Farm and Land Conditions
Risk Category 1
This is an 11 category program to help farmers learn to identify and manage the unique risks on their farm. This may help them to grow a food safety mindset, that may enable them to write their own food safety plans for the production of raw drinking milk. In Australia raw milk from cows for human consumption, is only allowed if you own the animal, but that doesn't stop farmers from becoming acquainted with practises that are delivery great results overseas. Farmers may need to read the introduction first before continuing on this page: Introduction to the Risk Identification and Risk Reduction Program
Healthy raw milk starts with healthy soil and healthy animals.
The Jena Experiment
The Jena Experiment is one of the longest-running biodiversity experiments in Europe. They have been studying biodiversity effects in experimental grassland communities since 2002, that is 15 years. They aim to study the interactions between plant diversity and ecosystem processes. It shows how the loss of species destroys ecosystems.
The experiment found that soil carbon increased with increased plant species-richness. One particular experiment found that diversity of plant species is even more important than fertiliser, learn more here. Species-rich communities have many positive effects as also described by raw dairy farmers Ange and Mike from Lindsay Farms in this video.
The experiment also found soil carbon declined over time in monocultures. Many dairy farmers in Australia who produce for the industrial milk market overstock their land, graze the grass to the ground and rely on successive sowing of ryegrass. Many rely on ryegrass monocultures to supposedly increase milk production. Dairy Australia seems to encourage the grazing of the ryegrass 4 to 6 cm off the ground, as can be seen in this video. This is not sustainable. Professor Weisser from the study warns that the adverse effects of species extinction will only become more visible as years go by. Farmers are not more successful than nature.
The industrial farming system in Australia seems to funnel farmers into dependence on buying seed to reseed paddocks, chemical fertilisers, antibiotics, and herbicides etc. It may be profitable for Agribusiness, but it's not sustainable for the environment or the microbes and insects in it. This system will also not be able to sustain and feed us when the soil can no longer produce an economic return. Many dairy farmers in Australia have come to accept a degraded resource as normal.
Give up the farm or farm completely differently
Here is one example of a farmer who came to this stark choice. Bryce Cunningham from Scotland said his father’s business model, of using industrial farming methods to “push out as much milk as possible” was “just not working anymore”. He said that even before he took over the farm in 2013, he noticed alarming changes. The farm wasn't as green, lush and diverse as he remembered it as a child. Many elements in the landscape were missing, quite dead or sparse.
Bryce now works with Soil Association Scotland on a field lab to explore different plant and grass species that might improve soil structure. “Monoculture leads to bare patches of soil which the sun dries out, and the rain then washes the nutrients away. I want thick swards of grass so I‘m looking at tall and short clovers and grasses that will also help smother weeds."
Producers of milk for the industrial market who are interested in producing raw drinking milk (RDM) will have to learn new land management skills and how that relates to a natural, increased safety of the raw milk. Regenerative agriculture also reduces the risk of creating deserts on your farm. A desert is a barren area where conditions are hostile for plant and animal life. The lack of vegetation exposes the unprotected surface of the ground to the stripping of the earth of its biology. The Savory Institute recently posted a simple demonstration explaining how healthy soils with strong plant growth prevent soil erosion. In a 2013 TEDTalk Allen Savory said that we are turning the world's grasslands into a desert, accelerating climate change and causing traditional grazing societies to descend into social chaos. This is already happening in Australian dairy farming communities.
Pasture and soil health leads to animal health
The most important element in the production of high-quality raw drinking milk is the health of the animal. This depends on the health of the soil and the biodiversity of plants in the paddocks because the cows need healthy pasture to produce disease-free milk, that is high in nutrients. Charlotte Smith from Oregon in the U.S.A. is very passionate about teaching other farmers what she has learnt over the years. She was the first dairy farmer to become listed with the Raw Milk Institute with her micro dairy Champoeg Creamery. She knows that ecosystems have to be repaired and how grazing animals can be utilised to achieve that.
Organic, chemical-free and holistic farming practises are the way forward
Gazegill Farm in Lancashire, United Kingdom has been certified organic since 1999. The same family has farmed it organically for 500 years. Their approach is about respecting the land and working with nature to make a sustainable farm business. They are just one of many farms who is seeing the benefits of organic farming as a way of safeguarding the future. According to this article, they would rather focus on looking after their soil and animals, than rely on new technologies and chemicals. They have been producing raw drinking milk (RDM) for several years.
“We cannot continue to farm in the way we have done in the past. We can’t expect our land to be green, pleasant and fertile in the future because it won’t be if we continue to use harmful practices. Damage has been done, but organic is the way forward.”
Food and Soil are Political
The Jena Experiment shows Germans understand the interconnected nature of food, farming, health and a livable planet. According to this article 33,000 German citizens – including 160 tractor driving farmers – made their way through the winter streets of Berlin in January 2018 to tell the world – food is political. They chanted "never again Minister Smith" because of the Agriculture Ministry's decision to vote for Glyphosate (a herbicide) at European level. This year’s focus is on farmers – loss of farmers and small-scale farmer’s rights, and land access. The Agriculture Minister will now be developing a full farming strategy with the aim of promoting environmentally-friendly crop production methods and a government-sanctioned animal welfare label by 2019. New Zealand has recently welcomed a new University course leading to a diploma in organic agri-food production. Even British ministers like Michael Gove and George Eustice are supportive of regenerative farming. UK farmers will be given their first targets and incentives with a bill to protect and restore the soil.
