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.
How one simple idea helped Australia map its biodiversity.
Australia is leading the world in the measurement of its natural capital thanks to a simple idea hatched by a group of scientists more than 13 years ago.
A brilliant idea that emerged during a brainstorming session in Sydney more than 13 years ago is finally being put to work on a beef cattle property in the Burnett region of Queensland.
The property, owned by Robert and Nadia Campbell, is at the forefront of a unique initiative that will ultimately allow Australia to map its natural assets – soils, water, vegetation and fauna – and track how they change over time.
The development of an accounting system for Australia’s natural capital is as profound as the first use of financial accounts in business and the introduction of reliable statistical measures for economic activity.
Accounting for Nature is chaired by Peter Cosier, a founding member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists, which first proposed the idea of a model for building the national environmental accounts of Australia.
Cosier says the Wentworth Group was doing a lot of work on water resources and climate change about 13 years ago when it became clear there was a fundamental global problem of ecological illiteracy.
Economists and governments were familiar with, and reliant upon, the collection of reliable statistics for measuring health, the economy and social metrics. But no one had really put their mind to measuring the impact of billions of dollars of government funding for the environment.
Around this same time in the mid-2000s, Cosier had been focusing his mind on measuring natural resources because of his work with then-senator Robert Hill in developing the Australian State of the Environment Report, which was first published in 2006 and every five years thereafter.
“The problem with the State of the Environment Report is that it can’t show you changes in conditions or the changes of trend,” Cosier says. “Also, it relies on expert opinions.”
Cosier says a turning point in the evolution of the idea of tracking the country’s natural capital came when he met then-Treasury secretary Ken Henry, who threw his intellectual and policy weight behind it.
“Ken introduced us [the Wentworth Group] to Peter Harper, who was the deputy Australian statistician at the Australian Bureau of Statistics,” Cosier says.
The Wentworth Group got together with Harper and, with the support of Henry, the political class was engaged and became involved. Under prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, there was suddenly momentum for measuring Australia’s environmental assets.
There was even a Council of Australian Governments meeting that resulted in all the state environment ministers giving their support to the idea. Unfortunately, the idea withered on the vine.
Cosier says the only reason the idea is being implemented at various locations around Australia in 2021 is that the corporate sector and institutional investors have recognised the importance of protecting biodiversity.
They want to measure the outcomes of their capital investments in nature and track how they are performing over time, which is possible using the methodologies pioneered by Accounting for Nature.
Nadia Campbell from Goondicum Station says there is a commercial imperative to the implementation of nature-friendly measures such as increased native vegetation, the planting of trees and the protection of water resources.
Goondicum Station has been in the Campbell family for five generations and its history holds some stark lessons for those practising short-sighted land management.
The property was originally leased from the Crown, which imposed a condition that all trees be cleared and handed over to the government.
Robert Campbell’s father, Bruce, recognised the folly of this and implemented a tree-planting program when the property was freehold. Bruce Campbell was a fan of Richard St Barbe Baker, the English forester, environmental activist and author who supported worldwide reforestation efforts.
Nadia Campbell says Goondicum is an example of “co-existence grazing and regenerative agriculture”.
She says paddocks with trees grow better-quality feed grasses than land that has been cleared, and better natural grass means improved nutrition, healthier cattle and increased profit margins.
She says Goondicum station is carrying far less cattle than it did five to 10 years ago but generating a higher profit, and she attributes this to the reinvestment in land and conservation.
“In a nutshell, we are currently undertaking a full property environmental condition index assessment with Accounting for Nature,” she says.
“Understanding the environmental condition of our property is important to us to enable us to measure, monitor and manage what is on our land, especially Australian native flora and fauna.
“We consider ourselves to be very responsible land managers with a genuine commitment to the environment.
“The concept of accounting for the environmental condition of the land we use to make a living ties in with our operational ethos.”
One enormously positive side effect of higher profitability from sound environmental management is that Goondicum Station has been rated a lower credit risk by National Australia Bank, which charged a lower interest rate.
This fits with research conducted in China a couple of years ago showing that companies with greener operational policies carry a lower credit risk.
The Campbells’ Accounting for Nature project is in partnership with the local resource management organisation Burnett Mary Regional Group.
Its chief executive, Sheila Charlesworth, says the Campbells are part of a much broader environmental mapping project that has the support of many other local graziers. See more
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 www.theBEATS.org that there is no more pragmatic group asking themselves these questions than Australia’s farmers – both the young and seasoned.
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.
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.”