Amanda talks to more WA based regenerative agriculture champions, meets a NZ soil expert and draws strong parallels between agriculture and medicine as she engages with a consciousness based health modality called BodyTalk.
I had a chat with Stuart McAlpine in mid-March. I rang to see if I could visit his land to do a story on the broadacre farm collaboration he is managing with the innovative agricultural company, Wide Open Agriculture in the Midwest. As with many conversations that happen round regenerative agriculture the talk turned to how change happens.
Stuart had just been to a two-day talkfest close to his farming operation and had got involved in some fairly heated debates with visiting researchers. Stuart reckons CSIRO and other government scientists are simply not tackling the research on farms that shows what is happening to yields and input levels amongst farmers who have been working on developing the soil biology on their properties. One scientist told him: change has to come from the politicians; individual scientists feel hamstrung in face of the existing orthodoxy, they are nibbling around the edges of this research because there is simply no context for the kind of holistic examination regenerative work needs.
I found a good story to illustrate Stuart’s words a few days later in Perth told by Nicole Masters (director of Integrity Soils) in a presentation on soil biology: Ian and Di Haggerty, the regen Wyalkatchem farmers I mentioned in the last podcast, were part of a study by CSIRO measuring soil carbon and yield. The Haggerty’s soil carbon load was so far and above the other farm soils measured that it was dismissed as an anomaly, an outlier. When the data came up for analysis CSIRO researchers re-sampled the soil to make another test – disbelieving the first results. The soils show a 40% increase in carbon, a 27% increase in nitrogen (which makes sense as nitrogen is always in lock step with carbon), and the water holding capacity was up by 13% - advances way out of step with the markers from the data gathered from conventionally treated paddocks.
Di and Ian, already out there on their own, have been looking for new markets for their nutrient dense grain, knowing they can attract premium prices for produce that shows nil chemical residue and is cleaner than organic produce.
Nicole explained that once the Haggerty’s have got their soil biology working as it should, they run their hectares on 5 litres of vermi liquid – that’s worm juice – and 4 units of urea at a cost of $32 per hectare. I don’t need to be a farm accountant to know how this stacks up against conventional agriculture input costs. The Haggerty’s need others to get on board so they can build up volume to provide consistent output for these new markets.
DARREN QUALMAN and HIS AMAZING GRAPHS
Stuart sent me a link to a website: this says it all he said. The link I opened had a headline Feb 2017: Agribusiness takes all: 90 years of Canadian net farm income. The website introduced me to Darren Qualman. He is a Canadian long-term thinker and civilizational critic who worked as a researcher with the National Farmers Union for many years. Uniquely, he starts each blog with a graph.
This particular graph showed two separate lines, the top one, which climbs and dips but moves steadily upwards shows Canadian farmers’ gross farm revenue and the other line that slides across the base of the graph eventually dipping below the bottom line, shows net farm income from the market. Paraphrasing Darren’s analysis: ‘the area between these two lines represents farmers’ expenses: the amounts they pay to input manufacturers (Monsanto, Agrium, Deere, Shell, etc.) and service providers (banks, accountants, etc.). This has expanded over time to consume almost all of farmers’ revenues. Quoting Darren: “…from 1985 to 2007, inclusive, the dominant agribusiness input suppliers and service providers captured 100 percent of Canadian farm revenues—100 percent!”
I had heard similar figures, more simply stated, to do with the analysis of Australian farm incomes: two generations ago the farmer could expect to get 90 cents in the dollar from the market, that has now been reduced to 10 cents in the dollar – the true beneficiaries are the dominant power base made up of scientists, agronomists, retailers, food manufacturers etc
As Stuart noted: These figures translated to Australian agribusiness might go some way towards explaining why the suicide rate amongst farmers is twice the rate of other groups in our society.
And before we leave Darren’s website here one of his blogs from January 2018 marking the 100th year anniversary of the birth of what would become modern high-input agriculture. It was in 1918 that farmers in Canada and the US began to purchase large numbers of tractors. These tractors required petroleum fuels….. to give the article some context I quote: Humans have practiced agriculture for about 100 centuries. For 99 centuries, there were almost no farm inputs—no industrial products that farmers had to buy each spring in order to grow their crops …. the incredible food-output tonnage of modern agriculture is largely a reflection of the megatonnes of fertilizers, fuels, and chemicals we push into the system. Nitrogen fertilizer illustrates this process. To produce, transport, and apply one tonne of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer requires an amount of energy equal to almost two tonnes of gasoline. Modern agriculture is increasingly a system for turning fossil fuel Calories into food Calories. Food is increasingly a petroleum product.”
I don’t know about you, but these figures blow my mind. Darren again: farmers are making too little because others are taking too much and ‘Farmers are the primary victims of the abuses of power within the food system’. I exited the website after these two blogs – analysis like this need to be ingested in small bursts.
A few days later by serendipitous fortune I ended up at day one of the two-day soil biology meeting in Perth with presenter Nicole Masters. Nicole is a New Zealander, now based in Montana and director of her business Integrity Soils that is currently helping to manage close to a million acres around the world.