GAP Food Safety Educator Lindsay Gilmore points out that the Wild Farm Alliance has come up with some great publications, information and evidence indicating that conservation practices and natural areas can often reduce pathogen risk while providing many benefits, like soil and
water conservation. Many of their presentations show how having a food safety mindset can result in the ability to quickly identify ways to eliminate risk on the farm. Experienced raw milk producers know that sustainable and regenerative farming practises are key to increased raw milk safety.
Intense Rotational Grazing Program
Subdividing larger pastures into smaller paddocks is an excellent way to allow cows to move onto a selected area, graze it 'mob-style', then move on soon after. One of the many benefits is that cows leave their manure behind, reducing the risk of potential exposure to harmful disease-causing microorganisms and insects. It leaves parasites behind to die off minimising or eliminating the need for de-wormers. Cows are not around to ingest new larvae on the pasture when they hatch.
RAWMI-listed raw milk producer and farmer educator Charlotte Smith explain her Intense Rotational Grazing method in this video with knee-high grass in every new paddock. In the video above she explains why this raw milk can be safer, cleaner, healthier, with a long shelf life of 2 - 3 weeks. A three week+ animal absence from a paddock allows it to sanitise and restore itself naturally. Biomimicry is a method to replicate natural cycles. It is a concept based on the way herding animals have lived in nature for thousands of years. Grazing animals can bring grassland ecosystems into balance by mimicking ancestral herd movements.
When cows are left in the same field every day, they can overgraze their favourite types of grass, killing the plants and reducing the plant diversity, which can lead to the reduction of the soil fertility. Soil microbes have different relationships with different plants; resulting in various nutrients and minerals. Soil fertility is essential to the success of a RDM system. Implementing an Intense Rotational Grazing Program is essential risk reduction. It can enable fresh, knee-high paddocks and a high diversity of plant species growing deep roots, accessing various nutrients.
The Smiling Tree Farm is a micro-dairy where the animals are fed on a wholly pasture-based diet of grasses, forbs, herbs, and wildflowers in the Pasture for Life system. It's a diet free from grains, soya or manufactured feeds. Christine Page lets the Jersey herd mob graze the paddocks of tall plants, with long resting periods in between. The aim is for them to graze a third of the forage, trample a third and leave a third behind as residual. Her excellent planning leads to higher carrying rates and more resilient pastures, more here.
Organic Pastures Dairy, who is the largest raw milk producer in the U.S., have developed a unique and useful Mob-Grazing technique in 2016 for their farm. It's a very effective rotational grazing program. Cows are moved every three hours to a different lush pasture with great results, watch the video here. Also listen to this interview with one of the owners of Organic Pastures Dairy for a better understanding of why sustainable farming reduces the likelihood of pathogens in raw milk.
There are many examples on this page that demonstrates why implementing an intense rotational grazing program is essential for ecosystem function. To better understand how this works, also see this video.
Low input farming, Biological Farming and Carbon Farming
Many dairy farms are not necessarily registered certified organic but they utilise the low inputs, focus on soil health and organic principles like Village Milk in New Zealand, watch this video. They have low stocking rates, the microbiology and the earthworms are very active and the nitrogen cycle is working well.
Also listen to New Zealand raw milk producers Ange and Mike from Lindsay Farms in this very informative video about their conversion to organics and how they utilise their soil health and the good biology (of beneficial bacteria) in the raw milk to fight pathogens that it may encounter. Their nature-friendly methods called 'biological farming' together with good hygiene are producing raw milk with natural, increased safety. Ange also explains why tall 'knee-high' grazing (as advocated by Dr. Christine Jones) and high plant diversity are so important because it is highly remineralised. It also increases year-round grazing and drought tolerance of the pastures. She also explains why letting cows graze on short pasture is not contributing to their health. This is what Ange had to say on building soil fertility:
Belvoir Ridge Dairy, a Pasture For Life dairy in the United Kingdom selling raw milk, has shown how holistic farm management has resulted in more diverse grasses and clovers. They have not used any fertilisers or sprays for ten years according to the video below. British Minister of Farming George Eustice supports the pasture-based systems because of the benefits to the animal welfare, environment and human health. Turn up the volume to listen to the video below:
Many articles on ARMM's website demonstrate how the human gut and the terrain (farm) filled with abundant beneficial microbes can create a natural, effective barrier against pathogens (example). Risks are significantly reduced because these farmers farm for beneficial bacteria. These can outnumber, crowd out and discourage pathogenic ones. Beneficial microbes are more important for feeding ourselves and our survival than we realise!
Cows can save the planet
These farming practices show that cows in sustainable, pasture-based systems do save the environment and the climate as Joanne S. Grohman explained in an article. According to the article below a resting period of several months allows the grass to grow taller, shuts out the weeds and encourages the growth of diverse grasses. This is a benefit to farmer and environment as there is no need for fertiliser or feeding grain to the animals because they can get all the nutrients from what they graze. The animals can get a variety of nutrients and minerals from grass in this system because it is more nutritious than the industrial system, who resort to chemical fertiliser that decreases organic matter in the soil, see the article below for more information. According to a 2007 study these improved grazing methods can mitigate around 90% of agriculture's contribution to climate change.
