ who share the vision that by 2030, Australia’s catchment and watershed systems can be drought-proofed and restored by using Peter Andrew‘s Natural Sequence Farming methods and the Australian Landscape Science Approach.

After working with this topic over 40 years, Peter Andrews has become a bit of a national icon. In books, articles, tv documentaries and numerous conference speeches and presentations he explains to the Australian farmers how a transformation of the way water flows through the landscape can help enable them to restore soil fertility by using all plants – understanding their function and part they play in landscape process at any point in time – so they can grow food without the use of fertilisers or pesticides, artificial irrigation or drainage.

Peter Andrews’ basic idea is to be working together with all plants and with the community to achieve maximum productivity and biodiversity in the shortest amount of time, storing water and fertility where it has greatest potential for use in the landscape, and working with the unlimited maximum of water flow in the landscape, while at the same time storing carbon in the soil as a result of plant production and growing more plants to reinstate water cycles and a more moderate, farming-friendly climate.

Adrian Drew: “The shift is coming”

The shift is coming
As our summer get hotter and drier each year, it could be argued, as Adrian Drew does it well in this podcast, that this shift in the landscape is needed, moving from a drainage paradigm to a water storage paradigm in the farming sector and land management generally.

However, it will first of all require a major shift in mindset and mentality among Australia’s 200,000 farmers – and that is probably the most difficult obstacle to deal with and overcome, if this 10-year vision is going to be successfully implemented. 

“We are in luck, though,” says Drew: “The shift is coming. The evidence for that are the many committed landowners at various sites throughout Australia, who currently are participating in making this vision come true.”

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“…the path we are following is taking us downhill, possibly to destruction. Calamity does await us if we keep doing to the landscape what we have been doing. The good news is we can fix the problem. In fact, fixing it is relatively easy. All it needs is a change of mindset. A willingness to renounce old, time-honoured practices and beliefs. A willingness to allow the Australian landscape to regain the cover of vegetation that it once had.”
~ Peter Andrews, in his book ‘Beyond the Brink’ on page 2

→ The Guardian – 29 January 2020:
David Pocock’s 2020s vision: Heal the land, secure our future
“Regenerative agriculture can revolutionise the continent. That’s not a pie-in-the-sky utopia, but something we can all bring about.” By David Pocock

→ Soil Science and Plant Nutrition Journal Volume 66, 2020:
Managing soils for negative feedback to climate change and positive impact on food and nutritional security

Growing a revolution

Less chemicals, carbon emissions and nitrates, super-healthy soil and plants growing like crazy. Farming the regenerative way.

→ Rural News – 6 December 2019
Farmers excited by regenerative farming

A NZ On Air-funded online video highlights farmer success at regenerative farming.

The video titled ‘Growing a Revolution’, created by Christchurch video production company Frank Film, covers a recent regenerative farming field day in Leeston, Canterbury.

More than 70 agriculture professionals showed up to the day held by cropping farmer Simon Osborne to learn about the potential environmental and financial benefits of regenerative farming.

Many farmers expressed how they were eager to take what they had learnt and put it into practice.

Osborne is passionate about regenerative farming, growing as many as 15 plants in a paddock for better soil functionality. He says he keeps the ground covered at all times, with no tilling, and this helps to keep carbon in the soil and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The practice may also reduce costs. Regenerative farming consultant Jono Frew says he has walked on to farms and saved them 30% on inputs.

Osborne says he hasn’t used broadacre insecticides since 1992. One regenerative farmer at the field day says he hasn’t put on fertilizer in 4-5 year.

Another regenerative farmer expressed significant reductions in irrigation, reducing irrigation to just six weeks.

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FAO: 90 per cent of Earth’s soil could become degraded by 2050

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) annual World Soil Day was celebrated on 5 December 2019 to raise awareness of soil’s importance for humankind; food, water, and energy security; biodiversity in the ecosystem; and climate change since 2014.

Although soil may seem plentiful, it’s a finite resource. The FAO warns “if we don’t act now, over 90 percent of the Earth’s soils could become degraded by 2050”. Consequently, the theme for this year’s World Soil Day was: “Stop Soil Erosion, Save Our Future”.

FAO wrote:

“Although not an aspect of the environment that we give much thought to, soil lies beneath us every day. Soil is the top layer of the earth, which is made up of organic and inorganic matter, air, and water. Without action, soil erosion will have dire consequences, such as famine. To put it simply, without healthy soil we can’t grow nutritious and healthy foods.”

