Regen Ray: Hello Soil Lovers and welcome to another episode of Secrets of the Soil. I’m your host, Regen Ray and I’m really excited to dig deep in our soils today. I’m chatting to Tony Hill. Welcome to the show, Tony.
Tony Hill: All right. Great to be with you and congratulations on the show.
Regen Ray: Awesome. Thank you so much. I’m so excited to to explore the wonderful world of soil with you today. Can you share with our Soil Lover listeners who you are and your part that you play?
Tony Hill: Okay, so I’m Tony Hill. I’m executive chair of the Australian Holistic Management Cooperative. It’s a newly established cooperative of farmers, and it delivers the verification process for ecological health of farmland called Ecological Outcome Verification. And then we brand that with the Land to Market Australia branding so that we can communicate with consumers and businesses.
Regen Ray: Excellent. And I think you haven’t dreamed all this up overnight, like how long has this journey been? There’s all the moving parts. I know you’re creating some, you know, great events, and the verification is something I definitely want to dig deeper into. But what’s the length of this journey been like for you?
Tony Hill: So and when I started to get interested in this area, first was 2013. And in over the years there, I started to hear about all sorts of farmers who are doing wonderful stuff. But but this was a missing component. There was no component for actually verifying whether they were achieving the results that they wanted or communicating that out into the wider landscape as a kind of branding for products from their farms. So I convinced (?)that sort of idea myself in 2016. And then I found out very soon after that the Discovery Institute worldwide was working on a similar project. And so that’s how we got involved with their Land to Market and also the Ecological Outcome Verification. So that’s where it came from.
Regen Ray: Excellent. Excellent. And so you’ve mentioned the EOV , which is the acronym. What does that program look like? Why would any local farmers and growers or is it for anyone who’s a food producer who’s it designed for?
Tony Hill: And I really need a bit of intro music or a drum roll or something here that if you’ve got a kind of sound clip, you can play. But I do want to make a really strong point of this emphasis I don’t use this word lightly. But for the human race, being able to verify the ecological health of farmland is a breakthrough that’s never been possible before. Not at the level of resources that’s practical for lots of farmers to implement. And that’s the breakthrough of the EOV is that it started in such a way as that can give us robust measurement or monitoring of the ecological health of the farm and give us those robust numbers at the same time as being cost effective for farmers to to introduce. And let’s get right into it right up front. Under the co-op model, our farmers are paying nine hundred and ninety dollars a year as their membership of the coop, and then they’re paying something like another 1500 bucks annually for their monitorin And a lot of people, you know, will initially say to you, gee, that’s a serious money. We’ve got to make a decision about that. And I certainly agree that everybody’s going to make that decision to get into it. But compared to some of the other costs that are on the farm spending agenda, this is small money for what it delivers.
Regen Ray: Yeah. Yeah. And do you think it’s getting to the point where people are putting this verification on their branding, or is it more just an internal labeling verification? At this stage,
Tony Hill: a very colloquial term, Where did you get it? And so that Web page says exactly how some of our members are delivering their products out into the marketplace. And, you know, the great news is that we’re starting to get inquiries from consumers saying, I’d love to support this. I’d love to choose to spend my money in a way that’s going to help the ecological health of farmland and the planet. How do I do that? Where do I go and do I source my produce? And we’ve now got solutions emerging for those people.
Regen Ray: Absolutely excited, I think, the day that we can walk down an aisle and just know what’s happening behind the scenes of that product and, you know, verification certification. I want to dig a little bit on to the different meanings of that in a moment. But I also want to understand, like when someone signs up for this program and what are the things that you’re looking for in order to verify that they are looking for the outcomes of the ecological ecosystem.
Tony Hill: So there’s one fundamental technical concept here. And and we confront this day in, day out without really addressing it. The ecology of the planet is hugely complex. And so that’s why I use the term breakthrough before, because, you know, even though the brain has got, what is it, more cells than our planets in the universe or stars in the sky, the complexity of the human mind to thoroughly understand the complexity of ecology is not really matched up. We struggle with this a lot. You know, and one of the things that we love to do is draw lines on a map so that we can understand that this ecology is a bit different to that ecology. Nature knows no lines in the map. There are no lines. You know, it all merges at every point. So it’s all a gradation. And so for the human mind to understand that complexity is a big challenge. And that’s where ecological outcome verification is coming into the picture. It is now proven through refereed publications that EOV is at least as robust as any of the previous more resource intensive attempts to do this exercise. And typically, you know, in the space of one working day, we can get out on a farm. We can take the monitoring measurements that we need, come back, write the report and produce that for a farm in a meaningful way, you know, to be able to get your head around the complexity of the ecology of a farm and be able to report that back to the farmer in a limited amount of time is a huge achievement. And we only do this through accredited monitors and verify that. So they have to know what they’re doing in order to get that result and produce reliable results for the farmer and then for the consumers who are going to buy the product.
