Growing a Revolution


Runtime - 4:44

Less chemicals, carbon emissions and nitrates, super-healthy soil and plants growing like crazy. Farming the Regenerative way. Frank Film joins a feel-good field day.

There’s a buzz in Simon Osborne’s paddock of crimson clover. It’s the hum of animated chatter as around 70 farming folk share their experiences of farming the regenerative way.

Others in the field are quietly taking it all in, ‘newbies’ attending their first field day to learn more about a farming practice which ‘mimics nature’ and has its roots in soil biology and plant diversity.

With many New Zealand farmers facing financial and environmental challenges, a growing number are showing an interest in regenerative agriculture.

Consultant, Jono Frew, says “it’s a revolution … a ground up thing, people are engaged and excited.”

Frew, who hails from an agricultural spraying background,  coaches farmers in the new methods espoused to require less intervention and says he can often save farmers 30% in inputs in just one visit.

He’s a founding member of Quorum Sense, a Canterbury-based network which promotes regenerative agriculture and supports farmers wanting to learn more.

In its latest filmed episode in the series Changing South, Frank Film first visits a Leeston farm which has been in the family for five generations.

Simon Osborne is happy to share the knowledge he’s garnered from a long-term, non-traditional approach on his arable farm. He describes regenerative agriculture as having a focus on soil and ecology.

“I believe that leads onto all the other benefits we can get from farming,” says Osborne. “That’s about always having a plant living in the soil if its possible.”

Osborne grows varieties of plants, as many as 15 species in the same paddock, to provide soil functionality.

“Different species of plants have different types of roots and encourage different types of organisms in the soil to be fed and to thrive.”

Osborne says regenerative agriculture is also about keeping the ground covered at all times, and that means no tilling. He says that also results in carbon being retained in the soil, thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

As he turns a sod of Leeston soil with his spade, farmers gather round to inspect. Osborne tells them his soils were “stuffed in the 70’s” but today have a “good foot” of healthy topsoil.

South Canterbury farmer, Mike Porter, reaches down to grab a chunk of freshly-dug Leeston soil. “There will be as many living organisms in that handful of soil as people living on earth.”

Porter says he’s trying to work out how to apply regenerative principles to his own system.

Jono Frew says all farming types can benefit and the last stop on the field day is Lakeside Ayrshires, owned for generations by the Legge family.

With a lake and streams nearby, dairy farmer John Legge says the farm was under pressure in terms of water usage. “My whole idea was how do we farm without using water at all?”

The answer, according to John Legge, was regenerative agriculture.

“We grew everything that we needed last year on the farm and we only irrigated for six  weeks.”

There are other success stories from field day attendees.

One mentions he hasn’t fed out for four years and hasn’t put any fertiliser on for five years.

Another farmer nearby pricks his ears “I’d love to get to that, be a dream.”