My presence on the day was made possible by Brent Burns. It was his company Landsave Organics that organised the talkfest and he generously welcomed me into the late morning session.
Brent is the real deal, an open-hearted soul, passionate about what he does and delighted to give back to the community of people involved with regenerative agriculture. His business has obviously grown from strength to strength from word of mouth; he has never had to advertise.
About ten years ago he was running a tree lopping service and contending with the ‘waste’ from his business. How, he wondered, did forests deal with fallen leaves and limbs? He started paying close attention to natural forest processes – like Michelle - got into worms and eventually bought himself a microscope. His outfit at Vasse in the southwest now produces certified organic composts and organic vermi, as in worm composts and woodchip and other mulches.
So, worms as an entrée into the world of soil biology, closely followed by time spent peering into a microscope seem to be the tools required by those interested in transforming their ag practices.
BIOLOGICALLY RICH SOIL
A teaspoon of fully-functioning biologically-rich soil contains 25,000 different species of bacteria, archaea, fungi, flagellates, amoebae, ciliates, nematodes and algae. Nicole stressed that getting to know soil by smell, touch and observation is important, in her enthusiasm she produced some funky language: ‘the smell of rain on the soil on a summers day is the beautiful odour of bacterial sex’ Poetic huh? There is even a name for it: geosmin.
At one point she drew two pyramids: one showed the food chain for soil, one for the sea. At the apex of the sea triangle is the white pointer shark, heading down through the fish ranks to the bottom where the most numerous and simple of the sea creatures, plankton, dwell. With soil, the top predators are nematodes, earthworms, dung beetles, redlegged earth mites, then come the ciliates, protozoa, then bacteria and fungi and sharing the bottom segment is organic matter and algae, like plankton, the most numerous stuff in the system.
If you apply herbicides and fungicides you may take out weeds, but you also take out the algae, leading ultimately to the collapse of the natural system. Incidently- any application of superphosphate on a paddock will mean an end to mushrooms. Remember those mushroom-picking picnics in May after the first rains in the foothills around Perth - and fragrant, inky black mushrooms on buttery toast…..now you know why your kids are eating tasteless white fungi.
Nematodes came up. These root eating creatures are a disaster for croppers: interestingly 95% of these critters have beneficial effects in soil, but the 5% that are considered pests are where an enormous amount of research and chemical energy is directed.
DISEASE FOCUSED SYSTEMS
The parallels between conventional agricultural systems and the allopathic medical model –the western medical model - are obvious. These are disease focused systems. Rather than choosing to support the 95% of good elements with a focus on the wellness of the whole eco-system and the capacity of the system to self-balance, all energy is directed at destroying the so called ‘bad’ 5% with increasing applications of chemical poisons in what Nicole called “an arms race to the bottom”.
PARALLELS BETWEEN REGEN AG AND HEALTH MODALITIES
Which brings me to BodyTalk – I want to talk of what I learned while doing the four-day Foundation course in the BodyTalk Health System. The parallels between regenerative agriculture and BodyTalk are many. Both systems: soil on one hand, and the body on the other rely on self-regulation and self- healing, both incorporate knowledge that is as old as human life and both systems move out of existing models that can be seen to be increasingly narrow, life denying and impossible to sustain.
BodyTalk describe itself as a consciousness health system. It was developed 20 years ago within the context of quantum physics: this follows research that demonstrates – and I quote –“that when the smallest particles of matter are broken down, what is left is vast amounts of space filled with possibilities and probabilities suggesting that particles are just concepts” From a physicist’s perspective: ‘the material universe is a dynamic web of interrelated events”.
What are we to make of this? I’m no physicist, but I can get a sense of the unfolding weirdness this idea feeds into the concept of existence: things aren’t as they seem, and everything is much more fluid and unfixed than we believe…we cannot rely on the evidence of our senses to uncover the true nature of reality.
In this scenario the body is seen as ‘a series of systems that interact with each other and are dependent on each other for their own functioning”. Founder Dr John Velheim words. The concept of healing then works within a much more expanded field.
Dr John again: ’ We create our state of health and our experiences of the world, good or bad, by our state of consciousness’ More: “Consciousness is the only thing that is real, everything else is a result of consciousness being filtered through the lenses of thoughts and beliefs that direct the focus of consciousness to create its own reality: this is how consciousness and biology are linked”...the great news is that we are not stuck with what we created. “Our bodies, including our genes and nervous systems are not fixed and can change.”
The Cartesian or mechanistic view of the world discussed by Charles Massey in the Call of the Reed Warbler within the context of regen agriculture, is also covered in the opening chapters of the BodyTalk manual within the context of human wellness– under this system, the body is seen as separate from the mind, each part of the body as separate entities, and each of us separate from each other. Healing in this scenario is limited to finding symptoms and attempting to fix them.
I love that the first question asked of the client via the body-testing method is – in the strange language of this method: ‘Permission of practitioner a priority?’ If the answer is yes, the client is simply mirroring the practitioners doubts or confusion. The practitioner is coming in with an agenda or an attitude they need to drop before the session can continue.