Regen Ray: Yeah, I love that. It really does tell that story and understanding right from paddock to plate and giving people a platform to understand it and even become curious. I think, you know, we live in a world where a lot of people don’t know what they don’t know. And one of the missions with this podcast is just to shed light on the world underneath our feet. And, you know, it’s always been out of sight and out of mind. It’s very easy just to grow a carrot, a carrot. But when you start understanding what actually is a carrot, who grew it, what was their intention to grow that carrot? Was it coming from abundance or scarcity? All these things matter in the world that we living in today. And I’m really excited to to continue in and shed light on this verification program. I know that sometimes people have fallen a little bit worried that, you know, the regenerative space may get all these labels and certifications and ticks and stars and all these other things that then creates consumer confusion. What’s your thought on keeping that time? And do you feel that maybe the regenerative space and the ecology verification may, you know, fall into too much red tape and confuse people if we don’t keep it tight?
Tony Hill: I just I just want to be a little bit naughty and not directly aanswer that question that you’ve asked me, because I want to say something that’s really important leading to that, and that is this ecological outcome for verification produces a double whammy for the farmers. The thing that it delivers is like having an extra feed source on their paddock. And I’ve heard some of these these things quite aggressively. So it’s like you went out and bought another farm. Has the ecology, the ecological engine that’s driving your production, to have that working better is like going out and buying more land, but at no cost other than the monetary costs. So that’s one side of the whammy. The second side of the whammy this is the huge one, is that consumers can get into the act of repairing and improving and regenerating the ecological health of the planet to deal with some of those huge problems, whether it’s floods and droughts, mega fires. And I’ll even include pandemics in that list, because they are all evidence of ecological failure in one way or another. And all the results of management decisions that collectively we’ve been making as a human race. So I’m not fingering any individuals here. I’m just saying collectively as a human race. Absolutely. You know, there’s room to improve that. Okay. So having said that, having emphasized the double whammy of the benefits to the farmer and also this huge capacity now for consumers to get into the act to repair the planet through choosing what products they buy from farms, that’s a huge achievement. Now, the question you asked me was,
Regen Ray: are we going to mess it up by creating too many different you know, I don’t want to compare, but I feel like a lot of consumers have lost trust in, say, made in Australia, all the organic certifications, because there’s too many no one knows what what means. Some farmers can’t play in the game because it’s too expensive to get started. But yet their products are more organic than actually organic. So when we create this confusion, there is inaction and people start losing trust. You know, I think made in Australia is a big example. They’re trying to push so many people to build trust in it again. And people humans are going to create shortcuts and try and create loopholes, I guess. You know, how do you get something made in Australia or where you bring things in as parts? You just pull the plug here in Australia now it’s made in Australia. What where does the consumer get the the trust? And are you worried that we’re going to have too many verification programs, like how do we keep that tight? You know, and
Tony Hill: so many and trust, you know, you’re absolutely right to finger trust in this equation. And in in so many ways, trust has been lost. You know, a lot of people have lost trust in our political leadership. Absolutely. You know, they want the political leaders to act. They want. And and I think what people are maybe missing here is that there’s every potential for consumers individually to make their own decisions about this and do something that will really make a difference. And that’s where we need to build that trust. We need people to understand and trust that when they make certain decisions, it will really have the benefits that they’re seeking and they can play a genuine role in this. And one of the positive signs here is that all sorts of businesses, from small to quite large, are starting to take an interest in this area. You know, and I’ve got a few examples that we allowed of businesses that have tried to move into this space because they can start to see the level of interest that will emerge from customers, you know, and they’re thinking, you know, as as businesses always do, they are thinking if we can capture these space, if we can capture the consumer attention, if we can take part of that kind of market territory and have it to ourselves early, then we’ll be ready for when the consumers come in there and start to spend their money. And so we’ll make more money for our business. The problem is that there hasn’t been any accepted principles behind this. And so every business has started to solve the problem in its own way. And so many have gone down to say their vacation or accreditation role, which has been misleading because it’s missed out on that crucial point. What is the ecological outcome?
