Farmers leading the change: regenerating soil and soul

Farmers leading the change: regenerating soil and soul

This article, just published in a special issue of the global publication Sustainability Science, is based on research into the experiences of beef and sheep farmers in NSW Australia. It’s about how farmers’ negative experiences with agrochemicals and their positive experiences with the microbiome motivated them to transition from conventional to regenerative agriculture

Dr. Hannah Gosnell, Ph.D., Professor of Geography, College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University focused her research on understanding what motivates farmers to adopt ‘climate-smart’ regenerative practices. She aimed to support the development of the right policies, incentives, outreach, and support mechanisms.

With a little help from her Aussie Regenerating Agriculture friends (see ‘Changing Paradigms‘) who provided their time and input ,and as she writes: ‘encouraged me to get this finished!’, Dr. Gosnell takes a holistic approach into what influenced farmers individually and communally to regenerate soil and soul alike.

Regenerating soil, regenerating soul: an integral approach to understanding agricultural transformation Here’s a link to the PDF. Please share with anyone who might be interested: 


A key finding is that negative experiences with agrochemicals associated with increasing costs and declining results were an important driver of change. And the positive experiences when learning about the microbiome and practicing ecological approaches to fertilisation and pest control, engendered enthusiasm and a commitment to transition away from high-input agriculture. Also a conviviality associated with communities of practice, e.g. microscope groups, played an important role in the transition process, as farmers solidified new identities and participated in ongoing social learning.

Based on these results, Dr Gosnell argues that farmers’ feelings of kinship with nature (animals, plants, microbes) resulting from learning about and working with soil are under appreciated drivers of behavioural change and powerful leverage points for larger-scale social-ecological transformation and the emergence of institutional and systemic change.

‘Changing Paradigms – The Power of Regenerative Agriculture’ a clip from the veterans and courses to follow

‘Changing Paradigms – The Power of Regenerative Agriculture’ a clip from the veterans and courses to follow

In the first of a series of brief clips shared from the Australia and New Zealand Holistic Management news site we share some of veteran regenerative famers, Charlie Massy and Norm Smith short documentary, ‘Changing Paradigms – The Power of Regenerative Agriculture’. And alert you to some great new courses starting around Mullumbimby, Wauchope, Berry and Braidwood NSW, Macedon Ranges VIC, Albany and Gascoyne WA. Check out the Holistic Management Courses webpage.

Holistic Management courses include: Ecological monitoring | Field days | Holistic Grazing Planning | Holistic Land Planning | Contour mapping | Profit planning | On-farm consultation | Guest speaking | Cover cropping. And Holistic Management Educators New Zealand and Australia include Brian Marshall, Brian Wehlburg, Craig Carter, Darren Baguley, Glen Chapman, Graeme Hand, Helen Lewis, Hugh Jellie, Ian Chapman, Jason Virtue, Jen Ringbauer, John King, Mark Gardner, Moira Lanzarin, Scott Robinson, and Tony Hill (Land to Market) @

Find an Event or Course‘ at (If you can’t find an event near you please contact a Holistic Management Educator about your requirements.) 

“The word ‘regeneration’ is all about renewal, leading to greater health in a system.” Charlie Massy

Money does grow on trees

Money does grow on trees

rainforest during foggy day
Photo by David Riaño Cortés on

For all the horror of the pandemic, COVID-19 has shifted people’s thinking.

Most of us have used the lockdowns and the change to reflect on, ‘how we are living our lives’ and ‘how we want to live our lives’. Or as we describe below, ‘what we want our lives to be about.’

Environmentalist and educator Brian Wehlburg tells that there is no more pragmatic group asking themselves these questions than Australia’s farmers – both the young and seasoned.

farmer feeding cute lambs with milk
Photo by Rachel Claire on

The relationship between input and output became very clear when Brian asked a group of Young Farmers Connect members recently at a workshop in the Northern Rivers to ask ‘Why’ when explaining their ‘vision’.

‘Why do you want a shed full of tractors?’ ‘Because I want to be productive.’ ‘Why?’ ‘For financial security.’ ‘Why do you want that?’ ‘For a happy life.’

And as they all delved deeper into the elements of a ‘happy life’, most young farmers describe it as ‘being secure, financially and physically’. ‘Being healthy with a healthy connection to their community and the environment’. And most tellingly, being in a ‘loving relationship’.

So, the kind of environment they (and I reckon most of us) want for a good life, is a healthy bank balance, physical health, a healthy relationship with our communities, our significant others, and the environment.

Our food producers, young and old, see the connection between the environment (how they are living their lives) and a good life, that is how they want to live and what they want their lives to be about. 

Each day they see these connections. Brian says, they report how they feel when they see that first green spear of grass after the drought. They understand how such things create moods and feelings, drive energy, desires, and behaviours.

closeup photo of green grass field
Photo by Johannes Plenio on

It is in moments like these that the farming cohort, according to Brian, understand that the quality of life is much more than a unit of production. That the kind of environment they want for a ‘good life’, has shifted from securing the immediate dollar to one of generational sustainability.

“Not one of those young farmers woke up in the morning wanting to wreck a bit of their farms!” said Brian. We reckon the CoVid-19 pandemic has given the rest of us a taste of a similar understanding.

“Dealing with this hugely complex thing, we have to constantly monitor it. We know that now.”

Whether it’s the virus, the farm and its soil health, or the oil in the tractor, they all need constant monitoring and only work when cared for.  

We have that power to combine science and care, to use our heads and our hearts.

We also have the power to destroy.  The human species in fact is the biggest destroyer of our environment. In Australia that is 84% of our species. 

The reality is that the numbers are shifting towards those who do not want to go back to that dark world. Those who trust both science and ancient knowledge systems of how best to use water and minerals, and simultaneously improve what we have.  To look to the next generation and look after and improve what we have been left.

 As Brian Wehlburg likes to quote:

“We couldn’t have an orchestra, a government or an army without sunlight shining on a green leaf.”

Read more about the power of regenerative farming at Land-to-Market(our interview with CEO Tony Hill coming up) and read our Carbon Credit Bulga Downs and RegenCo story It’s not  the cow, it’s the how and 26 June 2021 AFR story here.