Natural Intelligence Farming: Ian and Dianne Haggerty

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Author: Christopher Johns | Published: August 3, 2017 

Key Point

  • Natural Intelligence farming uses natural processes combined with modern agricultural technology to produce food and fibre of optimum nutrition and quality while enhancing positive ecosystem development.
  • Natural Intelligence farming has the potential to sustainably regenerate the agricultural landscape, restore biodiversity and to sequester greenhouse gasses in the soil as beneficial soil carbon.
  • There is a direct link between soil health and human health and there is a growing body of research into this relationship between soil and plant/animal, human and environmental health.
  •  Natural intelligence farming can be applied to broad-acre agricultural production with only small changes to capital equipment and a reduction in operating costs and increased productivity.
  • Once the appropriate logistic infrastructure is available, the produce from Natural Intelligence farming can be market differentiated and priced accordingly for its nutrient diversity and absence of chemicals and other toxins.

Introduction

Natural Intelligence Farming is the term Ian and Dianne Haggerty use to describe the harnessing of the dynamic, natural relationships that exists between all the organisms in the ecosystem and the environment itself, particularly the soil. These relationships are highly complex and versatile. They involve mutually beneficial interactions between the soil, plant seeds and roots, microorganisms, and the ruminants that feed on the plants and cycle dung and microbes back to the soil. Understanding these relationships requires a holistic engagement with the agricultural ecosystem and the body of scientific knowledge supporting this understanding is still incomplete. The key to natural intelligence farming is not to hinder or obstruct the interactions that support and inform these relationships.  The Haggerty’s aim is to facilitate natural intelligence with modern farming methods to create regenerative agricultural ecosystems that produce optimal food and fibre products.

Ian and Dianne farm approximately 13,000 hectares of land in Western Australia’s central wheatbelt, around 190 kilometres north east of Perth. After years of conventional farming, the Haggerty’s realised that their system was vulnerable to dry seasons. Input costs were steadily increasing without corresponding increases in productivity. Soil tests showed adequate nutrient levels, but tissue tests revealed nutrients were not getting to plants in appropriate balance, despite a comprehensive mineral fertiliser program. To top it off, rainfall in recent years had been less than half the annual average often falling in 3 to 5 mm events followed by windy weather, meaning much was lost to evaporation. Maximising crop production in dry years had become a real struggle and hard pans in their soils were severely restricting root growth. So, the Haggerty’s started to research biologically-based farming systems with the aim of increasing their soil’s microbial population, nutrient availability and moisture holding capacity.  What followed was a massive learning curve combining and adapting some of the world’s best ecological knowledge with much ground truthing and extension in harsh Western Australian semi-arid agricultural zone conditions.

Ian and Dianne have a life mission to facilitate positive global change by rebuilding soils in semi-arid regions, producing premium food and fibre and supporting the nutritional needs of humanity to optimise health. In this Feature Interview, FDI takes the opportunity to interview Ian and Dianne and investigate what it is that they are doing differently from other farmers and the benefits of their methods for productivity, ecological regeneration and plant, animal and human health.

Interview

FDI: As an introduction to this Interview could you give us a short history to your association with agriculture and the land?

I&DH:  While coming from long family backgrounds of farmers, neither of us was fortunate enough to inherit a farm so we purchased our own 660ha property in 1994 next door to Di’s parents. It was in the years immediately prior to purchasing our farm, while owning and operating a roadhouse in the Kimberley that we were exposed to some interesting ideas on land management through our contact and friendship with Robyn Tredwell of Birdwood Downs Station (Robyn was the 1995 ABC Rural woman of the year). Her views on using livestock as tools to “Feed, Seed and Weed” the land, penetrated deeply into our psyche even though we were not involved with a rural enterprise at the time.

Purchasing a farm took all our capital reserves so for the first few years we share-farmed our land with Di’s father and worked in return for use of his machinery to grow our crops.

While successfully farming conventionally in the 1990s, and slowly beginning to piece together a working range of plant machinery, it didn’t take long for us to realise that moisture in the soil was key to profitability and that hanging onto that moisture was critical to make a viable crop out of a poor spring. This fact, along with a questioning mind and noticing that there were discrepancies between soil test and tissue test results, sparked a drive for real answers. Reducing risk and increasing profitability year in year out were key goals for the business to progress.

In 2001, we embarked on learning how to improve soil health and productivity in the cropping program. Dr Elaine Ingham’s message of the miracle work of soil microbiological communities in providing optimum balanced nutrition to plants and prevention of disease and insect attack through soil health resonated with us.  At the same time, we consulted with Jane Slattery of South Australia to develop an understanding of ruminant nutrition, intuition and interconnectedness with landscape health.  Working on both the soil and animal health aspects concurrently enabled some wonderful synergies to express and assist with fast tracking the ecological progress of the farm.

 Dr Arden Andersen’s message of the direct link between soil health and human health outcomes rang alarm bells for me [Dianne] as an Occupational Therapist, practising Early Intervention Paediatric and Aged Care occupational therapy as the preventative model for health care which was firmly entrenched. A keen awareness of responsibility as food producers ensued. This was the beginning of an intense learning curve where we pursued the knowledge of many other international and national scientists, leaders in the field of soil health and its relationship to animal, human and environmental and global health.

In 2009 and 2010 we were privileged to be introduced to Dr Christine Jones, Dr Maarten Stapper and Walter Jehne who had considerable knowledge on working soil health principles in Australian agricultural environments. Dr Jones’ “liquid carbon pathway” answered many questions of what was happening within the soil to improve its friability and moisture holding capacity. This was confirmed with deep soil carbon testing in 2012 that confirmed observations with sound figures.  On similar soil types to neighbouring properties, soil carbon was improved by 10t/ha on our cropping land, an increase of 41.46% in the top 30cm of soil.

 It was this knowledge, along with an interest in using livestock to better “feed, seed and weed,” that first motivated us to embark on what has become a life-long passion to farm, together with natural processes, while maintaining a profitable farm business and improving natural capital.

FDI: What are the benefits of your agricultural practices?

I&DH: Our agricultural methods can make a significant contribution to improving global trends in environmental management and human health. There is an existing and growing body of scientific research supporting a wide range of benefits associated with our farming methods. We believe that natural intelligence farming can make a positive contribution in the following areas:

  • Carbon sequestration while producing optimal food and fibre production.
  • Increased biodiversity, particularly microbiological biodiversity in soil.
  • Nil chemical residues tested in grains grown.
  • Nutritional balance in foods grown
  • Decreased or elimination use of synthetic fertilisers.
  • Increased microbiome, the number and diversity of microorganisms in an ecosystem such as the digestive system.
  • Production of fully pasture fed meat that is high in omega-3, conjugated linoleic acid, vitamin E and has greater mineral diversity.
  • Greater reliability in grain crop yields.
  • Crop disease resistance resulting in decreased or eliminated use of fungicides and pesticides.
  • Lower energy requirement for agricultural production.
  • Improved equity.
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