You can find out more about WSD from the FOA website, on Facebook and YouTube and by using the hashtag #WorldSoilDay and #StopSoilErosion across social media.

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The Australian Landscape Science Approach with Peter Andrews at Tarwyn Park in Bylong Valley

Ray Martin visits Tarwyn Park in Bylong Valley with a diverse group of farmers, engineers, scientists and academics to meet with Peter Andrews OAM. They have come together to consider how to best present The Australian Landscape Science Approach (‘TALS Approach’) of land restoration and management, such as Natural Sequence Farming, to mainstream Australia.

“Peter Andrews can look at a landscape like a musician can look at a piece of music. He can read how the water flows and how the whole system works. How to slow it down. How to still the water. How to let it soak into the banks to hydrate the land all around it”.
~ Tony Coote, interviewed in Australian Story

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Julian Cribb: “The world food system is at risk of disintegrating by the mid-century”

“Worldwide, compelling new evidence is amassing that we must urgently re-think our food system – or face the risk of spreading conflict and mass-migration triggered by disputes over essential resources. In short, we have a choice before us – between food or war.

In his powerful new book, acclaimed science writer, Julian Cribb, lays out the case for a worldwide food revolution. ‘Food or War’ is for anyone concerned about the health, safety, affordability, diversity, and sustainability of their food – and the peace of our planet. It is not just timely – its message is of the greatest urgency.”

. . .

Food wars “totally predictable”

Ignoring the profound global challenges that endanger farming systems may lead to extensive warfare and famine in the near future. Australian climate scholar Julian Cribb suggests that climate change threatens the very foundations of agriculture and calls for a scientific food revolution.

Looming food insecurity, thanks to desertification, topsoil loss, dead zones in the ocean, and other climatic hazards, will ultimately lead to wars. “That food wars will happen is totally predictable — on the strength of what has occurred regularly during the past 20,000 years, and what is happening right now in terms of rising food demand from a shrinking resource base,” writes Cribb. Despite his dire prognosis, Cribb later outlines several ways to avoid such wars, mainly through innovative “food for peace” farming techniques that he hopes will “see humanity through the human population peak of the mid-21st century, and down the other side.”

→ Undark – 25 October 2019:
Can We Break the Cycle of War and Famine?
In the book “Food or War,” climate scholar Julian Cribb describes how to avoid widespread famine and conflict over food.

TALS Institute: The Incredible Blueprint of the Ancient Australian Landscape

TALS Institute writes: “Can you imagine… going directly from drought to productivity? Australia is experiencing the worst drought for more than 100 years. But despite this, there is still hope and a great opportunity… The UN is declaring 2021-2030 The Decade of Ecosystem Restoration. And Australia can take a leading role.

Peter Andrews is a farmer who believes this is possible by using the basic patterns and following simple rules that can be observed in the  ancient Australian landscape. For many millions of years Australia evolved a highly productive and fully automated ecosystem with a huge diversity of plants (and animals) that managed the landscape from watershed to estuary with nearly 100% efficiency despite enduring many cycles  of extreme climate conditions.

40 years ago, Peter Andrews began to study this natural sequence at Tarwyn Park in the Bylong Valley. Peter’s agricultural methods of Natural Sequence Farming have become wildly popular and the UN has officially recognised Natural Sequence Farming as a sustainable agricultural practice -one of only five in the world.

Now, Peter has a bold new vision. A new beginning for the Australian landscape. The complete restoration of river systems and floodplains across Australia, by 2030. In collaboration with a panel of international experts and scientists this major project will restore soil health, water health, food health… and generate thousands of sustainable jobs in the process.

The next steps forward are: 

1. Establish an advisory body 
2. Train-the-trainers program
3. Community group activation

Within one month, there can be groups restoring every region. The ancient Australian landscape contains the blueprint we need to go from drought to productivity. Peter is ready to go today. But he can’t go it alone. Everyone has a role to play… You can make a big difference.

Send this message across Australia, and share it around the world. Let’s make it happen! Sign up for updates and be a part of the plan. “

Trees are rainmakers – WWF Australia

“We need to reframe our agricultural policies and subsidies. It makes no sense to continue incentivizing conventional practices that degrade soil fertility. We must begin supporting and rewarding farmers who adopt regenerative practices.