In the video below former Australian Chief Scientist, Professor Robin Batterham warns that organic matter and biology are essential for the soil's water-holding capacity. Australia is a drought and fire prone country. We cannot afford to sleepwalk towards a crisis in soil fertility. Turn up the volume in the video below:
For a more in-depth look into why cows can save the planet, listen to this podcast with Judith D. Schwartz, who is the author of Cows Save The Planet. She is an expert in Environmental Economics and is devoted to sharing her knowledge about cows, soil and the restoration of the earth's ecosystem. She discusses why cows are going to save the planet, the parallels between our gut and our health and what grass-fed means for the earth.
Many organisations are teaching regenerative agriculture. See the work of Colin Seis, Soil C Quest and the Regrarians. The Savory Institute also offers a lot of free educational material. We don't have to look far for the people with the expertise.
Holistic Management and regenerative agriculture
The Savory Institute and others are working on an exciting new project to provide scientific understanding and acceptance of the role animals can play in regenerating depleted soils. The Environmental Outcomes Verification can, in future, be used as a visible brand on the land manager’s products - scientific proof that the land from which these products came - is regenerating. Paul Griffiths, who teaches Allan Savory’s Holistic Management in Australia said: “this is not only certification or accreditation, it’s verification - understanding the truth - scientifically.” “Through EOV farmers and graziers will have independent, long-term, scientifically verified evidence that they are ‘doing the right thing’.
Paul explained Holistic Managers are a group of Australian farmers who believe that innovative approaches to farming – known as ‘regenerative agriculture’ - offer viable solutions to deal with food security, land degradation, climate change and biodiversity loss. The internationally recognised tests encompass soil health, biodiversity and microbiology to provide scientifically rigorous data. Many Australian farmers are already doing regenerative farming and are now hoping to get the message about the brand out to consumers, see examples here. This Australian holistic management success example shows increased carrying capacity of grazing animals on pasture, even with reduced rainfall and drought.
Tony Hill leads Land to Market Australia. This exciting new program has the backing of the federal government's Farming Together program and involves providing both farmer support and environmental monitoring. According to this article Tony said: "this process will capture trends in soil health, biodiversity, and ecosystem function over time and importantly for time- pressed farmers, the approach is designed to be robust but simple, inexpensive and rapid." We encourage dairy farmers to become involved because this strategy has proven to be effective for the RDM system. It enhances both the soil fertility and the health of the grazing animals. Both are essential for the RDM system!
According to this Savory Institute video grasslands are vital for:
- feeding the world
- creating wildlife habitat
- storing water
- preventing erosion
- sequestering carbon
A University of California Davis study released in 2018 found that grasslands and rangelands are more resilient carbon sinks than forests in 21st century California. Lead author Pawlok Dass said: "Looking ahead, our model simulations show that grasslands store more carbon than forests because they are impacted less by droughts and wildfires." "This doesn't even include the potential benefits of good land management to help boost soil health and increase carbon stocks in rangelands."
As an example of holistic grazing, see this article. When Anna and Michael Coughlan adopted holistic farming practices 20 years ago the economic and environmental benefits were clear from day one. Each property is divided into 180 permanent paddocks averaging between 12 and 15 hectares and stock are moved from paddock to paddock daily. Because cattle are not grazing the same ground for more than 24 hours, animal health issues are virtually non-existent, they don’t drench or vaccinate and have not needed herbicide. That's holistic risk reduction that works.
In addition, Australian Agriculture Minister David Littleproud and another minister announced in March 2018 that for the first time in 20 years the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 will be reviewed. The EPBC Act sets out a regulatory framework to manage and protect matters of national environmental significance.
Permanent Pastures and no-tilling
A diversity of plant species is much better for the production of healthy raw milk than the planting of monocultures like ryegrass. What sort of natural grasses do farmers have on the farm that they can encourage instead? This video by the Savory Institute explains why permacultures are better than monocultures.
In America, no-till farming started as a way to keep costs down for conventional farmers in danger of losing their farms. Now it has become a way of life because they've finally realised that they were killing the microorganisms that keep the soil alive. Topsoil loss and declining fertility take an economic toll when ignored for too long. There is no cookie-cutter way to approach no-tilling, but some farmers do seem to have more success than others by introducing the compost tea to rapidly restore biology and sowing a high plant diversity of cover crops to put an essential cover on their soil to enable regeneration. Many farmers have introduced the compost tea and cover crops to permanent pastures as well with amazing and measurable results.
According to scientist Kris Nichols in this article “Tilling can start to erode the diversity of the fungi in the soil over time. So you’re going to start getting the loss of certain keystone organisms for providing amino acids and antioxidants that can be very important for human health.” As scientists begin to get a firmer grasp on the human microbiome and its relationship with microbial communities in the soil, “it’s going to start putting more pressure on the organic community to reduce tillage.”
Abundant microbes are essential, not optional
- Copper declined by 76%
- Calcium declined by 46%
- Iron declined by 27%
- Magnesium declined by 24%
- Potassium declined by 16%
Christine and others believe that depleted soil is the culprit. She argues that today’s soils are often deficient in the microbes necessary to help plants access those minerals. When there is biology (carbon) in the soil, the soil holds onto water better. Australia is a country that may soon have a lot of water problems. A new study published recently shows how:
"Microbes within soil improve the ability of plants to absorb nutrients and resist drought, disease, and pests. They mediate soil carbon conversion, affecting the amount of carbon stored in soil or released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. The relevance of these functions to agriculture and climate are being observed like never before."
