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Susan Williamson – Call of the Reed Warbler

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Susan Williamson

I recently read Charles Massey’s Call of the Reed Warbler, which is a call to regenerative agriculture. Massey contends that we can revitalize our soils by returning to well managed animal agriculture. Since he runs a sheep station in Australia, clearly he has skin in the game so to speak. But he is also a scientist with a PHD in human ecology.

By using a carefully controlled system of rotational grazing, he was able to reclaim land that had become useless due to desertification. He visited farms and stations all over Australia and convinced, began to use these methods himself.

I would agree with many environmentalists that cattle feedlots and other intense populations of animals are not  sustainable, but there is a place for livestock in the ecology. Much of our earth cannot support crops because of terrain or water issues. Irrigation is not sustainable in the long run. It causes increasing salinity of the land and is depleting our aquifers.

Last April we drove from Los Vegas to Phoenix and back. Cattle ranged over thousands of arid acres. This land cannot grow traditional crops. It can however, in certain seasons produce grass and if not overgrazed, might become less arid. In Massey’s work he found intense grazing of small areas helped restore the soil microbes. Sheep were rotated to the next small pasture often. In this environment, native grasses were able to compete with weeds. No herbicide or chemical fertilizers were involved.

Our marginal land must be intensively farmed with erosion prevention in hilly areas and a mixture of crops and livestock to provide fertilizer and soil microbes. And, including small amounts of animal protein in our diets leads to a more balanced nutrition.

In the long run, acres of commercially grown monoculture soybeans are not as sustainable as a well -managed, livestock crop mix.

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