STAFF at the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) were presented with a “re-education” last week when farmer and author Charles Massy visited Perth to discuss ideas from his new book ‘Call of the Reed Warbler’.
WA Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan said Mr Massy’s book had made her a “disciple” after being encouraged to read it late last year.
“It was an amazing piece of work - truly inspiring,” Ms MacTiernan said.
“He has been at this doing, and thinking, and reflecting long enough that he has developed a perspective from a higher plane.
“And it would be true to say that that’s made a number of people nervous.”
She said some DPIRD staff felt like the lecture was “a bit of a reeducation camp that the minister was imposing” on them, but her idea for holding the meeting was to stimulate ideas and excitement within the department.
Ms MacTiernan quoted a comment from a former DPIRD staffer who said it had become somewhat of a “morgue” - due to cutbacks and “many years of attrition” - but “we are absolutely trying to rebuild that intellectual excitement in the department”.
“This is part of it,” she said.
The Agriculture Day also included a speech by Newdegate farmer Nick Kelly who was “transitioning into regenerative agriculture”, and a bus trip to Gingin to visit Worrolong Produce to understand the rationale, experience and findings of growing pumpkins and citrus under a regenerative farming system.
That was followed by a talk from Gingin cattle producer David Roe, Benalong Farm, and on-farm walk to review the family’s cattle production grazing systems.
Mr Massy was also invited to speak at the Healthy Soil, Healthy Communities event run by Perth NRM in Claremont, Perth, last week, as well as the WAFarmers conference at the Pan Pacific Hotel, Perth, - due to influence from the minister, according to president Tony York.
“Importantly what Charles has done in this book is to create inspiration,” Ms MacTiernan said.
“Sometimes to bring people with you, you have to do something different.
“You have to issue a wake up call, and I believe that is what Charles has done.”
In his book Mr Massy “discussed the practicality and the reality of this program of regenerative agriculture, but to do more - to inspire us as to what farmers could be if we adopted, what I like to call deep science, rather than superficial science,” she said.
During his speech Mr Massy said his perspective was from that of a farmer who had made a lot of mistakes - and after researching and studying science as well as what other farmers were doing he realised he had to change.
“We know that most farmers want to be good custodians,” Mr Massy said.
“A recent stat is that 95 per cent of farmers undertake some sort of natural resource management.
“Our conundrum is due to terms of trade issues, seasons, and low commodity prices as the saying goes.”
Mr Massy questioned whether the market was posing “global threats or opportunities?”
“There’s all sorts of movements that can be seen as a threat,” he said.
“I’ll suggest they can also be seen as opportunities - we need to think outside just the commodity model.
“Two weeks ago Germany’s national agricultural strategy aimed to target animal welfare, organic farming, and this includes labeling laws - so is this going to be a threat to us or is it a potential marketing opportunity?
“Certainly I don’t have to tell anyone in WA what India has just done in regards to thumbing its nose up at the WTO (World Trade Organisation) with pulses and grains.
“I know WA has taken a big hit, but my point still resides there - opportunity or threat?”
Mr Massy said as a farmer he “proceeded down the path of trying to make a profit and I still have guilt today about the mistakes I made, so I’m working off my own learnings and journey”.
“I came to realise I was landscape illiterate - I couldn’t read the landscape.
“I didn’t know how it functioned - I had never been taught.”
So he studied traditional soil science, which lead to other things and eventually his book, which “presents stories from producers who have gone through the experience of changing from traditional farming practices to regenerative”.
“I created a tapestry - many stories - our journey of ecological literacy,” he said.
“Our challenge is to go beyond sustainability to a new way of thinking.
“My job is to get out of the way and let mother nature get on with it - and what they were really saying was my job is to let self-organising processes take hold and do their stuff.
“It just made so much sense - a new world view.”
Mr Massy said the journey of discovery was a bit like an iceberg.
“We really should be thinking about an iceberg shape - there’s a lot more life under the ground than above the ground when you get a really healthy soil,” he said.
“My message really is - healthy landscapes lead to healthy food, and therefore healthy people and a healthy planet.”
Mr Massy said there were “about nine major interrelated operating systems that sustain this self organising planet” and “when you start looking at the evidence” of the impacts of industrial agriculture - it was “a major player in affecting eight of these nine systems”.
“When I’m talking about industrial agriculture I mean the worst aspects - things like land clearing,” he said.
Mr Massy said although industrial agriculture had a negative impact on the environment if it was done “better” it could have a positive influence on those eight systems.
“At the moment we are being blamed for some of this but we can also be very much part of the solution,” he said.
“We need a new story for our times.
“The story of growth, greed and economic nationalism is not working.
“I’m suggesting regenerative agriculture as I state in the book - is ultimately a story about renewing mother earth and her systems.”