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The fragility of our food supply

Written By: - Date published: 11:11 am, August 6th, 2020 - 98 comments
Categories: climate change, farming, farming - Tags: , , ,

A comment was made recently that no-one gets paid $100,000 growing permaculture kale, and this is the income needed for a house. It was a throwaway, dismissive comment so I’m not linking to it, but it was in the context of job creation and my position that we have an opportunity this year to create sustainable jobs not just replacement jobs as fragile as the ones we’re losing. We also have an obligation, because this isn’t the last pandemic we will face and we also have the climate and ecological crises on the horizon as well as Peak Oil, GCF and so on.

The regenerative peoples (those that have been working on sustainability for many years) see the opportunity, because they’ve been actively practicing both sustainability and regenerative systems and know what those systems are capable of. This is a both/and situation of ecologically appropriate tech and adaptation in a chaotic world. 

I’d like to showcase some of that work. It happens largely outside of the mainstream so many people are unaware of it, and is thus easily dismissed usually out of ignorance. What I’d really like to see is the merging of the regenerative counter culture with the power holders in society so that we get to use all the tools at our disposal.

In the past year there’s been some scary stuff coming out in the mainstream about the climate crisis, including the potential for crop losses on a scale large enough to create global food shortages. This from climate journalist, Eric Holthaus, a year ago,

There was a single transformational thought that underpinned the urgency of today’s IPCC report: Until we realize we exist as part of an ecosystem, that we are part of a living planet, we will continue to destroy the soil that makes our existence possible.

He links to his piece in Rolling Stone, The Climate Crisis Is Moving Us Toward a Food Catastrophe.

The gist is that the crop species we currently rely on can grow within a certain temperature range but will fail with heat extremes (not the global 2 – 3C increase, but the local big heat increases). Add to that increasing drought, and more extreme weather events (flood, hail, rain) and we have large scale failure. That’s nature’s response to climate change. Human system issues include the global food supply being utterly dependent on fossil fuels at the time we are needing to rapidly transition to post-carbon. We now have the additional problem of stressed supply chains in a covid world. Then there are the ecological crises around Peak Soil, mass biodiversity loss, and unsustainable resource extraction, of which agriculture is one of the main drivers.

Food supply failures are not without precedent but the problem now is the frequency and the compounding nature of each crisis, the likelihood of the environmental causes being perpetual, and the fragility of our linear, market driven systems. It’s also to do with the economics of growing cash crops for export rather than growing food for local consumption. Money won’t buy crops that have been destroyed in a flood or never got to ripen, and you can’t make money from destroyed crops either. Large scale monocropping is particularly vulnerable.

Analyses tend to focus on conventional agriculture and climate change but conventional ag is the least resilient way we have of growing food. The good news is that we have far better ways of growing food that are suitable for a post-carbon world and that are more resilient as the climate and economy changes. They also restore biodiversity, and can help mitigate climate change.

I’ll be writing posts showcasing these other ways of growing food, including one on the couple growing permaculture kale and taking $100,000/year. I’ll also be looking at the politics involved in why we’re not there yet and how we can be.

In the meantime, here’s a selection of past posts on The Standard about regenerative agriculture.

Regenerative agriculture: The 11 minute film The Regenerators, from Greenpeace, on New Zealand regenag farmers.

Happy cows and land restoration: a short post comparing industrial beef or soy with regenag.

Climate and food security: annual cropping vs regenerative agriculture

The Essential Forest-Gardener: Robert Guyton’s ten part series on the oldest food forest in New Zealand.

What if plant-based wasn’t the answer?: radical grass farmer Joel Salatin, and Mark Shepherd’s agroforestry system integrating stock and tree systems.

98 comments on “The fragility of our food supply ”

  1. Councils should allot land for common and individual gardens. Britain's allotments fed a huge number during and long after the war. We could use that model. Jobs to oversee, provide training and suitable plants for the area could get families and individuals involved.

    • tc 1.1

      +1 however they'd probably have to be mandated centrally. Councils are flailing about not doing the basics let alone something as progressive as this.