Dr. Kris Nichols explains in this article that "soil microbes are key to the function of agricultural systems. Microbial populations play roles in nutrient cycling, from fixing nitrogen to solubilising phosphorus. Some microbes assist in the formation of soil aggregates that improve pore space in the soil, which allows for higher infiltration rates, better water-holding capacity, and lowers the compaction that often impedes root growth." She says that microbes are involved in extensive predator and prey relationships that can reduce the prevalence of disease."Many microorganisms are involved in organic matter decomposition, which releases nutrients needed by other microbes and plants, while others break down soil minerals for nutrient cycling."
"Agriculture is imperative to human survival—providing nutritious food, clean air and water, and maintaining the soil resource."
According to Peter Pollard, an Australian microbial ecologist in this TEDx video, 99% of all microbes on this planet are "essential for our very existence. We would not be here if it weren't for these microbes." He says only a few of the disease causing bacteria and viruses gives microbes a bad name. He also says that: "microbes ensure that both carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, phosphorus and oxygen are all recycled on our planet".
Carbon is the new buzzword, but microbes as soil microbiome are the real unsung heroes. Microbes are the inconvenient truth.
These regenerative strategies may not be easy for some to wrap their heads around but they are clearly very valuable risk reduction strategies. A recent Four Corners story showed that climate change poses a material risk to the entire financial system and that corporate boards and directors may be liable for failing to consider and disclose specific risks. Watch the replay here.
RDM production plays a part in sustainability because it is a system that encourages good microbes to settle in the environment. See the following video and turn up the volume:
Video: Kiss the Ground is a new documentary film to inspire participation in the global movement to restore soils, see trailer here. Mark McAfee from Organic Pastures Dairy was one of many interviewed. He describes how cows in regenerative systems can help to save the climate.
Proper Pasture resting time
Some farmers may say that they cannot afford to rest pastures. The truth is that farmers cannot afford not to. Carbon Grazing is not a new principle, as discussed in this Soils for Life article. It's another way of looking at how a paddock functions. The article explains that the bulk of carbon that comes into a paddock arrives in the short period after rain, and we must allow nature to transfer the carbon from the atmosphere to the landscape according to its own time frame. Carbon Grazing is the resting of pastures for 4 - 6 weeks after rain. Having a rotational grazing program and many paddocks can help the farmer to allow some paddocks to enjoy some rest and regeneration. Pasture resting enable the farmer to reduce risk in the following way: paddocks are more resilient, they grow more food for the animals and the system allows roots to grow deeper accessing more minerals to increase the health of the animals. Also see this article by Alan Lauder on why carbon flows and pasture needs rest.
See this video and hear first hand from farmers who are having huge success. Meet innovators Allen Williams, Gabe Brown and Neil Dennis. These ranchers now know how to regenerate their soils while making their animals healthier and their operations more profitable. They are turning ON their soils, enabling rainwater to sink into the earth rather than run off. And these turned ON soils retain that water, so the ranches are much more resilient in drought. These strategies can work for both dairy and beef cattle.
Manure Mangement on the pastures
Manure from raw milk dairies are often spread evenly over the pastures because cows spend so much time in the paddocks, but manure does collect in and around the milking parlour and have to be returned to the paddocks. Manure is a great resource when produced in a pasture-based, organic system because it carries a lower risk and more beneficial microbes than the manure coming from large-scale, industrial farming operations, that is often grain-based. A FSANZ document page 12 recommends a 21 day period between the application of effluent to pastures and the grazing or, harvesting of feed in a system for the production of raw milk cheese. It is a good risk reduction strategy not to allow the milking herd access to pastures that received dairy effluent or organic fertilisers for at least a few weeks. As Charlotte Smith explained earlier, it will enable the pastures to sanitise and restore themselves naturally. Also see the manure management section in the Milking Area Management risk category.
In Australia, many farmers have been encouraged to 'get big or get out' in agriculture. Avenues for small-scale are few. Now that many farms are 'big' they are running into some huge problems with bureaucrats that can potentially bankrupt them. They can lose their farms to the bank because soil fertility is diminishing and they cannot merely put the manure direct from their manure lagoons onto their pastures because the nitrates in it will cause massive weed growth. Besides, it won't be beneficial for the land or the soil microbes. Many farmers don't even understand what they are doing wrong because they were following the advice given around manure lagoons etc. Watch the video below and turn up the volume and listen to the wisdom of microbiologist Dr. Elaine Ingham, who have been able to find a genius solution to the disgusting manure lagoon mess in Camperdown, Victoria:
Weed Control without herbicides and fungicides / Weeds as feed
There is a lot of research into the human microbiome and surprisingly, into the "plant microbiome" as well. According to this article microbes can provide an astonishing rage of beneficial functions to plants through their colonisation of roots and above-ground organs such as leaves. Some bacteria and fungi are essential for soil health, like arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF), which interacts with 80% of plant species in a symbiotic relationship. It aids in the decomposition of organic matter, facilitates nutrient cycles, storage of carbon and helps to protect the plant. It helps plants with drought resistance and helps them access nutrients deep in the soil. Many experts warn that herbicides and fungicides can influence the microbes and the plants in various negative ways.
