Regenerative Farming in Western Australia
Regenerative Avocado Farming in Manjimup, Western Australia
Today’s blog is inspired by a recent interview with Gavin Kay, agroecologist, and regenerative farming consultant and practitioner with over 25 years industry experience. Gavin is also a Director of Organichain Pty Ltd, a company focused on bringing public awareness to the incredible benefits of regenerative agriculture.
In the heart of Western Australia’s thriving South West is Canterbury Farm, a multi-enterprise regenerative agriculture operation run by Peter Gwyne and family, which produces regeneratively grown avocados and black truffles, beef and blueberries (the latter farmed organically but without certification).
Manjimup, located 320 kilometers south of the city of Perth (the WA state capital), has become a “premium gourmet food bowl” which produces delicacies from black truffles, cherries, blueberries, and chestnuts to apples, avocados, wine and olive oil.
As enticing as the idea of “premium gourmet food” sounds, increasing numbers of health discerning and environment concerned Australians want to know whether the food produced in our nation’s farms is as wholesome and healthy for human health and the environment as it could be. The very fact that Canterbury Farm, and many others like them, is significantly invested in a regenerative farming journey is a substantive, positive response to a myriad of rightful public concerns.
Encouragingly, the uptake in regenerative agriculture is trending upwards as an important influence for good in Western Australia’s agriculture industry. The evolving hub of practitioners in the Manjimup region are working smart to make food cleaner, and to build resilience into the farming systems responsible for growing our food.
What Regenerative Agriculture Is
We can think of regenerative agriculture as an approach to primary production that partners with natural systems to improve ecosystem function.
“It focuses on topsoil regeneration, increasing biodiversity, improving the water cycle, supporting bio-sequestration, increasing resilience to climate change, and strengthening the health and vitality of farm soil”. (Wikipedia)
Regenerative farmers typically factor additional considerations into their management actions. The economic drive to minimise reliance on outside sources for inputs drives resource use efficiency. Waste becomes a resource through composting to feed the soil microbiome. Animal impact is often utilised to supercharge system response.
Understanding and appreciating of the critical nature of a vibrant subterranean (soil) network drives food producers to avoid the use of synthetic biocides (fungicides, herbicides and pesticides), minimise soil disturbances like compaction and tillage.
Albert Einstein summarises the regenerative pathway best. “… Look deep into nature and you will understand everything better”.
Canterbury Farm’s 2020 avocado season is drawing to an end, so the team is racing the summer sun, picking the last tonnes to avoid damage or drop. Temperatures have been soaring as high as 39 degrees celsius to date, threatening sun damage to all exposed fruit on the upper canopy layer.
The reliance on production and profitability on this multi-generational operation is at the forefront of management planning. In a year when yields across the Avocado industry in the South West are well down, Canterbury Farm continues to produce above-average yields. In great part testament to practices being applied on the road to regeneration.
The use of irrigation water from the farm dam has been high this month. Having the water to draw on is critical in intensive tree cropping. With the long-term trend for the region being a drying one it’s worth spending time to highlight one of the resilience boosting benefits of regenerative agriculture.
What is less often discussed as a critical water storage “repository” is the soil itself. Considered and persistent efforts invested into soil organic carbon (SOC) retention practices put the operation on an inclining plane. Simply put, more water is capable of being held in the soil, particularly where the avocado trees grow. An increase of 1% in water, equates to the retention of an additional 150 000 litres per hectare.
Presence of Amphibians
What does the presence of amphibians in the Canterbury Farm avocado trees tell you while you’re up them picking fruit?
Biodiversity for one! That the farm is a welcome habitat for what are seriously declining numbers of amphibians and reptiles on farms globally. And secondly, that the farmland environment provides a mixture of warmth, water, vegetation for shelter, foraging and basking, and an abundant supply of food (crickets, cockroaches, mosquito larvae, earthworms and fruit flies).
Avocados are a great fruit to include in a healthy diet. They are a heart-healthy, nutrient-dense superfood providing substantial amounts of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients with relatively few calories.
One-third of a medium avocado (50 g) has 80 calories and contributes nearly 20 vitamins and minerals, making it a great nutrient-dense food choice.
The avocado is virtually the only fruit that contains heart-healthy monounsaturated fat – good fat! And they are naturally sodium, sugar and cholesterol-free.
We hope to in future blogs get access to nutrient density information on regeneratively produced avocados vs industrially produced ones, and share the results with readers. Watch this space!
The focus for Canterbury Farms now is ensuring nutrition for the next generation of fruit through a combination of fertigation, compost and foliar applications. We look forward to reporting a further update on farm activities soon.