Regen Ray: Yeah, I love that, because, you know, I worry being in this space and seeing a lot of the moving parts and the principles of of rigidity is that we don’t want to pigeonhole and say, look, if you’re going to disturb your soil by tilling that’s a bad thing, you lose your accreditation because maybe one that season tilling makes sense for the ecological stability of the farm and the farmer and the community. And that’s why, you know, for me, I feel like we’re regenerative more at the human soul level once we ingrain that into our being. It’s very easy to practice regenerative and might be that one day you need to do something that doesn’t align with the principles. But that’s because you’re looking at the long term outcome, not just that technique. And so now.
Tony Hill: Right. I’m going to dive in there. Yeah. And I don’t know if your listeners are expecting a bit of colour and movement in this podcast, but are they going to get some at the moment,
Regen Ray: Let’s take them on a journey?
Tony Hill: For me, the way in which you describe that raised actually what is the problem? And so you went straight to a farming management practice. You know, should we till or shouldn’t we till ? No. And I know there’s a lot of debate in the farming community about how tilling should be used, if at all. So, you know, absolutely, that’s a controversial issue, but it’s a management practice question. And so how do we tell, as you raised the question there, how do we tell the difference between the practices that have less tillage or have more tillage? And how do we know the answer to that? You know, do we do we walk up to the farmer’s door and go, did you till once in the last decade or do we go? Did you till twice in the last season, you know, do we have our people there and. Well, it was only once in the last year I came back twice in the last year. And I’m sorry you missed out. You know, all of that management practices stuff is front of mind for for farmers, but it’s far too complex for an effective debate with the consumer landscape. They need something that’s much more straightforward than that, because what consumer, when they’re trying to do their weekly shopping, is going to have the time to kind of read a textbook on whether this farmer has done it this way or that way. You know, so they need some assurance that that it’s going to be working. And so that gets to the heart of the question here. Should we go down the road of accreditation and certifications? Some of those has been popular in the past, or should we go down the verification road? And I think that’s that’s the most fascinating question.
Regen Ray: Yeah. And time will tell. And I think you use cases is what would really create and I support the like educating the consumer. I threw around once going, you know, maybe it’s not the farmers we need to verify. Maybe we just need to have smarter buyers, smarter consumers, you know, certified consumers. You know, let’s empower the people to make better conscious decisions. Let’s bring it to the grass roots. And, you know, it is that bottom up approach that excites me. And that’s why I mentioned off the mike before that I’m bumping into friends that are talking about the way the plants work and that it’s give and take and that, you know, plant matter grows because it’s taking minerals out of the e air, not just out of the soil. You know, so when when we started to have these conversations at dinners and out in the streets like that, that excites me because it means that people are realizing that there’s more more to this to the system.
Tony Hill: And so and that’s that’s been the hard thing for the farmers and the whole community to realize that there is a lot of power and capability in nature and in natural ecosystems. That’s that is amazing team, you know, but but nobody’s written the end of this book yet. The reason why we should have trust in is, is that, you know, by some miracle or rather, you know, we’ve got four point six billion years of history that tells us that it works. Now, whether it’s going to continue to work with the humans as part of the picture or not, that’s that’s a iive question. And we need to do something to try and ensure that that we survive as part of a broader ecological picture. And farmland can make such a huge difference to this. And in fact, it gets down to the grazing. So here’s the controversial issue. Are animals actually helping or hindering this planetary health. And I think it’s a huge distraction for everybody to think that the burping and farting of cows is actually the main game in terms of global warming. You know, cows, ruminants have been burping and farting for a very long time based on their natural diet. You know, maybe they were a bit more or a bit less. I’ve seen some some figures that are out there about the feedlot diets and so forth. Maybe it’s been a bit more, a bit less, but it certainly hasn’t by the evidence of of thousands of years of evolution hasn’t been an influence on the climate. There have been other factors in there. And so if we can get healthy ecosystems to work across the vast landscape, that can only be applied to grazing, then we’ve got a chance at doing something about these planetary problems. That’s the way it works. And so, you know, whatever decision is made by individual farmers about the management of their land and the enterprises that they run on that and we’ll have a huge impact on where we end up in this in this debate about about planetary health. And and if you don’t believe me about this, you know, here’s another acronym for everybody to digest. It’s our OECD Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. It’s the club of the rich countries around the world very focused on economic activity, came out with a post pandemic recovery plan that talked about ecosystem health. And in fact, it specifically mentions safeguarding biodiversity as one of the mechanisms to protect us against future pandemics. So, you know, it’s great to have vaccines. I hope the vaccines work well. I hope the community gets out a lot and I hope all that stuff. But I would much rather be playing on a much more stable playing field for the future so that we can avoid some of these stuff through healthy ecosystems.
