A celebration of regenerative farmers

September 14, 2018
Charles Massy.

Call of the Reed Warbler: A New Agriculture, A New Earth
By Charles Massy
University of Queensland Press, 2017
592, paperback

In Call of the Reed Warbler: A New Agriculture, A New Earth, Monaro farmer Charles Massy has written an excellent book on agricultural change to restore the environment.

Massy talks about his transformation from a land degrader to a land regenerator, and the inspiration he received from dozens of other Australian farmers who have done the same.

The book discusses five key landscape functions that conventional agriculture degrades and which regenerative agriculture addresses: solar, water, nutrient recycling, biodiversity and the human mind.

Plants convert sunlight and carbon dioxide into carbohydrates and humus, but cannot do it on bare ground or short pasture. Therefore year-round ground cover and rotationally grazed livestock are essential.

Rainfall is captured by non-compacted soil using livestock, soil aeration techniques and leaky weirs on streams. Nutrient recycling is conducted by soil biology, which can be enhanced by continuous ground cover and no synthetic fertilisers or pesticides.

Farm ecosystems are developed using strategic tree planting and polyculture. Massy sees the human mind as the most important aspect of restoring landscape function. He talks about the “mechanical mind”, which has dominated agriculture since the start of the industrial revolution, and the “emergent mind”, which is its opposite.

The emergent mind thinks in terms of ecology, of cooperating with nature, while the mechanical mind seeks technological solutions to individual issues and domination of nature.

The book tells the stories of the pioneers of the emergent mind, the leaders and most influential ecological agriculturalists in Australia, including Peter Andrews, PA Yeomans, Colin Seis, Bruce Maynard, Richard Weatherly, David Marsh and many others. 

Massy asks why other farmers do not follow their examples, when neighbouring farmers can see the results over the fence.

He asks: “But why is it so hard to shift from a Mechanical to an Emergent mind: from one that is Earth-destructive to one that is Earth-nurturing? The answer, while complex, is also simple: it involves overcoming paradigm entrenchment deep within our heads along with those external powers that have a vested interest in keeping us ‘on track’.”

Those who have made the change are celebrated in this valuable book, recording the experiences of Australia’s leading ecological farmers.

[Alan Broughton is a member of the Socialist Alliance and is active with the Organic Agriculture Association. He is a co-author of Sustainable Agriculture Versus Corporate Greed.]

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