      We've certainly got the arable land and climate. We could do with an heirloom boom also as part of a diversity strategy.

      • weka 1.1.1

        I reckon let communities drive it, but mandate that councils have to support them. Mostly because it gets more people engaged, but also we'd get more diversity that way.

    • Dennis Frank 1.2

      Berms are ideal-sized gardens. A policy of encouraging their use ought to be adopted as part of a nationwide resilience plan. They are a commons.

      Two things flow from that. One is that produce is there for anyone to take. This practical socialism will test the ethical boundaries of any involved! The other is that it removes a fossil-fuel requirement (mowers).

      I wonder if councils have regulations requiring berms to be grass? If so, they would have to be eliminated. Another plus is that they can be decorative if the local community chooses. An abundance of flowers attracts bees, and hives can be hidden down the back of properties.

  2. Timely Weka. Half of Lebanon's food supply just went up in smoke (grain silos). A lot of the world's food depends on global logistics. China has long been obsessed with its food security and the massive Yangtze floods have made that a lot worse.

    We're all distracted by a virus, but deforestation and overfishing continue without pause. Human population growth is projected to hit 11 billion before declining, but by then it will be too late. We are hitting the hard limits to growth

    As pollution mounts and industrial input into agriculture falls, food production per capita falls. Health and education services are cut back, and that combines to bring about a rise in the death rate from about 2020. Global population begins to fall from about 2030, by about half a billion people per decade. Living conditions fall to levels similar to the early 1900s.

    It’s essentially resource constraints that bring about global collapse

    • greywarshark 2.1

      There is a column in the stuff newspaper where a woman who has brought up a family gives advice from her experience to others having family problems. Recently a woman wrote in wondering how she could stop her daughter producing children as she has seven now. The advice was not to worry, big families are normal. I think it is being written in the present.

      It is always a shock how uninterested some people are in understanding present times and adjusting to them. Seven children is huge these days. That some cannot look past their own little circle and location to world troubles and forecasts is not unusual. There are national problems though; being able to assist each child well is more difficult as families expand past three, and then what about education cost and support, and later jobs and houses for them.

    • weka 2.2

      I thought countries like NZ over-produced food so that we could feed the world. Let's see how much we help out Lebanon.

      There's a timing thing I think, about bringing the conversation back to the climate and eco crises. Haven't quite figured it out.

  3. Stuart Munro 3

    Hydroponics & aquaponics are good models here – they use 5% or less of the water required by conventional horticulture – only the metabolic requirements of the crop.


    Not holding my breath for government action on it though – they have "important meetings" to attend.

    • The Government could give funding for Marae and Councils and Schools to provide gardens. Locals need to drive it for success.

      • Stuart Munro 3.1.1

        There's a fairly easy aquaponics build using recycled 1000 litre palletised tanks (IBCs) – good for up to 50 kg of a freshwater species, with the plant part of the cycle floating on top – kind of a micro version of the Mexican chinampas. Needs about 1×1 metre of space – quite doable at the backyard level.

    • PaddyOT 3.2

      Both hydroponics and aquaponics will see food growing decline as items such as lettuces chucked out to grow cannabis. Easier, more profitable and on the way.


      • Stuart Munro 3.2.1

        Perhaps – but if it sees the skillset established, so much the better.

        Aquaponics systems divide into three tiers at present – the first and lowest are the salad greens, characterised by rapid growth and a short season not requiring seed production. The next tier are higher value, longer cycle crops that do require maturity – tomatoes, cannabis, tobacco, peppers, strawberries – midlevel competence required. The highest tier is the profitable production of what are presently relatively cheap – the staple grains – rice, barley, wild rice, sorghum, amaranth. When one's aquaponics can produce these economically, we will have achieved a new level of food security.

        • PaddyOT

          I see the points of 'ponics' growing as very valid. One example was that this direction of mass growing food is a solution to increasing soil salination because of warming, causing soils to be increasingly toxic.I was referring more to incentives for change.

          The capital outlay for the technology, having a food product at market quality, developing hybrids for safe and pest free food, and labour costs being higher.( MFAT report) may be strong disincentives.