In this video American innovator Gabe Brown explains the cycle of chemical abuse very well, please have a look this is a great video. He says that the plants get their nutrients via the biology. Gabe also explains why herbicides are chelates that bind minerals and prevents the plants from access to those micro-nutrients. Plants then become prone to diseases and pests, it leads to the need for spraying of fungicide, which then kills off the biology etc. When plants no longer have microbes to help them with nutrient cycling, they are not able to uptake and use these minerals, animals and humans are not getting it either...This cycle of chemical dependence needs to stop because it kills beneficial microbes and allows weeds and harmful microbes to overtake. High synthetic fertilisers use aids in the growth of weeds. He said that the more synthetic fertilisers farmers apply, the more weeds they get, because weeds love nitrogen.
Another revolutionary video also featuring Gabe shows how perceptions on weeds can change. The farmers in this video at the 5 minute time marker used to see weeds as a problem, now certain weeds are forage in polyculture systems. One farmer said: "my philosophy now is this: if livestock eat it, and it provides nutrition to those livestock, it's not a weed it's a forage". The same farmer explained that spraying herbicide would result in a reduction of essential plant diversity. By not spraying weeds, he and other farmers save money. By not spraying, they allow the soil to function and get fertiliser services for free. They are making money off of the crops by not spraying.
Many farmers now realise the benefits of highly diverse pastures and the presence of some less edible plants with deep tap roots such as thistles, chicory, and plantain. An ideal perennial dairy pasture may include rye grass (perennial and annual), prairie grass (soft brome), cocksfoot, paspalum, chicory, plantain, vetch, subterranean clover, Haifa white clover, grazing lucerne, strawberry, red clover, and microlaena. This kind of mix is suitable for cool temperate regions and it is likely that a standard paddock will also contain Paterson's Curse, native geranium, wild turnip, black and scotch thistles. Yorkshire fog grass, barley grass, fat hen, dock, chick weed, dandelion, and fleabane. These harmless weeds can be slashed when about to seed to increase on-ground mulch. Sub-tropical mixes may include Gatton and bambatsi panics, lucerne, serradella, floren bluegrass, woolly vetch, and Rhodes grass with occasional rotations of lab-lab or Burgundy beans. GMO's are perhaps best avoided because they are steeped in controversy and there is some evidence to suggest they carry health risks.
Another article explains why some scientists and even recent research from New Zealand show that the active ingredients in commonly used herbicides like RoundUp, Kamba and 2,4-D (glyphosate, dicamba and 2,4-D, respectively) cause antibiotic resistance. A lot of people around the world end up dying from antibiotic-resistant infections. Superbugs cause an estimated 700,000 deaths annually. Read the article carefully as it explains why herbicides can be a risk to the health of the animals, to the terrain and potentially to those who consume the raw milk. There is concern over glyphosate's reported ability to increase pathogens in the terrain. This is an unacceptable risk for the raw dairy farmer. In addition, in April 2018 California Appellate Court sided with the State of California and Center for Food Safety (CFS) affirming that Monsanto’s glyphosate can be listed as a known carcinogen under Proposition 65, more here.
An Australian case study shows that pasture improvement using organic-based fertilisation together with carefully planned stock management can overcome significant weed problems and vastly improve productivity. Shannon Vale Station in NSW was motivated to change to these practices due to drought, economic viability and gaining a deeper understanding of biological cycles. The soil became the weed solution as planned grazing, use of organic fertilisers and no soil disturbance replaced synthetic fertilisers and herbicides. This is a natural risk reduction strategy that is kind to the soil microbes.
Pesticides, Insecticides and pest predators in the ecosystem
A farm has its own ecosystem. Unfortunately many conventional practises strip away the life cycle of the living creatures by the spraying of agrochemicals. These have resulted in the creation of chemical-resistant pests and exposure of workers and food consumers to the poisons. Dr. Kris Nichols explains in this interview: "Insecticides not only kill macroscopic insects, they also kill microscopic insects, or microarthropods. The normal cycle is for microarthropods to shred organic matter for bacteria and fungi. The bacteria and fungi are then eaten by protozoa and nematodes, which ‘poop’ out nitrogen and other elements as nutrients for plants. Without microarthropods, many bacterial and fungal populations within the soil foodweb begin to decline. This then impacts concentrations of protozoa and nematodes and reduces the amount of nitrogen available for plants. Fungicides directly kill some populations of fungi and nematicides kill all nematodes, most of which aren’t plant pathogens."
This article reports that many organic farmers are going back to traditional practises by cultivating an environment where pest predators can live by growing flowers. It encourages biodiversity and a healthy ecosystem in the process, which is a risk reduction strategy as well. In this video a Kansas farmer explains how he, and many others, use cover crops to ensure that there are always something flowering in the pasture. He says that some of the best predators are ants, spiders and dragonflies. See the Feed category for more information on growing cover crops.
Inorganic nitrogen fertilisers
In industrial agriculture, fertiliser is usually seen as the first avenue to create results, but it doesn't create real solutions, nor is it sustainable, see the video below. Inorganic nitrogen create a vast amount of environmental pollution and farming problems across the planet. It causes grass and plants to grow taller, but they are not necessarily a nutrient-dense feed... In this video, Christine describes how the over-use of inorganic nitrogen actually limits mineral and trace element uptake in plants. It throws the balance in the soil off. When plants lack these minerals:
- the plants are going to be more susceptible to pests and diseases,
- require the application of expensive insecticides and fungicides,
- reduce farmer's profits and
- add unnecessary chemicals to the food chain.
