During my time growing high-value vegetable crops in intensive production systems, I observed challenges to reach marketable yields and product quality regardless of the investment in fertiliser inputs. I also witnessed small tractors make way to larger horsepower tractors with power-driven implements alongside a significantly larger spend on synthetic nitrogen that was harming the preservation of our soil carbon stocks.
When I moved to Marlborough 40 years ago it was a province with diverse land use - lots of shelter belts, and a multitude of crops and livestock farms forming an interesting tapestry on the valley floor. Now most of the diversity is gone in the lower plains, and at last count there are some 26,000 hectares of vineyard. Vines have brought a lot of wealth into the province but also, a loss of diversity.
‘Regenerative agriculture’ is a term that, in a way, has the same flavour as the term ‘sustainability’ - both tend to be used or abused with similar reasoning. Regardless, the fact remains that the talk about regenerative agriculture has raised awareness (throughout the country, around the world, and most importantly within the farming industry) and identified certain farm practises as being accountable for tipping the balance in regards to the environment. The question I often get is, “what are your thoughts on this regenerative farming that everyone talks about?”
It was during the mid 1800’s that Justus von Liebig, a German scientist who made major contributions to agricultural and biological chemistry, discovered the power of nitrogen when he created an explosion whilst experimenting with nitrate in his father’s pharmacy. And of course, in more recent history, it is believed that a large stockpile of ammonium nitrate caused the explosion in the Port of Beirut. It’s fair to say then that nitrogen is ‘powerful stuff’. And as farmers we know all too well that this is also true when it comes to plant growth.
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