Results may not come immediately, but the financial and environmental returns on an investment in re-gen ag are worth the wait.
ticle Credit - Pip Courtney & Kerry Staight (ABC).
A growing number of farmers are rejecting modern agricultural practices, instead relying on more natural methods to improve their land and increase biodiversity.
Queensland banana growers Frank and Dianne Sciacca say they have quit their chemical "addiction" to grow bananas the way they were grown 60 years ago.
"We were putting chemicals in the soil and on the plants but it had a severe impact on the environment," Ms Sciacca said.
"You end up being like an addict, you're depending on these things to grow your crop and you're just caught up in that circle, which is just about producing bigger and more, and bigger and more."
Fifteen years ago, the Innisfail growers ditched fungicides, mitacides, pesticides and any fertiliser that killed organisms in the soil.
"When you start killing anything that's living, invertebrate insects, whatever it may be, you've then broken an ecosystem cycle," Mr Sciacca said.
"These [insects] are awesome.
"They play a part in the whole balance of the system."
At Holbrook in New South Wales, beef producers Anna and Michael Coughlan have made dramatic changes. As well as changing how they graze cattle to protect the grass cover, the couple cut production costs by a third.
"We don't use a tractor, we don't spray chemicals, fertiliser, we don't feed hay — it's all gone," Ms Coughlan said.
They rely on nature to do the heavy lifting.
"We're trying to increase biodiversity, so get away from having a monoculture," Ms Coughlan said.
"And that diversity includes plant species, it's trees, it's bird life, it's everything, but it's also what's happening below the surface."
Results came, but they weren't immediate. Both farming families have had to be patient. The Sciaccas endured low yields and multiple pest outbreaks for the first five years. Now they say with the farm's ecosystem in balance, yields are up, pest outbreaks are rare and there's an increase in the number and types of insects, birds and soil pathogens on their farm.
The Coughlans say the organic matter in their soil has doubled in 10 years, and two endangered species — the plains wanderer bird and pygmy perch fish — have been discovered on their properties.
"We are regenerating the land," Mr Coughlan said.
The less-is-more approach has also paid off financially.
"When we first started looking at it in 1995 with the benchmarking that we'd been doing, the cost of production for good beef producers was 95 cents a kilo and the market price was 92," Ms Coughlan said.
"In the last 21 years that we've been doing this, we've managed to get our cost of production down to around 60 cents a kilo and the market price for beef at the moment is around $2 a kilo, so that gives us a fairly big buffer."
"We were laughed at, we were the industry joke," Ms Sciacca said.
But five other growers have now joined them in holistic farm management to keep up with eco-banana demand.
"There are a lot of younger people coming into the industry and they don't want to farm how their parents were," Mr Coughlan said.
The Sciaccas turned to the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for independent confirmation their system worked. Scientist Tony Pattison recently told a Paris conference that Mr Sciacca was ahead of his time.
"The microbes and nematodes in the soil suppress diseases and produce greater nutrient recycling, so it's a slower biologically active soil but the diversity is great," he said.
Mr Sciacca is proud of what they have achieved.
"It actually brings a smile to your face you look at it and say nature is living on my farm," he said.
The Coughlans say they would never go back.
"I'd sell out and go to the beach or something, but I'd never go back to what we were doing," Mr Coughlan said.
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