When plants have a reduced uptake of minerals and trace elements, it has a negative flow-on effect for animal and human health.
Christine also describes how some dairy farmer's highest individual input costs go toward vet bills in New Zealand. She says it can be traced back to the use of nitrogen fertiliser. At the 11 minute time marker of this video, she shows Australian data that shows no real improvement of milk production with the application of inorganic nitrogen fertiliser, yet farmers tend to keep increasing application. Farmers tend to expect results because inorganic nitrogen fertiliser visually grows grass, but it is not nutrient-dense grass. Nitrogen also stimulates the growth of lots of weeds, and then grows the need for herbicide.
As a risk reduction strategy, organic fertilisers, compost, microbe-rich manure and high plant diversity in the paddocks are better long-term, sustainable solutions to remineralise, restore fertility and increase an economic return.
Insulating the farm from drought and bush fires, with high plant diversity, with Dr Christine Jones
Dr Christine Jones describes in many of her lectures how growing a high-diversity of plant species, without tilling, can provide a level of insulation to the farm's grassland in times of drought. She says: "actively growing green plants support the microbes that create well-structured, friable topsoil with high nutrient status and high water-holding capacity". Many of her lectures are available to watch for free on YouTube, and they each go into varied depths on various subjects.
Christine likes to describe Australia to her audience as it was in the colonial days via the dairies of George Augustus Robinson written in the 1840s. In this video, she says that in those days the Victorian grasslands had gone for 90 days without rain, and in 37'C temperatures in February, the grass was still green and "luxuriant". There were carpets of colourful wildflowers. The soil was deep and soft, and one could easily push a stick 2 feet into the ground. She says that in those days "we had a hydrated landscape, that didn't burn..." In the colonial days grasslands had 300 - 400 different native plant species with a visible green colour in all directions. Today Victorian farms have little pasture left in February. Today many dairy farms have a monoculture of ryegrass... that is a single plant species, with perhaps some clover here and there...
Christine says that farmers are in control of what happens around plant roots, because they control what plants are there, and how they are managed. This video is just one of the many in which she describes what happens when green plants capture sunlight, and turn weathered rock minerals into fertile, high-water capturing topsoil. "Today the organic carbon content of most Australian topsoils is now 50 - 80% less than the original level." According to Agriculture Victoria, there are about 1,000 native grass species in Australia.
As a risk reduction strategy, raw dairy farmers have to take responsibility for the diversity in their paddocks. Stop being the victim; take action and start creating some level of resilience yourself. Also see the Cover Crop section in the Feed category for more ideas on how to increase plant diversity and soil fertility. Gabe Brown from North Dakota is one such a farmer who took responsibility by starting the process ten years ago, and he is now enjoying tremendous success and world-wide recognition as a pioneer. Keep reading...
Full scale biological restoration with a simple compost tea, with Dr Elaine Ingham
Dr. Elaine Ingham is an American microbiologist and soil biology researcher. In this video, Elaine describes how she discovered that returning microorganisms to the soil is related to soil fertility. She says that compost tea was first used as early as Babylon in Mesopotamia according to records uncovered. These records contain descriptions showing how to make compost, compost tea and then applying it out on cropping fields. Elaine also found more information from a Roman manual where they taught people how to farm; all of it was done using compost and compost tea. It's an ancient but highly successful method.
Elaine knows a lot about why farm profits lie in plant root depth. In this video, she explains the importance of allowing the biology in the soil to grow the root system as deep as possible; because it protects pastures from drought and preserves the farmer's sanity. She says that plants release 'exudates' for the specific purpose of attracting beneficial microorganisms to settle around the roots. Plants want microbes like fungi, protozoa and nematodes etc. close to their roots, because they protect them from disease, cycle nutrients and help to build structure in the soil. These exudates comprise mostly of simple sugars, and a little bit of protein and carbohydrates. Elaine describes that there is a lot of research that show when plants are grazed, they release a massive amount of exudates into the surrounding soil, which causes the microbes to respond and grow quickly. The various microbes then produce enzymes to pull nutrients out of the sand and organic matter, and actually store those nutrients inside of the microbes in extremely high concentrations. Other microbes and inhabitants of the soil, like earthworms, then feed off these microbes, and in this process the nutrients and minerals are released into the soil. This is the symbiotic cycle in which plants get access to the minerals, which is not available to them any other way. Elaine says this is the process in which plants access all the essential minerals they may need, in the proper balance. Plant diversity is important because plants release different exudates to stimulate microbes into releasing different nutrients. She also explains how giving plants nitrate fertiliser forces only one mineral on them, in extremely high concentrations, and it messes up the balance of what the plants need. She says nitrogen fertiser also kills the organisms that settle around the roots of plants. She says it destroys the structure of the soil, creating a situation where water doesn't infiltrate the soil and then runs off causing erosion, which leads to run-off of your topsoil into lakes and rivers. This is a disaster!
