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Happy cows and land restoration

Written By: - Date published: 7:10 am, March 1st, 2020 - 12 comments
Categories: climate change, Economy, Environment, farming, farming - Tags: , ,

All those articles and memes circulating now about how terrible meat and dairy is for the environment, they’re based on global statistics that don’t take into account local variations. They’re measuring the impact of farming like this, which isn’t really farming so much as a grotesque industrial machine. 


This is the worst of what we do. The push towards veganism wants to replace it with this,
When measuring global statistics, the second photo is apparently an improvement, but in terms of climate, biodiversity, water and sanity, the latter is us just killing ourselves (and everything else) a bit more slowly. 
These two kinds of farming aren’t done in New Zealand (yet) and so our farming can’t be compared to this in terms of impact. However most people in New Zealand choosing to go vegan ‘for the environment’ are choosing to swap our conventional pasture raised sheep and beef for the soy desert above (by and large we’re not growing our own soy yet). The point here isn’t to go boo vegans, it’s to point starkly to the problems with the current food and environment debate.
Enter regenerative agriculture, which by definition regenerates land, and does so by not treating it as a giant mine to plunder.
Yep, that’s what we could be choosing instead. That’s an agroforestry farm, a kind of farming that integrates trees, stock, and ground crops.
Here’s an example (5 mins) of cows integrated into a regenerative food production system. Note the almost closed loop nutrient cycling, water restoration, reliance on trees as fodder, and the happy cows.

Some additional points,

  • half the world’s food comes from small-scale producers.
  • the shift to small-scale, regenerative systems brings multiple benefits: economic resilience, food security, carbon sequestration, rebuilding soil and fertility, much lower inputs and near zero pollution, increased biodiversity, water conservation and protection, improved animal welfare.
  • the system in the video is not a system for mass producing export milk powder from stock units. It’s a system for producing local food in a way that restores land and is relatively self-sustaining.
  • if we transition to a relocalised economy, farmers will need a new way of making a living that isn’t export based. They also need a way out of the massive debt many are under. These are stark political realities standing between us and avoiding climate catastrophe.
  • there’s a general rule of thumb that regenerative farms are less productive per hectare when measuring output, but the economics are better because input costs are much lower than conventional farms. That’s without getting to counting the value of things like increased biodiversity, clean water ways, local employment.
  • different locations and climates have differently designed systems. Part of the point here is to design appropriate to the specific landbase.

12 comments on “Happy cows and land restoration ”

  1. RedLogix 1

    Thanks for this post weka. Agriculture is one of any governments primary responsibilities and there is so much potential to lift our game.

    there’s a general rule of thumb that regenerative farms are less productive per hectare when measuring output,

    I don't see that as an insurmountable problem; while I totally support the ideas of the post around producing high quality, localised animal proteins, there are two factors that work in your favour.

    One is that I believe the trend in our lifetime will be toward people eating less meat, but at a higher quality. The other is that the balance of our diet can come from plant based food production using methods like aquaponics, and greenhouse based vertical farming which inherently use far less land and water than traditional cropping methods.

    The two strands complement each other very nicely, one allows us to manage arable landscapes intelligently and sustainably, the other can reliably feed tens of millions at huge scale without imposing a huge footprint on the natural world.

  2. Thanks for this post, that video was awesome.

    there’s a general rule of thumb that regenerative farms are less productive per hectare when measuring output…

    That's the big hurdle, because the private sector operates on KPI-based thinking. That thinking is that success = maximising your key performance indicators, but the problem with measuring success based on a number is that people will naturally seek to maximise that number and broader measures of success will take a back seat. In the case of farming, productivity per hectare is the main KPI. I think the Greens understand there's more to success than maximising some numbers, but I'm not sure that Labour do and National certainly don't.

    • weka 2.1

      So they only measure out put rather than whether their books balance? What's just weird.

      • weka 2.1.1

        But lol, this is *exactly the difference between regenag and conventional/industrial farming on a number of levels.

  3. pat 3

    Rod Oram appears to be having similar thoughts.

    "But farming profitably through climate change is going to take far more than traditional measures such as extra reserves of feed, more water storage and irrigation and government handouts to alleviate drought-induced financial losses.

    It will take big changes in farming systems to make farm ecosystems, paddock grasses, forage crops and animals much more drought resistant. The absolute key to this is rebuilding the health of soils as the keystone of regenerative farming practices."


    • Ian 3.1

      So Rod Oram believes that supplementary feeding,water storage and irrigation is not profitable. He needs to go and talk to some FARMERS,rather than a few idealistic broken arses

  4. bwaghorn 4

    I just cant see how we can transition back to small farms being able to support a family . Land prices are so high and costs are high ,and while meat seems expensive it would have to be much expensive to allow a mass move to the farm shown in your video.

    • weka 4.1

      The farm in the vid produces a range of foods, not just meat. The shift is away from seeing stock units = output measurements, and more towards the whole system and the benefits (economic and other) that it brings.

      My personal view is that the govt should pay to free up land from debt that transitions to regenag. That land then becomes part of a different system i.e. it can't be sold for big capital gains.

  5. Andre 5

    The massive fields of grain (or soybeans) in the second photo of the OP are a large part of what enables the hellscape of the first photo to exists.

    If there were a massive shift in worldwide diet away from beef, towards a diet with a higher proportion of its protein from vegetable sources or pork or chicken, the land area needed to produce protein for human consumption would reduce significantly. There would be less of photo 1 and less of photo 2.

    • weka 5.1

      Yes. I'm less convinced of how much a difference this would make*, but let's assume for argument's sake it does make an important difference. It still won't save us from CC, Peak Soil, the biodiversity crisis, the water crisis, food shortages and so on.

      This is what I meant by dying a bit more slowly.

      *in part because that big ag neoliberal capitalistic system will also be quite happy to use freed up land to grow biofuels. I'm not seeing anyone trying to regulate that yet because we are still largely in the phase where reducing GHG emissions is secondary to keeping the global economy in perpetual growth. We also tend to see GHG emissions as linear rather than as part of the wider systems that would include peak soil, biodiversity etc.

  6. Aaron 6

    Hey Weka fantastic to see you putting out info about Regnerative Farming – I was in a state of despair about how few people in New Zealand know about it.

    To put this in perspective Democratic candidates in the US have been using the phrase but I couldnt't find it on the NZ Green party's agriculture page last time I looked!

  7. A 7

    Great article and I really like the Geoff Lawson video – it's time the blame for things shifted away from cow farts etc to how the farming is done (+ China…world's biggest polluter, just saying).

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