9 June 2019

Lance Gillespie: What do a farmer and an 83-year old retired sports turf contractor have in common?

Lots!

The farmer and this man (let’s call him Geoff) met through a mutual connection, we both have a desire to improve soil health. Up until 2010, Geoff was a sports turf contractor working on our country’s top rugby stadiums and fields, and on most of the top golf courses north of Taupo.

Geoff was introduced to an article that I wrote last year titled ‘Life on Land’. This was part of Narrative Imperative’s Aotearoa’s Sustainable Development Goal Story-telling Initiative.

To Geoff there are many similarities between the challenges that he faced in the sports turf world and the journey that many of us are facing today as we transition from conventional farming methods to regenerative agriculture.

What he experienced on golf fairways were hydrophobic soils, drought intolerance, poor soil structure, heavy chemical fertiliser inputs, poor soil aeration, along with soils with low filtration rates, poor root penetration and ultimately no active soil biology.

Today we chatted over a cuppa and chocolate brownie – Geoff and his wife Lorna (a couple of retirees, road-tripping around the North Island) and a farmer from Apiti. We talked about soils, minerals, aeration, activating soil biology and the missing link which has to be activating the mycorrhizal fungi. The term mycorrhiza refers to the role of the fungus in the plant’s rhizosphere, its root system. Mycorrhizae play important roles in plant nutrition, soil biology and soil chemistry (source: Wikipedia). This was the second time in 5 days that the word mycorrhizal fungi had come up for me. On Monday I was out with a farm forester and he was also talking of its importance in tree establishment.

As the conversation started to unfold it occurred to me that Geoff was many years ahead of his time. In his career he had been searching through the same questions, looking at exactly the same issues that we are searching the answers for today.

There was a proud moment for me today as we chatted, and I was able to share with Geoff that there is a global movement sweeping the world and making its way slowly to New Zealand shores. The regenerative agriculture movement is gaining momentum and change is occurring. Geoff’s concerns were being put to rest. He said in our conversation, “although I am aging, I am hoping to see major changes and believe the younger generations, in particular the millennials, are now closing in on the vital importance of healthy food.”

At the age of seventy-something, Geoff gave a presentation at a soil conference entitled, “The Occurrence of Hydrophobic Soils in Golf Course Fairways and its Management and Control.” The following is an extract that expresses the importance of life in the soil from Geoff’s presentation:

Robust microbial life in the soil creates the humus that facilitates water infiltration and storage. This provides stable food sources and disease protection for turf, pore space for worms, water and root systems.

It was a revelation for Geoff to hear from me that regenerative agriculture has a significate role to play in slowing down climate change on a global scale, and that we can combat climate change by sequestering carbon from the atmosphere and putting it back into the soil. I also shared with Geoff the basic principles of regenerative agriculture:

  • Minimize or eliminate tillage.
  • Protect the soil. Keep it covered at all times.
  • Biodiversity. We need multiple pasture species.
  • Integrate livestock into the mix.

We continued our conversation, talking about mineral balancing, activating the microbial community, improving soil health – all of which leads to producing a nutrient dense food for our livestock and ultimately feeding the human race with nutrient dense food.

I was able to share that millennials are searching for answers too, for it was a millennial that encouraged me to write the ‘Life on Land’ article.

I shared with Geoff some stories of the many people doing great work around the world:

Zach Bush, MD, and his crusade to educate the human population about the food we consume. He says we can improve soil health and this ultimately leads the human race down the path to a better wellbeing:

Damon Gameau with his vision for the year 2040. His documentary 2040 takes you on an aspirational journey to discover what the future could look like by the year 2040 – if we simply embraced the best solutions that exist today:

Nicole Masters of Integrity Soils, for her passion and enthusiasm to educate land managers, farmers and ranchers throughout New Zealand, Australia and North America.

These are just a few examples of what’s happening on a global scale.

Our time spent today was over way too fast. I was left with no doubt that we would continue our discussions again soon. For me to chat, share information, and learn from the wise has been the highlight of my week. To meet someone of his generation with the same passion and interests as me has been inspiring.

Geoff left our place today with a greater understanding of what we in the regenerative agricultural community are doing. It gave him renewed hope, knowing that the journey we are on is in good hands. We are the generation setting our sights on restoring the global food supply chain while taking action on climate change.

Geoff emailed me later in the day with some words of support and encouragement and a quote to leave me with. He found this many years ago and believes it to be a Chinese proverb:

Lance Gillespie – June 2019

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