Compost tea - A genius solution for full scale biological restoration: In the video, Elaine also shows an example of how dead soil on a golf course was revived by the application of a compost tea. This compost tea used water to extract the microbes, which was grown in compost soon after microbial growth was stimulated, to get to work in the soil. Find her basic compost tea recipe here. In this video she tells the audience that compost is not a fertiliser, it is an inoculum (a substance used for inoculation). Homegrown compost of 21 days, is the source of massive amounts of diverse species, indigenous microbes that plants require to protect their root systems. It's not a difficult process, it is not going to cost a lot of money and you don't need a massive amount of compost for it to work. The video shows that in only a few short weeks there can be positive results in the form of significant plant root growth.
This is why vast underground networks of roots, can access vast amounts of nutrients to support regrowth quickly. This is also why farmers who want to produce RDM have to ensure that they ban agrochemicals that can potentially kill the microbes in the soil, from the farm. Without soil microbes, the plants cannot access essential nutrients, in the proper balance that they need. This is why biological farming is an essential risk reduction strategy to enable mineral-rich plants; that result in animals with excellent health and resistance to bacterial infection. When there is no biology in the soil, you're going to have diseases, pests, nutritional problems etc. It can be very helpful that raw dairy farmers learn how to identify if they have the right kind of microbial life in their soil.
Elaine's presentation also explains why it is important to practice managed grazing; to provide sufficient time to enable the plant to restore its nutrient cycle and keep the animals from over-gazing or killing it. If this nutrient-gathering capacity is stressed, you remove the mechanism by which the plants obtain water out of the depth of the soil, which is an essential function during drought.
In this video, Elaine explains how easy it is to purchase a microscope with a camera, then take her online microscope course, and in 24 hours you start to assess your own compost, if you wish to take it to that level. This is her American website: www.soilfoodweb.com with her online workshops that can be purchased.
Soil FoodWeb Institute is now part of an international group, visit the Australian site here: www.soilfoodweb.com.au. Books, audio and DVD's on how to make your own compost tea and also the microscopes are for sale via the Australian online store. They also provide workshops in Australia and a soil testing service.
Dr Elaine has helped thousands of people achieve quick results and many in Australia have already adopted her methods with success. This is a strategy that is proven to work and it reduces multiple risks for the farmer because it cultivates massive amounts of aerobic beneficial microbes.
Seeds coated in fungicide
Australia imports a large amount of vegetable seed and the organic community are alarmed by new proposed changes. The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources wants mandatory broad-spectrum fungicide treatment for certain plant species, including broccoli, cauliflower, radish and spinach. They hope for this to be part of biosecurity measures to be taken against certain fungal pathogens before seed are imported into Australia. The global vegetable seed market is dominated by a small number of multinational companies outside of Australia, and according to this article, their treatment (including fungicide coating) is already generally centrally coordinated at the company's key global facility. There are so-called benefits, but there are also huge risks not properly considered.
Frequent use of fungicides can lead to pathogen resistance. There is also concern about the the impairment of seedlings, who were previously coated in 'anti-fungal chemicals', to attract the microbes they need to their roots. How are these young plants to get a good start in life when they are surrounded by chemicals that kill mycorrhizal fungi? A lack of fungi in general means there is room for the bad ones to come in and dominate. The reason why plants release 'exudates' in the first place are to attract beneficial fungi and other microbes to protect its root system. Why kill the good guys and then watch the bad guys take over? In this video, Elaines provides the recipe to success.
Elaine explains why we need to make sure we have the organisms in the soil that will set up the habitat and conditions in the soil, that makes it impossible for the diseases, the insects, the pests, the problem organisms, the weeds to grow.
In this video, Gabe Brown explains that many herbicides chelates minerals so that plants cannot take them up. When plants cannot access these micro-nutrients they become prone to fungal diseases, creating the need for fungicide use. It may be necessary for farmers to find creative ways to mitigate or eliminate these risks altogether by creating resilience on the farm. Australia has to reconsider the elimination of agrochemical use all-together, create local seed banks instead and restore the beneficial aerobic microbes.
Dr Elaine Ingham recommends in some of her online videos, that seeds can be soaked in her compost tea recipe. She says coating them with the beneficial microbes they need will help to give them a good start in life. In this video, Elaine also explains to a farmer that elemental sulphur is a fungicide. She says that compost tea or humic acid will be more effective to restore soil biology and productivity.
New research now show that microbial pathways are the chief originator of the organic matter found in stable soil carbon pools. The new insight provides promise for designing agricultural systems that promote microbial communities to optimise soil organic matter formation. Soil organic matter is a massive reservoir for carbon and is also fundamental for plant growth and healthy agricultural systems.
Floods and the farming practises of neighbours
The raw dairy farmer farms for microbes. It starts with healthy soil, then healthy environment, then healthy animals. It produces an environment where beneficial microbes dominate and increase the safety of the end product, which is a live food. Farmers who are interested in converting to producing RDM will have to consider the location of the dairy. Low lying areas can be a risk. Both floods and the farming practices of neighbours can pose risks to this harmonious environment. Ask yourself the following. How would you class their farming operations: sustainable or unsustainable? Do you have a CAFO (confined animal feedlot operation) next door? Do they have manure lagoons and how are they managed? Are you downstream from them? Or perhaps in a vulnerable lower laying area? Are you at risk if their manure lagoon spills over into rivers and waterways? If this is the case, you may be at risk of receiving their contaminants or pathogens if there is a flood.
