Australian agriculture today is largely unsustainable. Soils are degrading and are in need of regeneration and broad acre farming is delivering food in quantity but not always in quality. An exceptional group of speakers address the question: Can we feed ourselves and not destroy the Earth?
Day 1 – Thursday 17 March
9:00 am Regenerative agriculture
chaired by Jenny Goldie
Welcome to Conference – Jenny Goldie, SPA President
Welcome to the Academy’s Shine Dome – Dr TJ Higgins
Welcome to country – Shane Mortimer
Official Opening – Prof John Hewson
Keynote – Dr Charles Massy author: Call of the Reed Warbler
10.30 am Morning tea
11 am Australia’s soil, water and vegetation as strategic assets
chaired by Prof Robyn Alders AO
Admiral Chris Barrie, ANU and former head of Australian Defence Forces
The Hon Penny Wensley AC, National Soils Advocate
Walter Jehne, Regenerate Earth/Healthy Soils Australia – Whither Australia’s Agriculture 2030?
12.30 – 1.30 pm Lunch
1.30 pm Chaired by Prof Barbara Norman
Dr Patrice Newell author: Who’s minding the farm?
Matthew Evans author: Soil
Gabrielle Chan, author Why You Should Give a F**k About Farming
3 pm Afternoon tea
3.30 -5.00 pm Restoring the soil
chaired by Bethaney Turner
John Feehan – Improving soil with dung beetles
Dr Wolfram Buss – The role of biochar
Guy Webb, SoilCQuest – Restoring the Soil
The Conference dinner is 6pm for 7pm, at the QT Hotel, 1 London Cct, Canberra
DAY 2 – Friday 18 March
9:00 am Dealing with climate change
chaired by Charlie Prell of Farmers for Climate Action
Prof Mark Howden, Institute for Climate, Energy and Disaster Solutions, ANU
Ian Dunlop, member Club of Rome
Prof Justin Borevitz – Precision Landscape Regeneration
Dr Adam Carroll, Research School of Biology, ANU
10.40 am Morning tea
11.10 am Enabling meaningful change
chaired by Genevieve Jacobs
Em Prof Stuart Hill – Ecological and Psycho-social Foundations for Agricultural Sustainability
Sustainable Farms – Michelle Young – Restoring the ecology above ground
Encroachment on agricultural land by mining and urbanisation
Dr Gavin Mudd – The essentials of mining and sustainability
Sally Hunter, Lock the Gate – What life is like when mining comes to your district
12.45 – 1.30 pm Lunch
1.30 pm Transforming global food systems
chaired by Hon Sandra Kanck
Tony Hill, Land to Market Australia – Buy into a Healthier Australia
Hon. Professor Robyn Alders AO – ANU/Kyeema Foundation
Julian Cribb, author Food or War – The Age of Renewable Food
3 pm Afternoon tea
3.30 pm Can we feed all the people and not destroy the Earth?
chaired by Ian Lowe
Dr Nicole Chalmer – (author of Ecoagriculture for a Sustainable Food Future) Ecoagriculture: a cultural paradigm for enduring resilience and sustainability
Prof Will Steffen – Planetary boundaries
Dr Jane O’Sullivan – The critical role of population size and growth
Concluding remarks Prof Ian Lowe
Robyn Alders, AO, bsc (vet) Hons I, BVSc Hons I, Dip Vet Clin Studies, PhD
Robyn Alders AO is a Senior Consulting Fellow with the Chatham House Global Health Program, an Honorary Professor with the Development Policy Centre with the Australian National and a grazier on the NSW Southern Tablelands. She has worked in sub-Saharan Africa, SE Asia and Oceania for over 30 years. Robyn is also Chair of the Kyeema Foundation and the Upper Lachlan Branch of the NSW Farmers’ Association. Her current research and development interests include national and international sustainable food and nutrition security/systems, One/Planetary Health, gender equity and Science Communication.
Justin Borevitz grew up on an experimental farm in California. He his undergrad at UC and Wollongong and PhD / postdoc at UC San Diego/Salk. He was AProf at Univesity of Chicago. He has been at t he ANU since 2012 where he is researching landscape regeneration technologies for Food Ecosystem and Climate Security.
Admiral Chris Barrie commanded the Australian Defence Force (1998-2002). He is the Chair of PTSD-Australia New Zealand, whose subsidiary “FearLess Outreach” is able to assist about 6 million people in Australia and New Zealand who live with PTSD. At the Australian National University, Chris is an Honorary Professor. He has worked in the Tuckwell Foundation, and is Patron of the Australian Crisis Simulation Summit, a student led national one-week event for aspiring national security policy makers.He is an outspoken commentator on Climate Change and Security to raise awareness of the potential costs of inaction. He is an executive member of the Australian Security Leaders Climate Group and represents Australia on the Global Military Advisory Council on Climate Change.
