I decided to write this blog on upside down thinking after some more reflection on the soil health day that I recently attended. I was excited that the theme of the conference was regenerative agriculture. I realised at the conference that there is a clear shift in the way farmers, managers, researchers and consultants think about agricultural practices. Agricultural practices are moving further away from the conventional towards more regenerative practices. It gives me hope for the future of agriculture that so many people believe in and implement regenerative agricultural practices. Regenerative agriculture leads to more environmentally friendly farming and healthier produce. There were numerous examples at the conference of how people have successfully implemented regenerative agriculture.
The concept of regenerative agriculture is not new, but I am excited that more people are adopting this upside down way of thinking. In this blog I will explain why I call it an upside down way of thinking. The conventional approach to crop production is to focus firstly on the crop itself. Good crop production is achieved by using external inputs, such as pesticides, herbicides and fertiliser, to protect the crop and improve yields. Agricultural success is measured purely in the total amount that was produced.
An upside down way of thinking, as with regenerative agriculture, is to start with the soil. By improving the soil and all the natural services which soil provides to plants, farmers can rely on these natural processes, rather than chemicals, to produce a healthy crop with a good yield. The success of agriculture is measured through soil health and crop quality rather than purely focussing on yield. Indicators of soil health include organic matter levels, the potential to convert organic nitrogen into inorganic plant available nitrogen, fertility and balance of nutrients, and structure. A good yield can be expected when these indicators are at optimal levels. Farmers also use efficiency measures, such as kilograms of fertiliser used to produce a ton of crop, in order to quantify and compare the success of the crop from season to season. This is an important process in learning from practices that work and identifying those practices that are not as effective in producing healthy crops of high quality.
Farmers who have healthy soil and high levels of efficiency are most likely to produce healthy crops and maintain that standard in the long-term. That is the essence of upside down thinking. It is the complete opposite approach that is taken compared to conventional crop production, but I have seen evidence that it works.
If you are a consumer who wants to support farmers who supply healthy food that was produced in an environmentally friendly way then I would suggest you support farmers who have adopted this upside down way of thinking.