Regen Ray: Yeah, 100 percent. The whole prevention over cure mentality definitely needs to be spoken a little bit more. I see this a lot in the farm management space as well. You know, we have bushfire relief funds, but there’s no bushfire preventative funds. You know, there’s no one incentivized to get that money to do proactive things. You know, they might have some funds for back burning and things like that. And there’s all these arguments around that as well. But it’s like where’s all the funding to prevent all these catastrophic stuff happening? We are such a responsive afterthought kind of group of people on the planet at the moment. So anything that gets us to think of the bigger picture. And that’s what I’ve really enjoyed about being in this space, is that that that hope that I can hold onto that the plants we grow in today will see a future. And I just want to highlight the point you made before that really hit a heartstring for me, which was we have the choice right now to to write the future. What what is the future, the history later on. And I think that’s a really key point, because we are at that pinnacle point now where things could go either way. And if we work together, we have the way of writing that story. You know, the ending can be as magical or as doomed as we want. So with seven point eight billion people on the planet right now, if everyone did one thing that’s seven point eight rhythms of action every single day, compounding it gives me goose bumps thinking about it, you know? So power of the people is there. We don’t have to wait for things to be legislated. We don’t have to wait for things to become scientifically proven, like if it feels right, do it. You know, it’s so frustrating sometimes, you know, farmers going, oh, this feels like the right thing I should be doing, but show me the science or show me the data. It’s like you become the data. You you create science. You know, if we wait for everyone else to do it, we’ll never do anything.
Tony Hill: And part of my background, I actually spent 20, 20 years working for the Australian government. So I saw a lot of stuff about how government policy is made in Australia. And that’s one thing that influenced me strongly to say, you know, we’ve just got to get a group of people out here do this straight away. Let’s do it under the co-op model so that all the farmers are looking after the process and owners. And then we’ll go and talk direct to the consumers and say there is actually you can take right now. And all of those collective decisions will make a huge difference to where we go in the future. No doubt about it.
Regen Ray: No doubt about it. I’m here with you all the way. So as a farmer who gets involved in this verification program, what are some of the benefits that they can see? It feels good. They’re looking at the ecology. Are they able to charge more for their product? Are they getting credits for some sort? Are they able to look at natural capital on their bottom lines? What is some of the benefits of being through this verification program?
Tony Hill: It’s very hard for humans to get their head around the complexity of what ecosystems are. And and there’s been some fantastic work done by volunteers and philanthropists to try and defend various aspects of the environment over the last few decades. The community, I think, you know, now has that awareness. I know that the environment’s important, but but it’s still lacking in that kind of understanding. And and for any human to understand the complexity of this, these ecosystems is very hard. Allan Savory, through his holistic management framework, has given us some tools which we can use to get our head around this. And so we’re not just making singular decisions, we’re making any decisions that we make in the context of everything else that we need to consider. It’s the holistic view. It’s a very important thing. Holistic is has been picked up by a number of people and used it in a very lightweight way. But this is serious use of that word, holistic. So when we decide to do this or that theme, take this or that management decision, we can take it in the context of what the effects are going to be, you know, holistic sense. And we can think about the planet at the same time as we’re thinking about our local environment. That’s a very important start. From the ecosystems point of view. Allan’ s also given us a neat way of thinking about ecosystems and broken into four categories:water cycle, mineral cycle, energy flow and community dynamics. They’re not separate. They’re just neatly categorized so that we can easily get our head around. Hmm. Obviously, if you don’t provide a supply of water and food to your pet cat or dog, what’s going to happen? Not going to be. They’re going to be very sick and probably going to die. And your neighbour’s probably going to bring in the RSPCA around to deal with it. But, you know, while it’s very good to look after the health of furry animals and particular species and try and defend against extinctions, that’s a very worthwhile thing to do. It doesn’t necessarily answer the question of what about the majority of life forms on this planet. And so my communication with farmers is always when you’re looking at the four legged livestock’s, it’s walking around in your paddock. The actual biomass of those four legged creatures is minuscule compared to the biomass that’s actually on your farm. And most of the biomass and certainly the bulk of the biodiversity. So the multiple species is living in the soil. Now. If I was to deny water or deny food to my livestock. Same thing would happen in the animal welfare people, the inspectors, the regulators would all be on my doorstep saying, Tony, why are you doing those nasty things to those animals? That’s an animal welfare question. If I do the same thing to small organisms that are living in my soil, nobody turns up to check on me. Nobody asks me that question. Did you deny them water? Did you not deny them food in the form of carbon? You know, and those life forms will suffer just as the four legged ones do as well. And that that’s where we have to get an understanding and a more holistic view of our perspective. Some people characterized this as saying if the farmers look after their pastures then the pastures will look after their farm. That’s a really nice way of looking at it. And so it’s all about how those pastures operate in a healthy ecosystem process.