Wolfram Buss is a researcher at the Australian National University working on land-based carbon sequestration techniques and how to maximise their potential in agricultural systems. He obtained his PhD from the UK Biochar Research Centre at the University of Edinburgh in 2016. His research combines biology, soil science and agriculture with environmental sciences, environmental chemistry, and engineering. Since finishing his PhD, he has worked as a post-doc at the University of Edinburgh, CSIRO and ANU.
Adam Caroll completed his PhD in Plant Biochemistry at the University of Western Australia in 2008 developing mass-spectrometry-based proteomics and metabolomics technologies and software and applying them to understand plant responses to abiotic stress and the biochemical functions of plant genes in these responses. From 2009-2017, he continued this line of research at the Australian National University as a postdoctoral researcher and expanding into the development of robotic automation for high-throughput biochemical analysis.
Since 2017, Dr Carroll has been managing the RSB/RSC Joint Mass Spectrometry Facility (JMSF) at the ANU where he and his team help researchers from inside and outside the ANU to use mass spectrometry to tackle an ever-growing array of exciting and important research problems across many fields of research. After-hours, Dr Carroll works as a volunteer with the Southern ACT Catchment Group to do bushland restoration work and develop a new volunteer-driven citizen science platform using a professional-grade mapping drone to map and monitor bushland ecosystem health and the ecological restoration of degraded former farmlands in the ACT by ParkCare volunteers.
Dr Nicole Chalmer gained a Bachelor of Science and Graduate Diploma in Agribusiness before going farming for 30 years. With her family she helped regenerate a badly degraded property Coronet Hill at Esperance, using ecological principles that included perennial pastures for cattle production. Approximately 500ha (including a 100ha wetland/lake) of their 2400 ha farm has been fenced as native bush mosaics.Experiencing the acceleration of ongoing market fluctuations, incorrect media perceptions of cattle production and Government interference became a concern. A deep discontent concerning the social-ecological sustainability of modern farming led to her completing an eco-environmental history PhD, analysing sustainability of food production systems, from the deep past, colonialism and present.
Gabrielle Chan is rural and regional editor of Guardian Australia. She has worked as a
journalist for more than 30 years, predominantly covering politics for News Corp and Guardian Australia. She has essays in Fire, Flood, Plague (2020), Meanjin and Griffith Review.
Rusted Off: Why Country Australia is Fed Up (2018), was shortlisted for both the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards and the Walkley book prize.
Gabrielle’s latest book, Why You Should Give a F**k About Farming (2021), examines how farming sits at the intersection of the world’s existential threats including climate change,
geopolitical tensions, soil loss, water shortages and food security. It argues that every eater
has a stake in the future of farming.
Gabrielle lives on a sheep and wheat farm west of Canberra
Nicole Chirlian is a beef cattle farmer from “Tallawang” Willow Tree on the Liverpool Plains NSW, using regenerative agricultural strategies since 2001. She is the current Chair of Upper Mooki Landcare Inc, member of Save Our Soils Liverpool Plains and a Board member of Lock the Gate. Nicola was a founding member of the North West Alliance a decade ago which continues as an effective network of over 30 groups fighting coal and gas projects in the region. She has been instrumental in a range of actions to protect her beloved Liverpool Plains, and especially the koala population, from coal and gas mining.
Julian Cribb, FRSA, FTSE is an author and science writer who has covered agriculture and food issues for more than half a century. His latest book, Food or War (CUP 2019) looks at why modern food systems are unsustainable, why and how they must change. Nowadays his main focus is on the survival of human civilization and our species in the face of a growing existential emergency comprising ten megathreats. Food is just one of them.
Ian Dunlop is a Member of The Club of Rome, the Australian Security Leaders Climate Group and the Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration. He was formerly an oil, gas and coal industry executive, with wide experience in energy resources, infrastructure, and international business.He chaired the Australian Coal Association in 1987-88 and the development of the first Australian national emissions trading proposal in 1998-2000. From 1997-2001 he was CEO of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.
Matthew Evans is a food writer, farmer, television broadcaster and chef. Based in Southern Tasmania, Matthew lives and works on Fat Pig Farm, a mixed holding where he tends a garden, makes cider, fattens the namesake pigs and tries to entice milk from two full cream dairy cows. His has presented six series of Gourmet Farmer on SBS, and two documentaries, For The Love of Meat, and What’s The Catch. Matthew is the author of over a dozen books on food, including the authoritative ethical meat manifesto On Eating Meat, and his latest cookbook The Commons. He’s an advocate for open, fair, accountable food and farming systems, and has pushed for honest labelling so we can all enjoy sustainable seafood. His latest book SOIL is a hymn to the remarkable, and underappreciated bit of Earth that gifts us life. It’s a swashbuckling tale of soil that arms us all with the knowledge and respect to care about its health.