          • Stuart Munro

            Capital was always a vaprous thing – there will be more money printed globally before we are done with Covid – and we must print it also. Unless we have a government as dumb as Key's, that borrowed money other nations were printing.

            Aquaponics is much cheaper to operate than hydroponics – the plant nutrients being recovered from fish, which typically convert feed to livestock weight at between 0.9 and 1.5 to one. MFAT is merely inventing obstacles. Ignorant bureaucracies invariably take refuge in conservatism – there's no risk in no change.

  4. JohnSelway 4

    "In the past year there’s been some scary stuff coming out in the mainstream about the climate crisis, including the potential for crop losses on a scale large enough to create global food shortages."

    That's what GMO's are useful for

    • weka 4.1

      GMO monocrops are just as fragile as regular.

    • Draco T Bastard 4.2

      GMOs actually need more resources to grow. Simple logic: If a GMO plant grows twice as large as its non-GMO relative it needs to have the food to support that growth.

      And a large part of the problem is that we're running out of the resources that plants use for food. There's possibly a solution for this but everyone gets disgusted when its mentioned.

      And crop losses to natural disaster is still going to happen to GMO crops which means that, because GMOs are more productive per hectare, when the same amount (measured in hectares) of crop loss happens we're actually going to have a bigger loss and thus bigger downstream issues with famine and disease.

      For every complex problem there is a simple, easy to understand solution that is wrong.

      • weka 4.2.1

        not everyone 🙂

        The other problem with intensifying production per ha is that there is always a corresponding loss of biodiversity, and we need nature to be able to grow food.

  5. gsays 5

    Cuba can offer some insights to a way forward. Going from intensive, high input monoculture (sugar), transitioning to organic self sufficiency. I emphasise transitioning

    • joe90 5.1

      Cuba can offer some insights to a way forward.



      Cuba officially opened the door to GM crops on [July 23] as a “complement to conventional agriculture”, in the midst of a food crisis and shortages now worsened by the coronavirus health emergency.

      Cuba imports more than 80% of the food consumed by its 11.2 million inhabitants. The chronic shortage that the Caribbean country has suffered for decades has now been aggravated by the health crisis of COVID-19, which has emptied the shelves of state stores and complicated the supply of basic foods.


      • Stuart Munro 5.1.1

        They have been putting considerable effort into reducing that dependence – https://www.architectural-review.com/essays/cubas-urban-farming-revolution-how-to-create-self-sufficient-cities

      • gsays 5.1.2

        Yes, it can.

        The link you provided comes from a site that is keen on genetic modification and thinks glyphosate is harmless. So this probably not the thread for that, as the GMOs and Roundup firmly belong in the intensive agriculture system that is so dependent on fossil fuels.

        Cuba were forced into self sufficiency with the oil shocks, US embargoes and collapse of the Soviet Union, which was their main market for their sugar exports.

        The difference with us though is choosing to go down a sustainable path, not having it forced upon us.

        Here is a short clip that, in part, addresses what you raised ie having to import food when hurricanes and global pandemic strikes.


        • joe90

          Anything to counter the article's assertion that Cuba imports more than 80% of the food consumed by its 11.2 million inhabitants?

          • gsays

            You mean apart from a global pandemic?

            It is an article cheerleading the introduction of GMOs into Cuba, so I'm not too hung up on it's statistics.

            • joe90

              So despite pointing to Cuba being able to offer some insights to a way forward, you're not too hung up on statistics showing Cuba's food supply remains fragile and precariously wedded to a global food chain.


              • gsays

                You clearly put more stock in what the Charles Koch Foundation and one of Monsanto's PR companies want known than I do.

                Good luck to ya.

                • joe90

                  And you clearly put more stock in your own wrongheaded reckons than the fact that, in order to relieve the nation's reliance on the global food chain brought about by chronic shortages, Cuban officials have decreed that GMOs will be introduced.

                  The Decree Law of the National Commission for the Use of Genetically Modified Organisms in Cuban Agriculture , which appears published this Thursday in the Ordinary Official Gazette No. 52, implements a country policy for the controlled inclusion of these crops as an alternative in the agricultural development, based on premises such as food sovereignty and security, agroecology, sustainability and technological sovereignty.