Regen Ray: Tony, you’ve just so beautifully articulated this is exactly, I hope, all the Soil Lovers out there can understand why I’ve become so addicted in learning so much more about the soil, because exactly what you just articulated there is what got me so hooked into this space to go There is so much life under our soil and so much so that as a company we now have our avatar as the soil. We don’t care about what who it is above the ground. It is a living organism. We kept thinking about, do we serve the farmer? Do we serve the grower? No, we serve the soil. That’s our avatar. It is a living organism. And so that’s what we wake up, wake up and serve every day. And we want more people to catch this and do something with it, learn how the soil operates and realize that monoculture and supporting a massive soy farm is actually doing so much more damage to the life on our planet. And it’s not helping the bigger picture when we start looking at things holistically. And I personally am also doing the holistic management course because I want to start looking at the many parts that make the whole and say, if I do X here, what’s the ripple effect all the way down the stream? That’s the holistic view, because putting an input on your farm might solve your problem, but it creates a problem for the farmer, the bird, the worm, the bug, the river, the oceans. So who’s looking and monitoring that? And even far beyond, you know, weather patterns have changed, humidity or managed,
Tony Hill: you know, or maybe to be quite topical. What about the reef?
Regen Ray: Yes, that’s right. Yup. It’s a very topical thing at the moment. I do believe that this week they’re talking about putting it on the endangered list. You know, people don’t realize that the many small little things, it’s like, oh, that’s OK. It’s just one input on my farm. But lots of farmers in one area that run off because we’re not holding anything on our farms anymore, is completely going into the waterways and causing havoc. You know, I was talking to someone the other day saying that they saw platypus in the river and they hope that it’s there next week because one spray of something on another farm upstream is going to kill it. You know, and like, where’s the empathy of that? So. You know, I think this is one of the messages I want to really bring home is that you might think you’re doing something by and like your like there needs to be an RSPCA that focuses on the soil that rocks up to a farm and says, hey, you’re killing the organisms under the ground. We’re going to put a halt to your operation the same as we do with four legged furry friends.
Tony Hill: I’ll make a bit of a confession at this point. Do so. And it’s an area where I feel kind of underqualified to be talking about this. And I’m just noting by looking at your face on the screen, that to a large extent, you know, this is an old white guy talking to a younger white guy. And and there’s an amazing amount of indigenous knowledge out there which potentially we could access if we had only the will and maybe some of the mechanisms to do so. But one of the principles that I’m starting to get very interested in is the way in which indigenous people, when it’s been on multiple continents, but particularly Australia, have had the association with the land. And and I was brought up at a time when my understanding of Australia’s indigenous people was that they were kind of maybe even less than human savages with a very limited kind of capacity to deal anything with the land. This all got back to, you know, a kind of conflict of belief systems, religion. And and, you know, I was never given any chance to have respect, for instance, for for belief systems that may be described as animism. And what I’ve been hearing from parts of the indigenous discussion in Australia is that, you know, it’s not the people that come first. It’s the land that comes first and the people. You know, I just heard this phrase again the other day. You know, there’s never a concept in that culture of land ownership. Yeah. It’s actually reverse the procedure and the land is owning the people. Yep. Every part of the land as a personality has an entity, has a belief system, even saying those words. I find so difficult because, you know, compared to my cultural mindset that I’ve inherited from kind of living in my own society for so long. I find it very hard to respect that view of the world. But I do know one thing, that if we were able to treat every element of an eco system of our geo physical space of our land, as if it had the same rights as people, we would have a huge amount more respect for the land. That would be a wonderful thing.
Regen Ray: iAbsolutely. And I see evidence of that moving more and more in the right direction. I agree with you being a white male also, but I have also been quite interested in going where is this gap in my education that I didn’t learn. And I will, you know, drop a name here Yarn Australia dot com. So Yarn Australia, Google that . They run monthly workshops. And that’s a space that I’ve been hanging out in to self educate because I can’t rely on someone else to talk to me about this stuff. I want to hear it firsthand. And so it is about being proactive. We’ve had guests on on our virtual classrooms talking about how they’re getting their local indigenous tribe to help with their farm plan. You know, even to the point where some of the land is free to use for the local tribe to bring back their native and indigenous ways of living and observing and and cross pollinating their way to our way and old ways and new ways and seeing where that happy balance is. So I really am hopeful and really love seeing that these initiatives are happening and Yarn Australia is all online and virtual. You can join from anywhere in Australia and sit with elders and hear their conversations and hear their songs and see their dances and hear the stories and really learn about what happened with reconciliation. And maybe it was a little bit of smoke and mirrors and not a lot of walk has come from all that talk, you know, and and it’s been really, really eye-opening for me. And I, you know, honor the fact that you acknowledge that and say that we are not experts. We’re all doing the best we can and we’re trying to do the right thing to rewrite that that those same chapters.
