Mainstream New Zealand agricultural methods are steadily wrecking farms and causing untold environmental damage, according to an Ahuroa sheep and beef farmer.
Bev Trowbridge is one of a small band of New Zealand regenerative farmers that have attracted international recognition, but remain relatively little known in New Zealand.
Last month, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation published a glowing report on the farmers in the wake of a Greenpeace film documenting their efforts called “The Regenerators”.
Regenerative farming prioritises healthy soil and working with nature rather than against it.
Bev says the chief problem of modern farming practices is that they are destroying the soil on which farming depends.
She says if we carry on farming in this way farming in New Zealand is going to become totally unsustainable with devastating consequences for the country’s economy.
“The soil on the planet is an incredibly thin layer which all life depends on, yet we are treating it in a really abusive way in all modern farming practices,” she says.
She says an essential part of healthy soil is all the creatures that live within it.
But instead of nurturing and encouraging these creatures, we kill them with the use of harsh chemical fertilizers.
The creatures break up the soil making it more porous. When the creatures die, the ground becomes hard and water runs off – taking the precious top soil with it and turning our rivers a dirty brown colour.
The expensive fertiliser, which was supposed to encourage plant growth, disappears into the rivers, too.
Bev says fertiliser companies are selling a simplistic solution to encouraging plant growth based on three major nutrients – nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, but with no regard to the broader implications for a farm’s ecology.
She says farmers are pouring more and more of such fertilisers on their land for ever more diminishing returns.
Moreover, by depleting the soil they are ruining its ability to sequester carbon and thus contributing to adverse climate change.
She says to turn things around, farmers must start with the soil uppermost in their minds. They should start with fertiliser that has more natural organic compounds such as fish fertilizer, seaweed and best of all compost because of the plethora of living creatures already within it.
The result is that water percolates through the soil, producing higher quality grass for animals to feed on and no water run-off.
Animals get nutrients directly from what they are eating rather than having to be injected with artificial supplements.
Bev says the proof of what she is saying can be seen on her own farm.
When she first acquired the farm 14 years ago, the ground was like concrete and there was no topsoil to speak of. Today there is 15 to 20cm of “beautiful dark, crumbly top soil”.
Bev says it’s always a hard pill to swallow to listen to someone saying long established practices are all wrong, but it’s imperative farmers take note.
“Today, farmers are not only doing tremendous damage to their farms and the environment, they are also doing tremendous damage to their own interests,” she says.