                  "The essential thing is to incorporate the orderly and controlled use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agricultural development programs as an alternative to develop productivity, consistent with sustainable agriculture and food sovereignty, on the basis of indigenous research" said Vice Minister Armando Rodríguez Batista when presenting the decree law at the headquarters of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment (Citma).


                  • weka

                    Without digging into too much, I suspect the difference is timing. In the 90s Cuba did some awesome things around relocalising food, because they literally had to.

                    That they didn't manage to build on that is a later, probably political issue, but also may be related to land space vs population, and the US embargo.

  6. PaddyOT 6

    Great work weka promoting food security as a paramount issue that I think is not addressed as crucial policy.

    Perhaps a significant cause of inaction on adapting to climate change for food security is attitudes or beliefs that
    a) it's not affecting me
    b) it's not immediate, it's a future problem because the supermarket has it
    c) governments have not put the agenda of educating the population on climate change affecting all NZ food sources as a paramount issue nor has effective policy or put significant funding at source to organisations finding solutions.

    In 2016 the education consisted of Ms Paula's flash infographics pamphlet from the mfe, 'what National are doing.' In the section on 'Adaption' is a paragraph with pics disposing of her government's responsibility – ie. ' it's local councils' responsibility.' !

    In said phamplet – ETS and signing the Paris accord is mentioned, Agriculture's impact is illustrated in a graph , and giving foreign aid for other countries eg. given was filling in post WW2 pits as examples of the government's " Action on Climate Change". The summary section never mentions a peep into food security.
    ( unable to copy link. " New Zealand's Action on Climate Change " September 2016.)

    At the same time there was available significant research such as that by Kim Choul identifying real case study examples across New Zealand's food growing industry showing alarming threats already at play.

    " Impacts of climate change on New Zealand horticulture and the effectiveness of government policy at production level." Kim Choul 2014


    (Yes, it's a huge document but the issues are too ominous to be a short pretty pamphlet. Suggestion pick one case study ).

    The effects of 'inaction' are very visible now, Nelson last summer as a case of scorched earth and bans on water supplies was startling to view. Apple growers continuing to ditch their farms …

    New Zealand apple industry under threat from climate change
    The solutions to water supplies in the region for food growing then became contentious with the arguments against the Waimea dam building.

    Labour's crowning jewel would be to put it's Policy on adaption, on the table right now, such as Canada has recently. A risks list is a start but not a solution to capturing the public's attention and action on urgent issues affecting survival. Covid is a minor threat in comparison.


  7. Robert Guyton 7

    There's a young man in America whose Facebook posts I keep an eye on, who travels around (by bicycle), poking seeds and nuts and pits into the soil, in order that orchards and wild-crops erupt in his wake. His friends follow suite. Other people, also following his progress on-line, do what they can in their corners of the world. I've met a man from Christchurch who has pushed the pits of over 2000 peaches into the soil of the Red Zone. No one would suspect the "old chap" of such enterprise. There are a raft of "guerrilla" planters in New Zealand and throughout the world. Quietly and unobtrusively, join their ranks, is the message some here might thrill too smiley

    • Poission 7.2

      we dont actually want silly old gits planting exotics in the redzone,it is to be a substantive regenerating wetland and important rainsink for the chch eastern suburbs.

      • weka 7.2.1

        why can't exotics be part of that?

        • Poission

          Exotic fruits give a food supply for rats,an important part of regenerating wetlands is for native birds to spread seed and manure.

          • weka

            thanks, that's a really good point.

            I'm guessing the redzone isn't all going to be wetland, and I know Chch people, esp on that side of town, that wanted food production to happen there as well.

            • adam

              Actually it's not weka, there are virtually no studies that say rats like exotic fruit over natives. The two nasty rats: the ship rat, and the norway rat are omnivores, which means they eat anything and everything. They will eat birds, seeds, snails, lizards, fruit, weta, eggs, chicks, larvae and flowers. Some dropped fruit is sweet FA.

