Beef crisis prompts interest in regenerative agriculture

With all the talk of diversifying amid the beef crisis, the National Organic Training Skillnet (NOTS) is getting a lot of enquiries about biological and regenerative agriculture, according to Sean McGloin, NOTS network manager.

Experts from Australia, the US, the UK and Europe will speak at the biological farming conference, BioFarm 2019, in Portlaoise, on November 5 and 6.

Many will speak on both days of the event. This will include their own presentations in addition to taking part in panel discussions with other biological farming and regenerative agriculture professionals from around the globe.

Blamed

“At the moment, livestock are being blamed for many of the issues arising from climate change in agriculture.

“In the regenerative/biological farming sector, we have a different perspective in that we see the problem as being with current agricultural practices rather than the livestock issue,” Sean said.

“All the international research currently underway is pointing to the reality that livestock are a crucial element in combating climate change. It’s how they’re managed within that system is the difference.

Closer to home, the recent climate change report suggests the need to reduce the beef herd by 400,000. However, if you look back at the Central Statistics Office (CSO) figures, you can see that over the last 10 years there has been a decrease in beef numbers to that amount.

“And, at the same time, there has been a dramatic increase in agricultural greenhouse gas emissions. Laying the blame for sectoral ills at the beef industry is completely inaccurate, and science – along with the agricultural sector – truly needs to identify where the bulk of the emissions are arising from.

“BioFarm 2019 is bringing together experts from around the world, covering all areas of agriculture in order to hopefully point people in the right direction in terms of how a change in farming systems can address climate change in a positive manner.

“The conference is aimed at generating interest in an alternative approach to farming that combats climate change while increasing farmer margins,” Sean said.

Innovative farmers

The keynote speaker will be Dr. Christine Jones from Australia. Over several decades, Dr. Jones has worked with innovative farmers and graziers implementing regenerative land management practices to enhance biodiversity; nutrient cycling; carbon sequestration; productivity; water quality; and community and catchment health.

Steve Gabriel from the US will also take part. Author of ‘Silvopasture’, Steve is an ecologist, educator, and forest farmer who has lived most of his life in New York’s Finger Lakes region. He will discuss the relationship between permaculture and agroforestry and present on a range of forest farming systems.

Mob grazing

Also addressing the conference will be Rob Havard from the UK. Rob is an organic farmer and a professional ecologist working for Natural England as conservation grazing lead advisor.

Rob speaks from experience, providing practical insight – including on holistic management mob grazing – to making ecological enhancing productivity happen.

Wil Armitage from the UK will discuss sustainable milk production and soil/crop husbandry. He will also question whether organic or conventional dairy farms producing winter milk are sustainable in the future with the increase in feed and fuel costs.

Klaus Laitenberger will also address the conference. Klaus worked as the head gardener at the Organic Centre in Rossinver for seven years, and has published a number of Irish gardening books including ‘Vegetables for the Irish Garden’. He has grown a diverse range of alternative and novel food crops mainly from the Andes region in South America for many years.

Pasture

Russ Carrington, executive secretary of Pasture For Life, is another confirmed speaker. The Pasture-Fed Livestock Association promotes the unique quality of produce raised exclusively on pasture, and the wider environmental and animal welfare benefits that pastured livestock systems represent.

Dr. Helen Sheridan, assistant professor at the UCD School of Agriculture and Food Science, will also speak. Dr Sheridan has contributed multiple papers to the European Grassland Federation, including her paper on semi-natural habitats on intensive grassland farms in Ireland.

Andrew Howard, a no-till farmer from Ashford, Kent, in the UK, will also address the conference. He is a Nuffield scholar, a consultant with Abacus and a specialist on no-till, cover cropping, intercropping and reducing inputs.

After reading Graeme Sait’s book ‘Nutrition Rule’ he has been experimenting with methods of soil improvement and nutrient balance to help improve farm performance.

More information is available on: www.nots.ie.