EAGER learners from Western Australia are among the first students in the world to undertake a tertiary education in the field of regenerative agriculture.
A total of 10 passionate students from WA are enrolled at Southern Cross University (SCU), which launched the world's first undergraduate science degree with a regenerative agriculture major in 2020.
It was the most popular science degree in Australia that year, with the university so swamped with students that it launched a shorter one year graduate certificate in 2021 to get more students educated across the regen space and out into industry to support adoption.
Of the WA cohort, three are doing the four-year undergraduate degree and seven are completing the shorter one-year graduate certificate.
All seven of the students completing the certificate are set to graduate this year, making them some of the first students in Australia - and the world - to have completed formal tertiary study in regenerative agriculture.
Damon Buckley is the director of ERA Sustainable and SensorC, Perth-based agritech firms which aim to deliver technology solutions for agriculture to achieve high-performance farming outcomes and benefits on soil health and the environment.
After a 20-plus year career in international finance and commodity trading, Mr Buckley came back to Perth with the intent to focus his career on projects that deliver environmental and social benefits.
Regenerative agriculture is now core to his work and having completed the graduate certificate at SCU earlier this year, he said the study of regen was important to deepen his knowledge of environmental practices, agricultural methods and science.
"Agriculture's future adoption of technology will be a solution to addressing the food system and the world's environmental challenges," Mr Buckley said.
"The food and agriculture sector is recognised as lagging far behind other sectors in investment in and adoption of technology, despite the necessity of agricultural technology to meet food system needs and improve environmental outcomes of our food production systems.
"For these reasons, agriculture's future relies on a transformative approach grounded in technology, and an 'innovative ecosystem' - enabling environments consisting of business modes, investments, policy frameworks, governance models and capacity building - is required to address today's food system challenges in a sustainable way."
According to Mr Buckley, the future of agriculture will involve the development of technologies such as the internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence and precision agriculture.
It will also require the adoption of technologies which support regenerative systems, with the potential to transform food systems and help share this transformation towards greater sustainability outcomes.
"SensorC has technologies in development in soil carbon that will benefit farmers, consumers and the environment on a global scale," he said.
"I am also involved in a new venture, CustodianAG, which is developing tools to deliver technology solutions, data measurement, management and metrics simplifying ESG (environmental, social and governance), natural capital and sustainability reporting within the farming, food, and beverage value chains."
The SCU course was designed to equip land managers to tackle the affects of climate change by developing specialist knowledge in a whole-of-system approach to farming, food distribution and production, examining human ecology, agro-ecology, regenerative agronomy, soil management and planning rural landscapes.
The degree was championed by the Regenerative Agricultural Alliance (RAA) with consultation from the Institute of Ecological Agriculture, as well as the RAA Industry Advisory Group, which includes agricultural revolutionaries such as Charles Massy, Bruce Pascoe and Terry McCosker.
RAA founder and SCU director of strategic projects Lorraine Gordon said the degree had gone through various levels of academic rigour required to offer a world-leading course which met the needs of today's agricultural students.
"This degree is the first of its kind in the world," Ms Gordon said.
"The way we teach agriculture hasn't changed in 30 years, so it's about time we taught students to think in a holistic manner and use all the tools in the box to solve the very complex problems we face in managing our landscapes."
"Agriculture is an incredibly rewarding field of study and practice and is the absolute melting pot of all the sciences."
Lawson Harper grew up on his parent's holistically managed, planned grazing 5000-hectare cattle property at Dandaragan and always had a passion for grass fed beef.
Having wanted to improve soil health through more holistic and natural methods, while improving profitability and sustainability of both the farm and its operations, a degree in regenerative agriculture seemed like the perfect choice.
He is completing the four-year undergraduate degree online, which he is undertaking full-time while contracting in WA handling cattle and conducting other farm jobs.
Mr Harper said he hoped to see the reliance on chemicals decrease through realistic and factual methods.
"Chemicals and fertilisers may perhaps be a necessary evil - cost of, negative impacts on microbiology, etc - but I believe there are methods of farming where other principles can be applied to offset these impacts," Mr Harper said.
"Examples include perennial plants, high-intensity low-frequency grazing, planned grazing, multi-species cropping and other developed and developing methods to help the average farmer decrease their costs and inputs while increasing their sustainability.
"I've been lucky enough to grow up and work on farms and stations which have proven holistic management and other regenerative practices can work even in our brittle, highly variable ecosystem and our soil types here in WA."
Post graduation, Mr Harper sees himself entering the realm of consultancy to help producers improve the profitability, sustainability and soil health on their properties.
SCU lecturer and course co-ordinator Hanabeth Luke said Australia was in urgent need of generational change for land managers who knew how to repair the soil and farm resiliently.
"By enhancing the living matter in our soil, regenerative agricultural practice draws down carbon from the atmosphere and into the soil, and will play a critical part in mitigating climate change," Dr Luke said.
The 10 WA students participating in the SCU courses are:
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