              Rats are a big problem in this country, we have done well wiping them out on some of the islands. But rats invade where ever we (people) live, the places they don't are islands either man made or literally – where we have made the effort to kill them.

              IMHO the fruit drop argument Poission spun is pretty much BS, like there ageist slur.

              • weka

                My experience is that wild rats love stone fruit. I'm not sure that there's anything contentious about the idea that increasing food supply = increasing populations, but I agree that it is more complex than upthread (and that rats will follow humans everywhere).

                Simplest solution I can see is to plant the fruit trees in areas where humans will harvest the fruit (and clean up the fruit drop). As well as trapping. That's not hard.

          • Draco T Bastard

            You know, I'm pretty sure that rats will anything edible be it exotic or native.

            • weka

              this isn't the point. It's that when you provide an abundant and easy food supply you make it easier for rats to increase their populations.

              • Draco T Bastard

                Same applies to humans and the damage appears to be a great deal more.


                Rats will feed on grass, leaves and, well, anything edible. Planting a few extra fruit trees probably isn't going to make a whole lot of difference. The problem with the rats is that they're actually there while the ecosystem isn't equipped to deal with them

                At least with humans we're kinda learning to be better and more appreciative of what the world's natural ecology does for us – well, at least some of us are.

                • weka

                  lol, totally agree about the humans.

                  "2000 peaches" 😉

                  There is a clear relationship between increasing food supply and increasing offspring.

          • Brigid

            Exotic fruits are a food supply for native birds as much as it is food for rats.

            • weka

              if they eat the peaches instead of the native fruits they won't spread as much seed.

              It's not a deal breaker imo, in a sensibly designed system, but it's a valid point and Canterbury is one of the places most depleted in terms of native ecosystems.

          • Stuart Munro

            Native forests also supply food for rats. DoC would have us believe 11 out of the last ten years were mast years (mast being the edible seed of beech trees), necessitating ever greater use of The Great Panacea, 1080.

        • Pingao

          Some exotics are really very invasive such as the flowering cherries and tiny plums. However, I don't think peaches will be too much of a pest and they can be easily removed if they are in the wrong area.

          The other thing about the Christchurch Red zone is that we have had literally years of public consultation and submissions and research and reports and we now have an agreed plan – we should stick to the plan. The red zone is not a waste land and there are areas set aside for community gardens and so on – Richmond Community garden is an outstanding example that is already well established.

          Oops sorry stuffed up my name!

          [Fixed user name]

      • greywarshark 7.2.2

        When was that to happen Poission. The saying – 'Life is what happens while you are planning other things' could apply here.

      • Robert Guyton 7.2.3

        I do. The Red Zone has already been converted to a mix of exotics and natives. In fact, if he was to plant "exotics": pears, plums, apricots, apples, avocado, loquat, hazel, sweet chestnut, peach, nectarine, te mea te mea te mea, throughout the whole of NZ, I'd be delighted and could rest in the knowledge that that mix of exotic and native plants will support human and non-human "beings" into the future. Try ekeing your living from the ngahere of Fiordland and learn how difficult you make life when you reject the "wonders of the New World"!

    • gsays 7.3

      I have been brewing cider for a wee while now and one of it's derivatives is applejack.

      Basically freeze distilled cider.

      In my research I discovered Johnny Appleseed got apple trees going not because an apple a day keeps the doctor away, but because hard cider can help keep your sanity intact during the long winters.

      • Robert Guyton 7.3.1

        Intact – or at least suffused with the warm glow of bon homie that lasts till the thaw!

  8. RosieLee 8

    Life is too short for kale.

    • weka 8.1

      haha, with you on that one.

    • roblogic 8.2

      Avocado, tomato, and wheat are where it’s at. Add a dash of sustainability farmed bacon and you’ve got all the essentials for a good sandwich 😛

    • Dennis Frank 8.3

      I wonder why you think so. I was a sceptic re kale until escaping Auckland – in the last three years kale has adapted to my volcanic soil & salty coastal rain so well that it is now established as a year-round food crop. It grows & flowers in a natural cycle independent of the seasons!