Mitigation of these hazards can be done in a variety of ways depending on the environment and the unique circumstances. If the dairy is at risk of the occasional extreme flood, it may need to be listed as a Critical Control Point on the RAMP food safety plan. Organic Pastures Dairy, who have been producing RDM since 1999, recently built a new dairy on a small hill with many benefits as effluent and water follow natural drainage channels away from the milking area.
Possible contaminants in the paddocks
It is a good risk reduction strategy for paddocks to be free from any contaminants like chemical or industrial waste from the start. There should be no dying animal carcasses or organic waste. If there is any feeding of animals away from clean pastures, these areas must be maintained clear of any build up of manure. The pastures should not be in close proximity to rubbish dumps, mines or CAFO's (concentrated animal feeding operations). Also the the section on fracking of farmland in the Water risk category.
Trees and shade as animal shelters
Is there enough trees in the paddocks to offer protection against the rays of the sun? Heat stress can be a risk to the health of cows, thus to the business as well. See this article about shade sails providing shade over a holding yard.
Another article by Welsh raw dairy farmer Alex Heffron explains the benefits of Silvopasture, which is the grazing of livestock amongst trees. Also, here is an interesting video on Silvopasture and Intensive Agroforestry by raw dairy farmer Geoffrey Steen from Homemade in Marshall Farm in North Carolina. The presentation begins in earnest at the 22 minute time marker. Are there very windy areas on the farm that can benefit from the planting of windbreaks to shelter animals?
Duke Plains in Southern Qld is a regenerative, biodynamic and organic agriculture case study showing that the soil improvement led to better pastures, improved ability of the soil to hold water and more trees. The taking of mitigation strategies to provide microclimates where the animals can retreat to in extreme weather can prevent problems before they ever emerge. For those who are interested in a deep immersion read raw milk advocate and soil scientist Josepth Heckman's The Role of Trees and Pastures in Organic Agriculture.
A biological ecosystem can be both profitable and sustainable
This article explains how agribusiness takes most of the profit out of farming with the cost of inputs. Regenerative agriculture is a great way to reduce the inputs and costs. It pushes up profitability. Pasture-raised animal products also has a higher value. Regenerative farming works in large-scale systems too.
1. Gabe Brown. This no-till veteran of Brown's Ranch in North Dakota put together a great presentation about his transformative journey of cultivating his farm from modern conventional use to a thriving living ecosystem. Through no-till and extensive cover crop usage, Gabe and his family are able to support a diverse array of farm enterprises, that are both profitable and sustainable. This video was included to help people get their head around the big picture and the profitability aspects.
- Minimise mechanical and chemical disturbance.
- Leave an “armor” on the soil surface.
- Increase plant diversity.
- Leave living roots in the ground as long as possible.
- Integrate animals and insects into the system.
Also see this video by Gabe to better understand the barriers to adopting soil health and regenerative agriculture management practises.
2. Will Harris owner of White Oak Pastures is another farmer with an amazing journey from industrial to regenerative farmer. He is so successful that he employs over 100 people, feeds his community and is creating rural regeneration, watch his amazing story here.
3. Dr. Elaine Ingham is an American Soil Microbiologist. She spoke about 'The Roots of Your Profits' and what makes soil productive at the Oxford Real Farming Conference in 2015 . She shows how you can take the principles and practical applications to reduce your costs, solve your problems, deal with the pests, the lack of soil fertility, how to hold the nutrients and water on farm etc. See the video here and the slides here. Dr. Elaine also believes that farm profits are in root depth. No fertilisers are required. In this video she explains how the dairy farmers in Camperdown, Victoria who converted to biological farming saved over $200,000 dollar in the first year and continued to save after that. She says that the vet is not required anymore because the animals are healthy, they don't need help calving, the cows produce more milk and higher quality, farmers don't have to buy the expensive pesticides or inorganic fertilisers and there are no weeds. She also explains that adding the compost tea when planting corn significantly increases yield.
4. Hunter Lovins helps farmers convert to regenerative farming for a living. Listen to the inspiring interview below.
The Art and Science of Grazing / Organic dairy farming
Livestock grazing consultant Sarah Flack from Vermont has written an excellent book about how grass farmers can create sustainable systems for healthy animals and farm ecosystems. She has also written three books about organic dairy production, more information here. Civil Eats recently published a beautiful article about her work:
"The essence of Flack’s advice is that farmers can use the very process of grazing animals to create healthier soil, more robust pastures, improved animal welfare, and a more financially sustainable operation. Though each farm is different, she promotes a few universal principles, such dividing pasture into paddocks—the more the better—and rotating animals through them. She also advises to graze animals in each paddock for a short period of time and vary the lengths of time each paddock is allowed to recover.
This approach keeps the plants from being grazed too short and gives them enough time to recover, yielding better, more nutritious feed and spurring the growth of more perennial forage. At the same time, the animals’ waste and the tramping action of their hooves helps enrich the soil. Farmers save time and money by having to do less tilling, seeding, and fertilizing of their fields and by having to buy less additional feed to support their livestock.
“It’s the only way I know of where we can actually use the animals to improve ecosystem health,” Flack says. “All of the other forms of livestock agriculture are, to at least a certain degree, mining the ecosystem of resources or relocating them in ways that are not healthy.”"
Pasture management is also discussed in the Feed and Cow Health categories.