Tony Hill: I think there’s a lot of room for the word respect in this and respect of the knowledge, respect of the people, but more importantly, respect of the land. You know, that is a place where I think we really need to go now compared to that very grand vision. You know, in Australia, you know, is it is it white people trying to get in touch with 60000 years, 120000 years of cultural knowledge and experience with a landscape that we only just arrived in a couple of hundred years ago, you know? Is it about that having having looked at that grand vision, what we actually do in Ecological Outcome Verification has been brought to such a manageable level that it sounds quite simple. And and that’s kind of a nice feature, but it’s also a difficult feature. So right now, we’re sitting on a position where EOV is operating in five out of six states of Australia. We’re getting close to about 50 farms that are members of this. And and we’ve developed formal linkages. We’ve now 11 market partners and many of them are taking the produce off these farms. So a lot of those mechanisms are now in place. We need to move to a new level of operations. You know, why is it 50 farmers, not a 100 farmers or a thousand farmers or 10000 farmers? You know, how can we go there? How can we get enough resources and enough commitment to this to give us the base to go there? Now we’re working hard on all that kind of thing. We just kind of sitting here wondering what’s going to happen next when we’re trying to come up with some plans in my work with our members to do that. And one of the things that we’re doing is recruiting a new cohort of of monitors for our EOV. And so we take people in that situation who have already a reasonable foundation to build off. But still, those people need to take a mental journey in order to be able to produce good results from the protocol that we’ve got. So so there’s a learning process and then there’s an apprenticeship process. We’ve already done that on a small scale with a few people already. And and the success of those people now working it out in the farm landscape with the farmers has been huge. It’s been really appreciated . And our monitoring events are something special. When the farmer gets in touch with some of the details that we need to see to understand what this is all about, so so that it’s starting to work well, but we really need to scale up and do this on a much wider scale. And I think every farm, basically is an ecological health agency for the nation, for the people and for the planet.
Regen Ray: So for anyone listening, where can I go to find out more about this? Is it the Land to Market website?
Tony Hill: lnYeah, there’s a lot of stuff on the land to market website. The actual details of the ecological outcome verification protocol are public. There’s a nice introductory document which is on the Savory Institute website, which people might not be used to this website address, but it’s Savory.Global and you can find links there to Land to Market EOV certification. That’s the intellectual core of what we are doing. The activities of what we are doing in Australia are much better described on Land to Market.com.au which is our website. We managed to escape the COVID chopper over the last 12 – 18 months. We had originally planned to hold a major conference with international participation in March 2020 a week and a halfout from lockdown and we just could not go ahead with that event. We were very fortunate that Australia had that window of opportunity earlier this year and we managed to get our conference to happen and the great news is that all that knowledge from the conference is now available via ? of all the presentations from the conference day on our YouTube channel. So people can access information there and see a bundle of different perspecties.
Regen Ray: I’m glad you brought that conference up, because that’s actually a conference that I managed to a/ttend one of my first physical events after the Covid saga. And I made a little video on YouTube explaining the excitement of actually being in a room. I’m curious, because I know that you’ve been in the space for a little while. What has been the change in participants and the talking of regenerative that you’ve seen over the years? Because I know this year it was a very jam packed house, which was really nice to see. Have you got any pattern data to see the change?