      Furthermore it self-seeds so easily that small kale plants have covered my property like weeds – I just compost those in inconvenient places. I have adapted to the taste and now use it as a staple green vegetable in meals. Not large amounts – as one of a selection of veges. I recall googling kale recipes once and learning Americans are big on kale fritters but haven't got around to that yet!

      • weka 8.3.1

        it's one of those ones that some people just hate (taste/texture wise).

        • Dennis Frank

          Well, get over it, is my advice. I didn't take that long to, despite initially wondering why anyone would bother! Silver beet is the traditional option – conventional wisdom said to get iron into the body – but doesn't self-seed as much. Cabbage even more traditional but I have no regrets ditching that back in the '70s. Greens are vital nutrition and kale seems the best source for all the reasons I've mentioned…

      • lprent 8.3.2

        I don’t tend to rate kale as a raw food. But it is great when used as a slightly cooked green. Better than spinach leaves in wraps or pita running though a toasted press. Good as wilts in a stew. Been growing on me

  9. Pat 9

    "I often get asked my opinion about regenerative agriculture. My standard rejoinder is to ask what does the questioner mean by ‘regenerative agriculture’? That typically gets a response that it is somewhat of a mystery to them, but it is a term they keep hearing, and supposedly it is the way we need to act to save the planet. My next rejoinder is that I too am struggling to know what it means."

    Keith Woodford in a considered recent article


    • weka 9.1

      Imagine being Professor of Farm Management and Agribusiness at Lincoln University for 15 years and not knowing what regenag is. Mindboggling.

      • weka 9.1.1

        Searching a little further, I found that use of compost is another favoured technique for regenerative farming, including importing compost from outside the farm. There is no doubt that compost contains valuable nutrients and can help to increase organic matter in soils. The challenge is that, at regional and national scale, importing compost is not really feasible. Where would it come from?

        Apparently doesn't know what permaculture is either, despite it being in existence for nearly 3 times as long as he was a professor.

        Sorry, but I'm sick of the industry bods running these rhetorical exercises when what they really want to do is protect industry interests.

        • Draco T Bastard

          And fails, like most people, to realise that humans also produce… compost.

          Wait, no:

          Unless human excrement is returned to farms then there will always be a need for non-organic fertilisers.

          He’s one of the ones that go ewwww whenever practicalities becomes obvious.

          • gsays

            I had the pleasure of eating Northland bananas that I had helped feed.

            The best composting toilet I have used. View, good access, and a pile of Mother Nature News from the '70s, all above the banana grove.

      • Pat 9.1.2

        Think his point is its impossible to know what regenerative farming is as it means different things to different people.

        • Draco T Bastard

          That is a valid point but what it should do is push people to properly define it – not just throw the whole concept into the trash.

        • weka

          it's not impossible to know what regenag is. Lots of us know. What he is saying is that he can't fit regenag into his world view easily. That's a problem with his worldview, not with understanding what regenag is. Sustainability does actually require learning a new language. I appreciate that many people don't get that, but some people just don't want to.

          as for different things to different people, that's true for many things, including conventional farming. Heh, just remembered some farmers try and run the same lines about industrial farming, saying there's no such thing because it can't be defined.

          • Dennis Frank

            Yeah, folks get tetchy here whenever I refer to the academic mindset in critical terms, but he's a typical reason why!

            Must be young, though, to be unaware that composting kitchen & garden waste was standard procedure in households throughout the nation.

          • Draco T Bastard

            Sustainability does actually require learning a new language.

            No, it really doesn't. It requires proper definitions in the language being used so as to prevent misunderstanding and to produce effective communication.

            A credible definition may be:
            Regenerative agriculture renews the soil while producing the food that we need.

        • Ian

          One of his points is that an irrigated dairy farm on the Canterbury plains producing 2000 Kgs of milk solids per Hectare is practising regenerative agriculture

          • Andre

            By some definitions.

            • Pat

              Indeed….wonderful words 'may, some, could' etc.