Once we see through myths of modern agriculture, practices that build soil health become the lens through which to assess strategies for feeding us all over the long haul. Why am I so confident that regenerative farming practices can prove both productive and economical? The farmers I met showed me they already are.”
~ David R. Montgomery, Professor of Earth and Space Sciences, University of Washington

→ The Conversation – 4 April 2017:
Healthy soil is the real key to feeding the world

ABC Landline – 25 October 2018
Saving Tarwyn Park – Peter Andrews and the Battle For Bylong

In July 2016, Peter Andrews, the pioneering founder of Natural Sequence Farming, returned to his beloved Tarwyn Park with 20 horses – as a squatter. Peter is making his last stand on the land he transformed into one of the best examples of regenerative agriculture in Australia today.

The legendary farm has been sold to Kepco, a Korean coal mining company, who intends to dig up the prime agricultural land of Tarwyn Park and turn the beautiful Bylong Valley into an enormous open cut coal pit.

Peter walked the land one last time with Bruce and Richard Fleming, previous owners of Tarwyn Park… a once in lifetime experience.

“If it takes the perception of sociatal collapse to push people past the vail of normalcy into an extraordinary intention, then that’s great.”
~ Charles Eisenstein – about restoring the whole biosphere, not just focusing on carbon

“The current predicament could be seen as an invitation to think again and feel again about what it is to be human and to live in community and support each other – not to just trade, but ask and to give. We could reframe collapse as not just a catastrophe, but as actually an enforced letting go of a hell of a lot of things which didn’t make us happy anyway.”
~ Jem Bendell, author of the academic paper ‘Deep Adaptation’


“Social issues are invariably tied to food and personal security, environmental and land use issues, and other economic themes. Problems such as climate change, increasing economic disparity between rich and poor, overpopulation, and overconsumption are causing ecological degradation and scarcity-induced wars. The capacity of communities to deal with these stressors and recover, as well as to prepare ways to avert future disasters, may well mean the difference between death and survival for millions of people.”

~ Nancy and John Hayden, in their book ‘Farming on the Wild Side: The Evolution of a Regenerative Organic Farm and Nursery

→ – 21 October 2019:
Pathways to Resilience
“In their new book, Farming on the Wild Side, veteran farmers Nancy and John Hayden unearth the philosophical and scientific principles that influenced them as they reverted their farm into a biodiverse, semi-wild state, phasing out sheep and potatoes as they embraced apples, pears, stone fruits, and uncommon berry crops. The Hayden’s story charts an evolving relationship with an ecosystem and its inhabitants, grounded in observation, ecological thinking, and the belief that native plants can teach us what we need to know about the land to see it thrive again.”

Our Future in the Land
“The actions we take in the next ten years, to stop ecosystems collapse, to recover and regenerate nature and to restore people’s health and wellbeing are now critical. In this final report, the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission [in the United Kingdom] sets out radical and practical ways for policymakers, business and communities to respond to the challenges.”

RSA Food, Farming and Countryside Commission Field Guide for the Future
“The future, happening now. Stories of change from across the UK.
The Field Guide for the Future is a practical guide, with interviews and stories from the RSA Food, Farming and Countryside Commission’s work across the UK, including findings from their devolved and locally led inquires in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Devon, Cumbria and Lincolnshire. The case studies of good practice and stories of change within the field guide hint at a better future.”

Level the playing field for a fair food system

Director of the British Food, Farming and Countryside Commission, Sue Pritchard, wrote:

“How should we use our land – should we rewild parts of the UK and intensify food production in smaller areas; or should we layer regenerative practices across all land? What constitutes a truly sustainable diet – more plant-based foods and white meats, or meat and dairy from pasture-fed ruminants? Should we go all out for technological solutions like gene-editing? Or should we scale down consumption ready for a post-growth economy?

We looked at evidence across the whole system, balancing the data about healthy diets and sustainable land management, with climate and nature-friendly solutions, and the needs of rural communities. Our recommendations are radical and practical, around which we hope many people, organisations and businesses can convene.

Healthy food is everybody’s business – we have to level the playing field for a fair food system.

Farming must be a force for change – with farmers and land managers fully involved in shaping a just transition to regenerative farming by 2030.

The countryside must work for all – balancing multiple needs and a vibrant place to live and work.”

→ Read the article:

From a desert to a paradise

“Fifteen years ago, reeling from the effects of the Millennium drought, he attended a workshop on regenerative agriculture that radically changed the way he farmed and, he believes, saved his life.”