Tony Hill: So the one of the ideas that we had behind that conference was to let people make up their own minds about regenerative. And so we understood who a lot of the key voices were in that debate. And we put them all on that program. So we’ve captured that information now. And we’re gradually going to make it available for free to anybody who wants to listen. But anybody who wants literacy about the regenerative journey, you know, they can use that resource now to help to go on that journey. The challenge has been in the regenerative space is that people have come to regenerative agriculture with the same mindset that they had previously. And this goes back to that kind of constraint of the mind of the human mind, of every human mind. A human mind just loves categories. We know and understands stuff that we can’t categorise, you know. How do you understand the car market except by brands and models? You know, you’ve got to categorize it. But you know that if you walk into a dealership, you know, you can auction your car and this car won’t be the same as that, even though it’s the same model that the same brand and so forth. So. So we love these categories. And we’ve tried to bring categorization to the subject of regenerative agriculture And the field is very poor, just doesn’t work very well. And so what we need to do now is move on from this categorization process. And unfortunately, even though organic production was very popular and registered in the consumer mind, and there was even quite a solid debate about the sort of price premiums that consumers were prepared to pay for organic produce, it was still based on this categorization approach. It was a checklist of practices that you could or couldn’t perform. Some of them, you know, I’m not arguing with them. Some of them might have been good. Maybe they were. Maybe they weren’t. Maybe they made it easy for the farmer. Maybe. But regenerative is a different animal. It’s completely different to that situation, and it needs a completely different approach. Lorraine Gordon, I credit Lorraine from Southern Cross University with being able to describe these very well. And she talks about why verification is the appropriate mechanism for regenerative agriculture, and that’s because of the complexity of the ecosystems that we’re trying to deal with. Those ecosystems are always moving ground. And, you know, there is no kind of Ford factory, you know, mass production system that works on a farm. Things change day to day, week to week, minute to minute, season to season. And farmers have to be free to keep up with those changes. They have to be monitoring those changes, ecological outcome verification with its robust monitoring can help them do that. But effectively, they’ve got to have the freedom to do that. So if your (?client changes) to them and say you can’t move beyond this boundary, you’ve suddenly put a straitjacket and a constraint on them that will conflict with the health of the ecosystems. So verification is definitely the way to go.
Regen Ray: Yeah. And I love the fact that you’ve spoken about mindset, because my observation in this space and coming from the tech business marketing entrepreneur kind of background, I see the mindset thing being the biggest challenge. You know, it’s not necessarily sometimes whether people want to go rigidity, but it’s more about like can they start viewing the world differently to start applying those principles. And that’s why in the start of the conversation, I said it starts as being a regenerative human , a regenerative soul, because that’s the mindset shift that we need to see the principles get accelerated. And not not that checklist, you know, the yes or no checkbox just yes. Humans love checklists, but it doesn’t work for nature and it’s not going to give us the best possible outcome for this movement. I want to get your take on the word regenerative, because there’s a bit of confusion around what that actually means. And maybe it’s nice that we haven’t defined it on an official website. But what’s your take on the word regenerative?
Tony Hill: I start from a very simple proposition that regenerative is about making things better. The important thing about the discussion here is that regenerative, the discussion about regenerative moves us on from the word sustainable, sustainable, became popular, became an idea if we could sustain things, you know, we wouldn’t go too bad . Problem was that we were already a bit bad and we were already having some problems. So if we just sustained the problems, we just perpetuated them, we actually have to get in and improve things to make it make it better. And so that’s where I start from on the regenerative concept, is that you have to work at making things better. But, you know, we’ve now found from our experience with ecological outcome verification that you can do this on a practical basis and you can get a metric for regenerative. You can assess whether the ecological health is improving. There’s one key underlying principle of ecology that, you know, is more observed in the breach than it is in the respect. And that is that everything’s connected to everything else. Even going out and measuring something is actually part of the action, you know? And, you know, physicists will tell you all about that. But in this situation, we go out and measure 15 indicators on an annual basis. And those indicators have been carefully chosen. Some other indicators that could have been used have been discarded because they were either duplicates or kind of telling us the same information or because they were too resource intensive. But the proof of the pudding is in the editing. We can now get robust measurement out of these 15 indicators. And so we can tell a farmer. site by site and for an aggregate of their whole farm whether the ecological health of their farmland is improving or not. And what that speaks to is whether that the underlying ecosystem processes that drive their production are working or not. And one of the crucial eco system processes is the way in which photosynthesis works in green living plants to capture solar energy and use that energy to convert carbon dioxide into the sugars that are the mechanisms of the mechanism metabolism of the plants. You know, that’s absolutely a crucial factor, that the more solar energy we can capture, the better that system works, the more carbon dioxide those plants will take from the atmosphere and they will store it in the soil where it becomes food for soil life and they i will store it in the body of the plants, which then could stay there. If it’s a tree or if it’s a grass, it could get eaten by a herbivore and convert it into something else. It’s all a cycle and it works really well if we can do it better. But while we maintain and this is a key indicator, while men maintain on this planet areas that arebare soil they are an opportunity lost, and that’s an area where we are not capturing sunlight. We’re not putting it to useful purpose. We’re not generating life on the planet, and we’re aiding, in many ways, global warming.