              Fragmentation another interesting word

            • weka

              nope. That is industry actively co-opting language to protect its patch and entrench its power and slow change it doesn't want. It's bullshit.

              • weka

                it's not that there aren't useful conversations to be had about what regenag is, and what parts of society need specific definitions (eg govt policy makers). But let's not confuse that article for that. It's like National saying they want to make welfare better. Yeah, pull the other one.

              • Pat

                in your opinion

                • weka

                  obviously. It's my considered opinion. Feel free to make an argument for how I am wrong.

                  It's pretty classic mainstream co-option of the creative edge. A kind of colonisation really. It works the other way of course, the edge changes the mainstream in the process. Irks to see lefties helping with the co-option rather than the creating though.

                  • Pat

                    It certainly highlights why so many no longer bother to attempt to engage…IMCO

                  • Pat

                    We have an academic with a life long connection to agriculture both here and abroad who has a public platform highlighting the need to revisit agricultural practice who seeks to evaluate regenerative farming and discuss the potential benefits….he has written more than once on the topic….and he is instantly dismissed as an industry stooge even though he references the regenerative ag's own statement

                    "It’s important to start with this: Regenerative Agriculture cannot be defined."


                    He cites and links two papers sympathetic to the goals of RA .

                    Personally I would understand completely why if he didnt bother

              • Andre

                Can you point to me to a set of criteria I can use to assess whether a particular farm is practicing regenerative agriculture or not?

                I am acquainted with people that run farms that cover quite a range of practices that appear to me to be quite varying in terms of sustainability and effects on soil, waterways and ecosystems. Yet, to a person, they all firmly believe what they do is good for the soils and ecosystems and waterways, and that what they pass on to the next owners will be in better shape than what they started with.

                • Robert Guyton

                  If they apply superphosphate, urea or spray with fungicides, they're not smiley

                • weka

                  what they do is good for the soils and ecosystems and waterways, and that what they pass on to the next owners will be in better shape than what they started with.

                  That's not regenerative though. There are organic farms that fit into your description but they aren't necessarily regenerating those systems. Sustainable =/= regenerative. They're complementary but not the same.

                  The key is in the word 'regenerate', which here inherently means that something that has been damaged is being restored, with a tenor of life restoration not mechanistic. It's not the same as sustainable, and 'better shape' could mean they cleaned up a toxic dump but didn't then go on to the regenerative bit.

                  Conventional farms doing less damage to the land than their conventional farming neighbours isn't a process of regeneration, it may just be that they're slowing the damage down (or using older, less damaging forms of conventional farming). There are also what I would call hybrids, farms that are using some regenag techniques, but not shifting the whole farm to that. This is good, but it needs to be recognised for what it is, in the same way that some uncertified organic farms are.

                  Rather than a set of criteria for assessment, I can describe some of the core components. I've been meaning to write a post about this, so this will help me sort out my thinking.

                  I'd start with three key concepts.

                  1. Soil restoration as a core component. Regenag has soil as a central focus because conventional ag practices degrade soil and this is recognised as unsustainable. Natural, stable ecosystems that sustain themselves over time are dependent on the soil/life web, and regenag works to restore that. Conventional ag values soil in a different way, but it's not regenerative and it's also usually extractive (if you are exporting bulk milk powder to China, it's *very hard to do that in a way that isn't strip mining the fertility and nutrients out of the soil). Previous pastoral farming was degrading the soil/fertility relatively slowly, but industrial dairying for instance is doing it on steroids.

                  2. Biomimicry. Mimicking natural systems as much as possible because those systems are inherently sustainable, regenerative, and efficient. Forests don't need to import fertiliser, because they are made up of natural systems that cycle most nutrients and wastes in closed loops, or larger systems that the forest sits within that cycle nutrients/waste, where the forest is part of that system.

                  3. Systems thinking rather than linear thinking. It's about the relationships between everything, and the nature of those. Counting things matters too but is secondary to understanding how things relate. This is both a conceptual skill but also is largely, at this time, contained within certain philosophical approaches to farming.

                  If you show me three properties, I can point to the aspects that are aligned with regenag and the ones that aren't (bearing in mind I am a lay person here).