THE WORLD OF NOT- KNOWING
BodyTalk is thus another golden opportunity to learn that what we think we know is what is likely to stand in the way of any shifts the body might be trying to make for both the client and the practitioner. The way forward is to embrace the world of not-knowing – the more assumptions, beliefs, judgements and other filters can be dropped, the more potential to access the innate wisdom of the body.
This ain’t easy and it ain’t airy-fairy. The protocol and procedures charts produced by Dr Velheim, a South African now based in Florida, are very logical and structured, the idea being that following this structure to the point where it becomes second nature allows the whole bodymind complex to be intuited by the higher functions of the right brain of the practitioner. Intuition given structure then becomes a reliable tool.
It is an interesting fact that this system gets results even if the practitioner has only a basic understanding of the bodymind complex – while knowledge that the practitioner can bring to the table from other health modalities can feed into this system: it is an invitation to constantly expand and apply your learning.
I have spoken before of the heady idea that big shifts in understanding the true nature of reality, even enlightenment, is available to those who choose to seek it. Right here, right now. BodyTalk is another part of this unfolding story and the reason I think it is a brilliant medical model for the 21st century to stand alongside the allopathic and other systems.
Hmm, can I hear synapses slamming shut as I speak? If this is my projection I apologise, if it is you, dear listener, check it out; have a few sessions with a BodyTalk practitioner. When quantum physics and the ramifications of this mindboggling reality are introduced, we are talking about stuff that does not sit happily with the everyday mind. And as you might have intuited hearing this, any sessions are only going to be as good as the practitioner’s ability to get out of the way of his or her own self-limiting beliefs and thoughts.
Morag Blomfield, a BodyTalk practitioner of 16 years standing, taught the Fundamentals course I attended in Perth. Morag had a lot of the matron about her - her teaching style demonstrated a winning mix of brisk common sense and practical knowhow with an impressive depth of intuition that bordered on the clairvoyant. The ‘sessions’ she demonstrated with several participants were remarkable for their openness, depth, and uncanny accuracy.
Morag trained as a midwife and nurse, worked in a general practice in South Africa for many years and was drawn to healing modalities such as reiki when she experienced medicine taking an unhealthy turn down a path where prescriptions for pathologies started nudging out a more holistic socially and individually aware model.
By the end of the course, I was in awe of her down-to-earth attitude as it aligned to a calm acceptance of what the logical mind would call ‘magic’. I named her Nurse Freaky – thereby sparking one of many outbursts of laughter.
Dr Velheim’s particular genius is to have created a system that synthesises different balancing and healing modalities within the context of the quantum physics model of reality. Chinese meridians, the ancient chakras, neurolinguistic programming, ayevedic philosophy, a hint of kinesiology, western understanding of physiology – all add something to the BodyTalk System.
MORE ON SOIL
Back to soil and the South Perth gig. Lunch finished, we all trooped out for a look at the fairway and the green on the Golf Club led by Nicole and the groundsmen. The Royal Perth Golf Club has been working for a few years with Landsave Organics to build structure in the soil using compost and compost teas to get the best possible surfaces for their golfers.
We as participants got to see samples from both the green and the fairway and saw the groundsman digging out a neat circle of turf to demonstrate the impressively dread-locked root systems that have been developing under the new regime. One interesting fact emerged when pest and weed control at the club was mentioned: certain chemical treatments that are illegal at the golf club are still legal in agriculture. How skewwhiff is that?
Nicole was clear about what is important in soil building, one of her statements: if you don’t know the answer, it’s probably carbon. Carbon is concentrated energy. Within the soil community she explained, it is the bank the hospital, school and pub. Soil has structure within which the air, water and nutrients flow and carbon is the basic building block.
Soil PH is a biological problem. Amazingly, frost is in part a biological problem as the destructive qualities of frost can be ameliorated by healthy soil: believe it or not there is an ice-eating bacteria. This bacteria eats ice-nucleating bacteria and protects plants. One of Nicole’s slides showed paddocks divided by a fence – one side destroyed by frost, the other side still showing green life due to the positive influence of bacteria.
So pests, weeds and diseases are all influenced by the plants capacity to pump sugars to the root system. There is nothing random about insect action: insects target plants that are sending out distress signals – whether the plant gets attacked by sap-suckers or chewers depends on the nature of the distress signal.
Worms are another one of Nicole’s go to solutions: when talking about organic elements required to fix a problem she stated several times: ‘it comes out of the worm’s butt’ – the New Zealand woman going all Montana on us.
For example, if you have non-wetting soils, replace wetting agents with worm juice – 10 litres per hectare. Another suggestion is to coat seeds with biological boosters so the good stuff is exactly where it is needed when the seed sends its little tendrils down into the soil and up to the surface.
It seems there is not a problem that doesn’t have a biological solution and it can be done in increments, by cutting down on chemical applications and replacing them with biological treatments. Every farm, every paddock has its own climate and conditions to consider what treatments would be the best – experimentation is the go.
There was some discussion about the role of grasslands, the Rangelands, as the land systems that is the biggest builder and repository of carbon. My mind keeps turning back to a vision of the Midwest Rangelands restored to biodiversity and health in face of slowly changing pastoral habits; a dream worth having on many levels.