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Pasture Cropping: A Regenerative Solution from Down Under

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Environment and Climate Resource Center page and our Organic Transitions page.

Since the late 1990s, Australian farmer Colin Seis has been successfully planting a cereal crop into perennial pasture on his sheep farm during the dormant period using no-till drilling, a method that uses a drill to sow seeds instead of the traditional plow. He calls it pasture cropping and he gains two crops this way from one parcel of land-a cereal crop for food or forage and wool or lamb meat from his pastures-which means its potential for feeding the world in a sustainable manner is significant.

As Seis tells the story, the idea for pasture cropping came to him and a friend from the bottom of a beer bottle. Ten of them, in fact.

It was 1993. Seis, a sheep farmer in western New South Wales, and his friend Daryl Cluff, also a farmer, were drinking beer one night, contemplating paradigms. Why, they asked, were crops and pastures farmed separately? Their answer: tradition. They had been taught that pasture and crop systems operated by different ecological processes and were thus incompatible. Crops needed tilling and pastures needed animals. The systems could be alternated over the years, but never integrated. Right? Or wrong? They decided to have more beer.

Seis raised the question because he had been watching the native grasses on his farm and began to wonder if nature didn't intend for annuals and perennials to coexist. Nature certainly wanted weeds in his pasture-so why not a different type of annual instead, such as oats? He knew why: weeds liked to run a 100-yard dash while perennial grasses like to a run a marathon. Two different races, two different types of athletes. Right? Or wrong? They needed another round of beer.

What if it were just one race? What if grasses acted as a kind of cover crop for the annuals, keeping down the weeds but allowing the middle-distance runners, such as oats or barley or canola, to grow while the perennials waited for their turn on the racetrack? More to the point: what if you no-till drilled the perennial pasture during its dormant period with a cereal crop? What would happen?

That was crazy talk, had to be.

The more they drank that night, however, the more the idea intrigued them. Why couldn't a cereal plant be cropped in a perennial pasture? As farmers, couldn't they figure out a way to make them all get along symbiotically? If nature could do it, why couldn't they? That's when the light went on, Seis said.

"You had to be drunk to think of something like pasture cropping," Seis told me. "But once we sobered up the next day, we decided to give it a go."

And give it a go they did. 
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