Australian fresh food supply is in jeopardy, with continual soil degradation from traditional farming practices reducing the number of harvests left from homegrown soil to just 60, reveals figures released from the United Nations. This startling statistic is coupled with the fact that 97% of agricultural soil has been degraded around the world, according to Doctor Zach Bush.
In a call to arms, independent Australian grocery retailer Harris Farm Markets is urging all consumers, retailers, suppliers and farmers to take a closer look at farming practices and where their food comes from in a bid to educate Australians on the growing need for regenerative farming and back the fight against soil degradation and its impact on climate change.
More than one quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions come from traditional farming methods, making farming the second largest contributor to carbon in the atmosphere. Regenerative farming has the ability to sequester carbon from the atmosphere, meaning these practices are a solution to climate change. What’s more healthy soil with higher carbon levels acts like a sponge for water making our farmers significantly more resistant to drought conditions. Harris Farm Markets is the first Australian grocery retailer to take a strong stance on regenerative farming and spotlight the importance of regenerative farming practices and its impact on soil, carbon emissions and the final food product.
“Australia is an agricultural powerhouse, however, if we don’t start to innovate the way we are producing we will be at risk of irreversible damage to our soil and therefore an impact to our food supply and quality,” says Angus Harris, co CEO of Harris Farm Markets. “Put simply, at Harris Farm Markets we are urging all consumers to dig deep and really question where their food is coming from and the impact this has on our future. If you are concerned about climate change, the most simple way to do your part is to shop for regeneratively farmed products,” said Harris. The initiative to prioritise regenerative farmed products from Harris Farm Markets has been years in the making, engaging top sustainability experts, industry bodies and partners including Charlie Arnott, Land to Market Australia, the Mulloon Institute, YLAD Living Soils and regenerative beef producer and supplier, Provenir. In addition to consumer and supplier education, this also extends to composting activity in selected Harris Farm stores.
Charlie Arnott, biodynamic farmer and regenerative farming crusader says the first major shift that needs to happen is in the mindset of consumers, retailers and farmers, “Before we can make any changes to our paddocks, we need to change the paddock between our ears.”
“The industry is under an immense amount of pressure. A farmer is always either in drought, preparing for drought or recovering from drought. But we don’t have a rainfall issue, we have a water retention issue and getting carbon back into the soil will fix this problem,” says Arnott. Currently, Harris Farm Markets has more than 120 regeneratively farmed products available in-store and online, with this volume of products and the number of suppliers using these methods set to double by the end of 2021, and double again by the end of 2022.
“Regeneratively farmed products tend to taste different to products grown through traditional farming methods. There’s no doubt that a superior taste and quality also comes from nutrients and microbiology in the soil, so it’s unsurprising that even without consumers understanding the nitty gritty, we frequently sell out of regeneratively farmed products including eggs from Mulloon Creek Natural Farms which fly off our shelves,” commented Harris.
“Not only are we at Harris Farm accountable for the way our suppliers grow and raise the food we sell to our customers, this expands to every single Australian grocery retailer. From fruit and veg, meat, and a range of other products, Harris Farm has a focus on bringing Australian consumers the option to purchase more regeneratively farmed products from trusted and authorised Australian suppliers and producers,” says Harris.
This ethos extends to the Harris Family Farm, Cox’s River Rest in Megalong Valley, NSW which farms beef, lavender and rosemary. In partnership with the Mulloon Institute, for the past 18 months, Cox’s River Rest Farm has been undergoing its own regenerative farming initiative to re-establish its function, fertility and resilience. “We need to practice what we preach and set an example and a high benchmark for other retailers as well as Aussie farmers. Our food is only as sustainable as the environment, so implementing regenerative farming practices in our own farm was a high priority for us,” said Harris.
As a result, more than 40 tonnes of humus compost has been created from food waste collected from Harris Farm stores, with a special blend of additional minerals and nutrients added, and this has been used directly at Cox’s River Rest Farm. Referred to as Harris Farm’s custom created ‘SOILBIOTIC’, this will be available in Harris Farm stores for a limited time to give Australians the chance to regenerate their own gardens and learn about regenerative farming in their own backyards.
“This is about every single Australian doing their part, whether it be at home, or at the supermarket checkout, or on their farm. The most simple way to get involved is when you’re putting your meat, eggs, fruit, veg or dairy in your trolley, look for products that are regeneratively farmed. With only 60 harvests of food supporting top-soil left, the responsibility for environmental impact lies with the choices we make every single day. Our overarching goal is to educate consumers, retailers, farmers and suppliers and galvanise them to focus on regenerative farming and healthy soil,” concluded Harris.
What is regenerative farming?
With the UN FAO and other major nations around the world seriously concerned about food security, regenerative farming has become a rising trend in recent years with documentaries such as ‘Kiss the Ground’ airing on Netflix and drawing increased attention to this farming philosophy and movement. Regenerative farming focuses on understanding the ecology of the land, it’s diversity and, over time, works to regenerate the land back to its natural state.
As much a philosophy as a science, regenerative farming focuses on understanding the ecology of the landscape and the biodiversity of the soil. Regenerative farming is an alternative to conventional, synthetic and chemical fueled farming practices. Rather than farming for a ‘product’, regenerative farming focuses on farming the soil instead, with the understanding that a better quality soil will allow better harvests with less invasive methods and more nutrients kept in the ground. Benefits of regenerative farming include increased water in the soil, maximised rain capture and soil rehydration, enriched soil, an enhanced ecosystem and increased biodiversity. In addition, regenerative farming sequesters carbon from the atmosphere and can reduce the impact of climate change.
Chris Balazs, CEO of Provenir and a former scientist turned beef farmer wholly supports regenerative farming practices. “I don’t call myself a cattle farmer. I realised that, in order to breed the best cattle, I had to become a grass grower, and in order to do that, it was all about the soil and the amount of water I could retain in the soil.” Since moving to regenerative farming practices, including managing cattle more efficiently, Provenir has used no synthetic fertilisers, herbicides, or pesticides for 10 years and has not needed to seed paddocks for 7 years, with the farm growing as much, if not more grass than ever before. “What people don’t realise is that grass fed beef and lamb, when done correctly, can make a positive effect on the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Regenerative farming sequesters the carbon from the atmosphere and brings it back into the soil making it softer, fluffier and more productive. Australia could really be a significant global player in supporting regenerative farming globally,” commented Balazs.
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