                  • Andre

                    Oh, so it's one of those "I know it when I see it" kinda things.

                    • weka

                      more like, it's not a superficial, sum up in a few sentences thing and it takes skill to understand what it is. Like many things.

                      There are a number of people here who can talk you through it, it's on you if you aren't interested /shrug.

                  • Jim

                    My Definition of Regenerative ag

                    It is not about what method, system, or practice you use.

                    It is about what outcome and results you get.

                    It is totally about data.

                    If my system degrades my land, water, nutrient mineral cycle, productivity and profit it is Degenerative.

                    If my system maintains my land, water, nutrients, productivity and profit it is Sustainable.

                    If my system improves my land, water, nutrient mineral cycle, productivity and profit it is Regenerative.

                    • weka

                      thanks Jim. If we focus on the data, who decides what constitutes degenerative, sustainable and regenerative?

  10. adam 10

    Great post weka.

    Glad your not part of the crowd slowly removing climate change and it's associated FUBAR consequences from the media landscape.

    Mind you, we still very slow on action towards concrete things that need to be done. So all I can see is the furthur slip into some form of eco totalitarianism of some description.

    jacinda is looking more and more like obama, great on saying the nice things the left want to hear – but delivering sweet bugger all on substance. At least ardern hasn't done a Standing Rock yet – barack's biggest screw you to the environment and native americans.

    • weka 10.1

      thanks adam.

      best political thing that could happen this year is for NZF to be out of parliament (or at least not used by Labour to form govt). Then there will be no excuses, it will be totally clear who is holding things back.

      I think a lot about the people on twitter who have kept talking strongly about climate all through the covid crisis (incl in countries that are hit hard), all power and much gratitude to them.

  11. greywarshark 11

    DTB put this up recently on TDB. I hate acronyms but here they aren't vitally important compared to the message.


    The cross-disciplinary study was reported on in 2014. This should be good because of the top-class professionals studying from different perspectives.

    By investigating the human-nature dynamics of these past cases of collapse, the project identifies the most salient interrelated factors which explain civilisational decline, and which may help determine the risk of collapse today: namely, Population, Climate, Water, Agriculture, and Energy.

    These factors can lead to collapse when they converge to generate two crucial social features: "the stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity"; and "the economic stratification of society into Elites [rich] and Masses (or "Commoners") [poor]" These social phenomena have played "a central role in the character or in the process of the collapse," in all such cases over "the last five thousand years."
    and –
    of these scenarios, civilisation:

    “…. appears to be on a sustainable path for quite a long time, but even using an optimal depletion rate and starting with a very small number of Elites, the Elites eventually consume too much, resulting in a famine among Commoners that eventually causes the collapse of society. It is important to note that this Type-L collapse is due to an inequality-induced famine that causes a loss of workers, rather than a collapse of Nature.”

    • Draco T Bastard 11.1

      It is important to note that this Type-L collapse is due to an inequality-induced famine that causes a loss of workers, rather than a collapse of Nature.

      Ever noticed that many conservatives cry out that if someone can't afford to have kids then they shouldn't have them?

      The above is what happens if we follow that advice – we run out of workers. And from there we see the government doing things like massively increasing immigration (even though its making things worse) and increasing the age of retirement.

      Of course, we also can't afford a permanently, exponentially, increasing population either.

  12. Sabine 12

    The main issue re food supply is going to be water. We are running out of the good stuff, basically using it without a thought of the future and not enough rain.

    Weed killers used indiscrimantly by local government to control 'weed' along fence lines, killing everything that was planted inside (thanks council, i was looking forward to these berries).

    Ripping out edible shrubs such as blackberries but do nothing against kudzu and convulus.

    1080 fucking up 'free' food that could other wise be trapped and used, fur and meat..

    I do have a thing tho for guerilla planting and foraging for wild 'weeds' and fruit etc.

    But the worst to me is the clear cutting of shrubs and trees, killing of all of the little critters, insects and fungi that are so important to soil health and pollinators. Not sure honestly what to do about the that other then planting and dropping seeds while out and about for walks.

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