with Peter Burton
Functional Fertiliser Ltd
To have a view on regenerative farming it’s essential that the term be defined – and in our view most New Zealand pastoral farmers are currently abiding by regenerative farming principles and have been for the last 50 years or more.
Any operator on a property where soil carbon is being steadily sequestered is farming regeneratively. And although there is always scope to increase the speed at which carbon is being stored, they by definition fall into the regenerative camp.
It is under-grazed permanent pasture that carbon is sequestered more rapidly than in any other situation, and the fact that not all farms are carbon positive should be genuinely concerning.
When farming inevitably enters the Emissions Trading Scheme, farmers stand to either be paid or penalised for carbon stored or lost. And should the balance be on the side of the Government, it will be an opportunity they won’t pass up.
The price of carbon is set by government, placing owners of farms losing carbon in a potentially vulnerable and uncertain position.
Carbon and its role in agriculture is currently being considered by farming leaders and the recently released joint statement ‘Agricultural organisations unite to call for IPCC to consider GWP*/GWP- we for greenhouse gas emissions’ is signed by Andrew Hoggard of Federated Farmers and Andrew Morrison of Beef + Lamb NZ, among others.
The final sentence of the statement is: “We cannot afford to wait for more accurate measures to be developed; urgent action is needed now to improve productivity, conserve the carbon already in our pastures and grasslands, and store more carbon for the good of society”.
Soil carbon is not hard to measure and there’s already enough data to show trends over time. A 2011 Bay of Plenty Regional Council Land Management document contains the following: “...recent research has shown that in intensive lowland livestock systems (e.g. dairying) soils have lost organic matter by an average of 1.00 tonne carbon/ha/year over the last 20 – 30 years while in hilly land soils, organic carbon levels have increased”.
The loss-of-carbon focus is on intensive dairy where the average nitrogen application is 230kg/ha annually, and there is a link.
Maximising annual pasture growth without applying nitrogen on a monthly basis is possible and has been practised by numerous farmers during the last 17 years.
Pastoral soils naturally contain 5000-15,000kg N/ha within the root zone of plants. Annual uptake of N is around 450kg/ha with clovers able to provide all the nitrogen necessary for annual growth of 18 tonne DM/ha.
Building soil carbon levels by growing topsoil improves the resilience of farms. An extra one per cent increase in soil carbon means as much as an extra 144,000 litres of extra water stored.
Long-term Functional Fertiliser clients have regularly mentioned that dry seasons are less of a concern than they used to be, with pastures growing noticeably longer into a dry spell and recovering more rapidly when rain arrives.
A similar benefit is apparent at the start and end of winter on properties with well-structured biologically active soils.
Apart from growing up to 30 per cent more total feed in a 12-month period, clover rich-pastures provide a range of other benefits. Because of its higher digestibility animals can eat more kilograms of pasture in their naturally-allotted grazing time, resulting in higher milk production and more rapid weight gains.
Clover also contains more soluble sugars and that’s important because apart from the peak of summer animals respond positively to extra energy.
Strategically applied nitrogen can still be beneficial, however it’s the non-reliance on synthetic N that provides these farms with a range of unique benefits, and a bright future. For more information, call Peter on 0800 843 809.