→ ABC – 14 March 2019:
Regenerative agriculture finds solid backing as decades of success show renewal
“Boorowa farmer Charlie Arnott has experienced the immense toll of drought on his cattle, his business and his wellbeing, but he has found a way through it all.”

→ ABC Rural – 22 January 2018:
Using weeds and the power of ecosystems to improve farm profitability
“An agri-ecologist is challenging traditional farming methods, claiming growing food could be made more profitable by taking a lead from nature.”

→ Scientific American – 26 March 2019:
Can Soil Microbes Slow Climate Change?
“One scientist has tantalizing results, but others are not convinced.”

“A land reawakened”

“The Biggest Little Farm follows two dreamers and their beloved dog when they make a choice that takes them out of their tiny L.A. apartment and into the countryside to build one of the most diverse farms of its kind in complete coexistence with nature.

The film chronicles their near decade-long attempt to create the utopia they seek, planting 10,000 orchard trees, hundreds of crops, and bringing in animals of every kind– including an unforgettable pig named Emma and her best friend, Greasy the rooster. When the farm’s ecosystem finally begins to reawaken, their plan to create perfect harmony takes a series of wild turns, and to survive they realize they’ll have to reach a far greater understanding of the intricacies and wisdom of nature, and of life itself.”

Community Supported Agriculture

Webinar about what it is and how you can get involved

Speakers: Joel Orchard, CSA Australia New Zealand and Future Farmers; and Randal Breen, Farmer/Owner, Echo Valley Farm, Goomburra Valley in Queensland

The growing of a new, direct distribution model – consumers accessing farms directly

Webinar zoom recording: Community Supported Agriculture – 7 August 2019

#StoryChange: Our perception of what is ‘regular’

“I was buying some apples at the market yesterday and the gentleman ringing me up noticed they didn’t have identifying stickers on them. He asked, “Are these organic or regular?”

Without thinking, as I was packing my reusable bag with the rest of my groceries, I said “Organic.”

It took me another 15 seconds or so before I replayed the exchange in my head. ‘Organic or regular.’


Wait a minute. If conventional, pesticide-laden foods are regular, then are organic foods irregular? Of course I know what he meant, but it really struck me how far we’ve drifted from natural systems in modern society – when the idea of monoculturing, spraying with toxic pesticides, or even genetically engineering something is considered “regular”.

Don’t we all hope for a time when organic is considered “regular”, and the rest is known as unnecessary, toxic, and a burden on our health and ecosystems?”
~ Rob, in a newsletter from The Need To GROW / Earth Conscious Life in October 2019

→ VICE – 19 September 2018:
There Are Nearly 1,000 Chemicals in Our Food That Have Never Been Tested for Safety
“Why the FDA and the EPA aren’t set up to protect us from contaminants in the food we eat.”

→ Agriculture Society – 18 August 2010:
Is Cheap Food Really Cheap? The Hidden Costs of Industrial Food
Vandana Shiva: “The materiality of a death-making chemical doesn’t change.”

The chemical industry’s “nefarious influence on agriculture”
Vandana Shiva, a world-famous environmental activist from India, makes the observation that farmers have been made dependent on chemicals and poisons. She has written the book ‘One Earth, One Humanity vs. the 1%’, and in this interview, she tells France 24 about her opposition to big multinationals such as Monsanto for their nefarious influence on agriculture.

Shiva also singles out billionaires like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg for criticism: “When Bill Gates pours money into Africa for feeding the poor in Africa and preventing famine, he’s pushing the failed Green Revolution, he’s pushing chemicals, pushing GMOs, pushing patterns”, she tells FRANCE 24’s Marc Perelman.

→ – 27 October 2019:
Climate Change and Agriculture – Part 1
By Nick Blandford, a member of Farmers for Climate Action and a farmer at Perry Bridge

→ – 27 October 2019:
Climate Change and Agriculture – Part 2
By Nick Blandford, a member of Farmers for Climate Action and a farmer at Perry Bridge

→ The Greens – 27 march 2020:
What is regenerative agriculture, and why does it matter?
“In its race to meet ever-burgeoning human food demand, industrial agriculture has had multiple adverse environmental effects. Regenerative agriculture, on the other hand, attempts to confront this sustainability problem while maintaining agricultural productivity.”

“The most important word in today’s world is ‘together’.”
~ Jan Eliasson, UN Deputy Secretary-General

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