Recommended reading: ‘Call of the Reed Warbler’

A New Agriculture – A New Earth

Book by Charles Massy

Originally published 2017 by University of Queensland Press

Author and radical farmer Charles Massy’s book Call of the Reed Warbler explores transformative and regenerative agriculture and the vital connection between our soil and our health. According to Massy, we need a revolution — he believes that human health, our communities, and the very survival of the planet depend on it. Charles talks about how he believes a grassroots revolution can save the planet, help turn climate change around, and build healthy people and healthy communities, pivoting significantly on our relationship with growing and consuming food. Click here to see Charles in conversation with Costa Georgiadis, nature lover and host of ABC’s Gardening Australia.

Continue reading for excerpts from the book describing some of Maarten Stapper’s activities in advocating regenerative farming.

p.170 …. Two leading catalysts were effectively hunted from an industrial-agriculture-committed CSIRO, and this led them working with people who were more open-minded. One is Dr Maarten Stapper (whose work I briefly touch on in Chapter 21) and the other is Dr Christine Jones. We have seen repeatedly in this book that many of the breakthroughs in regenerative agriculture have been made by brave individuals going in the opposite direction to others around them.
p.470 ….. in Keith to visit two farmers, Peter and Pam Cook. In the early 2000s, the Cooks lives and farming practices – at the time high-input standard industrial agriculture – were completely upended when their entire farming environment and Peter’s health began to fall to bits. Fortuitously, in casting about for a better solution they came across one of the leading innovators in today’s regenerative soil agriculture: Dr Maarten Stapper. As a result, they were able to turn around their farm and personal health, their finances and their lives. I have alluded to Maarten previously, but in brief: he was a Dutch immigrant cum ex-CSIRO scientist. It was not by accident that Maarten, like Christine Jones, had become another square peg who didn’t fit in the round holes of an increasingly reductionist and ideologically driven CSIRO. In Maarten’s case, he came from the Division of Plant Industry, and the more it went down the path of industrial agriculture and genetically modified plants under its then chief, the more Stapper’s conviction grew that something was wrong. He was eventually forced out in 2007.
Maarten – today a passionate and single-minded young sixty-year-old – had trained at Holland’s famous agricultural university of Wageningen. However, his make-up and background from the start seemed to predestine him to become a maverick who sought a better agriculture for the world. Through serendipitous circumstances, Australia became his home. Along with others including Adrian Lawrie, Christine Jones, Walter Jehne and visiting American biological agriculture proponents such as Dr Elaine Ingham and Dr Arden Anderson, Maarten became one of the leading evangelists of the new ‘biological agriculture’. This, however, followed a slow journey of awakening.
Maarten believes that to kick-start a regeneration in agriculture and transition from chemical dominance, what is needed is the ‘reintroduction and enhancement of humic and soil biological activity’. He is a pragmatist in this, believing that biological agriculture can allow ‘for minimal use of the most microbe-friendly fertilisers and herbicides with humic additives and molasses or sugars to enhance effectiveness and reduce damage to microbes’.
Why the Cooks turned to Maarten (after hearing him at a field day in Tintinara when he described both their situation and also its solution) was that, by the 1990s, they were having major health issues with the sheep and goats on their farm. Animals increasingly were not thriving nor performing well and were getting lots of cancers, facial eczema and dermatitis in the wool. Also, the animals seemed more and more susceptible to intestinal worms, requiring increased drenching and vaccinating to keep them alive. In short, their immune systems were shot. But that was only half of the story, because the Cooks’ crops and soils were also deteriorating. Their cropping included grain and irrigated Lucerne. ‘This used to be a productive farm,’ Peter told me, ‘but by the early 2000s the soil was dead. Problem was, we used fertilisers and herbicides galore.’ His wife, Pam, agreed. ‘We were just trapped into this chemical merry-go-round,’ she said. Sadly, Peter has passed away.

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