Articles, Blog

The Regenerative Farmer – David Marsh

For 2/3 of my farming life I was going hell-for-leather with my foot on the accelerator trying to throw enough money
around in agronomy to grow enough stuff to make a profit and that was seen to be success. Industrial farming has led to the loss of 70%
of organic carbon in soils worldwide. The property came to be…my parents were doctors.
My father was probably a frustrated farmer. He was a lucky guy. Had an aunt who had a few bob
and no kids so some money came to dad when she died. And the farm was what he did with some of that money. He was absolutely passionate about
Australian native plants. He was like an encyclopedia.
But I was not interested in that. Often the things your parents are keen on,
your kids don’t dig it. But dad’s shelves were full of things like
An Agricultural Testament by Sir Albert Howard. And Humus and the Farmer by
a guy called Friend Sykes. And so I was aware of them but
I wasn’t actually that interested because I adopted this industrial model
of farming which everyone else was doing. And that’s what we tend to do.
We’re bits of crowd followers. When I got a little older in my 40s I began to reflect on what was my behavior as a farmer doing for the planet. and I felt it wasn’t doing a lot of good things
for the planet so I started looking around for other ways of doing things.
The thing that that we got hooked into was holistic management so instead of
looking at all the little bits of systems, we look at the whole and we
realized that everything is connected that’s one of the really great features
about managing holistically is you feel confident you can handle drought
without going into a tailspin financially and socially. We were actually achieving our landscape goals during a drought which was incredibly encouraging. We haven’t put any purchased inputs into this farm
in 17 years and we’re actually growing more grass now than we’ve ever grown before.
That’s not meant to happen. But there are lots of people like
me who are doing those sorts of things and they’re finding that that they’re
actually more profitable with less imputs. Which seems contradictory
compared to what we used to think. It’s a huge thing for a farmer to know what’s in
front of him for 5 or 6 or 7 months. We’ve never had that capacity. But now we can. So matching your animals to the dynamics of the landscape which is constantly changing… It’s a huge thing for your business. Good for the landscape and wonderful for your business. Because your costs are low. And if you’re selling early and you choose to reduce some numbers. You’re selling way before anyone’s even thinking of selling because we used to do it. You’d hang on hang on hang. It’ll rain in
May and then it doesn’t rain in May and you get caught and everyone’s trying
to sell and the market collapses. And then you say “well I’m not giving them away”, so you go spend their capital value to keep them alive. Turn the farm into a desert.
And we used to think that was good. We’ve got an agricultural system that is driven by
science and the big push all the time is to increase yield. Now they’ll say
they’re increasing production. But actually they’re increasing yield at the
expense of production Because production is about the respiration of
everything living in the community. And with simplified industrial farming systems,
the yield is going up… but the production total is going down. But you’ve got to be careful you don’t want
to sound like a reformed smoker. Because I was ignorant of all the
things I know now 10 or 15 years ago. So I spent quite a lot of years of my life
getting on committees and trying to influence things at the
government level and after a number of years I began to see that it was it was
terribly hard to get change a that level. But I think where the change is coming from now
is from people making decisions in the supermarkets. They want a healthy life for their children. And they’re nervous about the sorts of
impacts that industrial farming has. Not only on the planet, but also on
the food that’s produced that way. And the thing is we all think, “well that’s our job.
We’ve got to regenerate the landscape now”. But actually the landscape
is always trying to regenerate itself and it’s got that inherent capacity.
So a lot of the time when you start… managing like we do, you find it’s not about what you’re going to do, it’s about what you stop doing… that makes things come good. It is a fact that landscapes can
regenerate themselves and they’re always trying to be more diverse
and it’s us that stops them being that way.


  1. Keith Rowell Author

    I get so tired of the low standard of Australian media, who just love a disaster story, with the drought being the present lazy column-filler. Why don't they give more time to the many farmers learning to live with and in the Australian landscape, and maybe offer hope to some of those not there yet? Maybe the media are just tools of the dominant but failing industrial narrative, and so have no interest in a viable future.
    45 years ago I worked in a Smorgons meatworks in Melbourne for a short while. When I got home on a Friday after lining up to get my pay, I found a telegram from management saying "services terminated. Don't turn up for work next week." Yes, it had rained so all the poor bloody farmers needed the stock back that they'd just sold at distressed prices. So Smorgons sacked all their staff for a few weeks, sold their inventory back at a huge profit, and sat back fat and smiling.
    When will these farmers start looking at the regenerative farming examples around them and start putting two and two together?

  2. Margaret Crowther Author

    We have just had a "Planning Your Sustainable Actions" workshop in Canowindra on the weekend. Heck – I want to use so many of the quotes of David Marsh in our follow up emails 🙂 Well said David!!! Inspirational and modest. Lovely balance.

  3. T S Author

    That picture at 2:34 says so much about the health of the soil. When you have healthy soil perennial grasses and forbes will out compete the annual weeds. Not to mentioned the increased water infiltration and water holding capacity that lets green forages grow for longer, helping balance out the dry stuff and keep your stock healthy and in good body condition.

  4. Jane Hardy Author

    70% of the earth’s carbon lost to the atmosphere is a lot. Are people looking at the impact of industrial farming on CO2 build-up and global warming?


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