Regen Ray: Yeah, I love that. And doing the holistic management process myself, the you know, one of the things that I saw, one of the videos is that at every opportunity that you can turn bare soil to to leaf, that’s a positive movement. And the only way that two leaves can become three. Another positive movement. You know, and I just thought that was such a simple thing that anyone that can see bare soil, pop a plant there, throw some seeds there, let nature germinate something there so that way there are those green solar panels capturing the energy and putting it to good use, not just creating …
Tony Hill: iI did this experiment just outside of my back door. And when we bought this particular house, the area just off a veranda was kind of like pretty much bare soil to kind of like a bit of a gravel area beyond that to avoid getting vehicles stuck they put some gravel area. And I was just desperate not to have the bare soil there anymore. So I wanted to plant a lawn. I planted the lawn just outside our back door and that lawn has flourished. It’s gone well. And then I took my thermometer out one sunny day and I compared some territory and so part of the lawn had become bare drt And so I measured the temperature reflected off the grass. Right. And then I measured the contrasting temperature of the gravelled area that was next to it. And it’s dark colored gravel. So, you know, you think it’d be pretty good for achieving. heat, and I got something of the order of 18 degrees centigrade difference between the grass and the gravel. But you’ll never guess what happened with the bare soil. In amongst the grass, there was a patch of baresoil. What was the temperature on that bare soil?
Regen Ray: Share with us. Hotter It would have to be hotter.
Tony Hill: It was the same as the gravel.
Regen Ray: Yes, right. So just one small little patch.
Tony Hill: Yup, just one patch of bare soil. Even though it was in the middle of a lawn was was not absorbing solar energy, it was reflecting it and creating a hotter climate. Now, you know, we talk a lot about emissions in the climate debate. But solar radiation off bare soil is a very important factor as well.
Regen Ray: And that’s baking the soil, killing all the organisms and, you know, drying up all the water, the moisture that’s there, like it’s it’s breaking so many cycles, so many different little mini ecosystems there. You know, the carbon cycle, the water cycle, it’s all getting disturbed just because that bare soil is there. So cover your soils, everyone. That’s the message. Tony, it’s been absolutely a pleasure chatting with you today. I think we could talk about these for days and days. I love soil. Hopefully you can tell.
Regen Ray: One of the questions that I really would love you to answer is if you were the voice of our soils, what would you tell us here on planet Earth?
Tony Hill: uI would say that soil is a living organism. And it needs to be cared for in the same way as any other living organism. If we don’t understand. The difference between dirt and soil and that difference being the life in the soil, and we’re never going to be able to care for soil, so. So as the voice of soil, I would say, treat me like your pet cat or goldfish, whatever, whatever your favorite pet is, and make sure you keep me healthy by supplying me with the appropriate elements for my life and my thriving life. Those elements are basically water and food. Water, it comes because of precipitation. And I just went through a really nice presentation of of how we might deal with droughts preparing ourselves. But one of the crucial ways to prepare ourselves for a drought and it doesn’t matter whether you imagine managing a million hectares or a backyard, making sure that the surface of that soil is amenable to to the precipitation that falls and that precipitation can enter the soil and and support the life forms that are in it, both the plants and the animals. It is absolutely crucial. The food actually comes from carbon. Most of it, the minerals play a role, too, but the carbon works its way from the atmosphere through the plants, either as litter or (inaudible) And that will feed the life in the soil. If we can look after the water in the food for the life in our soil, we will have a hugely healthier planet. And I think it’s for a healthier community.
Regen Ray: I love that. On that note, let’s wrap things up, Tony. It’s been so great digging deep into soils and sharing all your knowledge and wisdom and experiences with our soil lovers and listeners today. Tony, how can people hang out with you more? Where can I find details about you?
Tony Hill: If you like social media, get involved in our and our Facebook group, Land to Market Australia. That’s actually a closed group. So you have to kind of be approved to join it. But once you’re in it, then you can share your thoughts. And we often post our current events there. Watch out for more Farming Matters events. They’ll be great. But I guess the crucial point is that if you’re a farmer and you’re serious about this, then become a member of our co-op, get yourself, involved in ecological outcome verification. By all means, send me an email and I’m happy to send you all the information.
Regen Ray: Awesome.All the links will be around the video or in the show notes. So thank you very much, Tony, for hanging out with us and talking all things about soil. Yeah, thank you very much.
Tony Hill: Terrific, Ray. Great to be sharing these ideas with you.
Regen Ray: Excellent. Well, thanks all soil lovers, hopefully you’ve learned some more secrets of the soil. Make sure that you’re getting outside and digging deeper into your soil.