John Feehan OAM worked on the CSIRO dung beetle program for 28 years till 1991. Subsequently, he set up SOILCAM Pty Ltd, to continue the harvesting and re-distribution of dung beetle species according to their climatic and geographic limits using CLIMEX. Since 1993, SOILCAM has promoted the agricultural and environmental benefits of dung beetles and relocated 6,500 plus colonies (19 different species) within Australia. John is a recognised and respected expert in his field, being awarded an OAM for his contribution to Australian agriculture in 1997. John has supplied dung beetles and breeding information to overseas universities for research. He has lodged more than 1,000 specimens of dung beetles in ANIC and CSIRO for future reference.
John Hewson AM is a former Leader of the Federal Opposition who served as leader of the Liberal Party from 1990 to 1994. He is currently a Professor in the Crawford School of Public Policy at ANU. Dr Hewson has also been active in charities and not-for-profits, main positions currently, Chair of Osteoporosis Australia and KidsXpress, Investment Advisory Committee of the Australian Olympic Foundation, Northern Metropolitan Cemeteries Land Manager, and as Member, SteerCo Australian Sustainable Finance Roadmap, National Standing Committee for Energy and the Environment, and as an Ambassador Women for Election Australia.
TJ Higgins AO FAA is an Honorary Fellow at CSIRO Agriculture and Food. His major research focus is the application of gene technology for plant improvement. He works mostly on protecting food legumes from insect pests. Most of his current work is aimed at increasing food security in Africa and South Asia.
Stuart B Hill is an ecologist, researching soil fauna, insect pests and agroecology; he also practiced as a psychotherapist. In 1995 he was appointed Foundation Chair of Social Ecology at Western Sydney University, where he taught Social Ecology, Research Methodology, Transformative Learning, and Sustainability, Leadership and Change. He was appointed Emeritus in 2013 His PhD (1969) was a ground-breaking whole ecosystem study of community and energy relationships. At McGill University (1969-95) he was responsible for zoology; in 1974 he established Ecological Agriculture Projects, a resource centre for sustainable agriculture (www.eap.mcgill.ca/; see also: https://stuartbhill.com/). He has over 350 publications, including six books;in 2021, Social Ecology and Education: Transforming Worldviews and Practices (with David Wright; Routledge).
Tony Hill teaches Holistic Management in NSW and is an accredited professional with the Savory Institute. With a background in economics, policy making, regional development, ecology and biodiversity, he has worked for government and consulted on design applications for Cooperative Research Centres. Tony chairs the Australian Holistic Management Co-operative, has been a member of the Upper Shoalhaven Landcare Council, and is an accredited teacher of the NSW TAFE Holistic Management Diploma. He is the founder of the Land to Market Australia project incorporating Ecological Outcome Verification.
Mark Howden is Director of the Institute for Climate, Energy & Disaster Solutions at The Australian National University. He has worked on climate variability, climate change, innovation and adoption issues for over 30 years in partnership with many industry, community and policy groups. Issues he has addressed include agriculture and food security, the natural resource base, ecosystems and biodiversity, energy, water and urban systems.
He helped develop both the national and international greenhouse gas inventories that are a fundamental part of the Paris Agreement and has assessed sustainable ways to reduce emissions. He has been a major contributor to the IPCC since 1991, sharing the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with other IPCC participants and Al Gore.
Sally Hunter has been fighting against inappropriate coal and gas mining for at least a decade. Having personally experienced the impacts of coal seam gas mining on her parents’ property in Queensland, she was motivated to ensure locals understood the true implications of accepting this industry when she settled with her family on a grass fed beef cattle farm near Narrabri in NSW. This farm sits within 50km of four coal mines, with more planned for the region. She is passionate about the future of rural communities and when she is not working for Lock the Gate she is creating new renewable energy opportunities for the region through the social enterprise that she helped to found, Geni.Energy.
Walter Jehne, Regenerate Earth Ltd is a soil microbiologist with extensive experience in Forest, Agriculture and Soil research in CSIRO and in industry innovation the systems redesign at strategic and policy levels. Since retirement he has joined innovative farmers in Australia and globally to refine natural solutions to our Soils, Hydrology, Climate, Food and ecological imperatives so as to Regenerate Earth and thereby our sustained future.
Charles Massy, BSc, PhD, OAM (BSc. Zoology; Human Ecology – ANU, 1976) has farmed on the Monaro for over40 years, where he developed the innovative Merino sheep stud ‘Severn Park’. In 2012 he completed a PhD in Human Ecology at ANU, examining innovation in farming. He was awarded an OAM for services to research and innovation in the wool industry, and has served on national and international wool boards. He has authored several books, including in 2017 (with 15 reprints) Call of the Reed Warbler: A New Agriculture – a New Earth. In late 2021 he has a children’s book being published, on the endangered Monaro Earless Dragon.
Gavin Mudd is a globally recognised scholar on the environmental impacts and sustainability of mining, with his research renowned for building big data sets to assess declining ore grades, increasing mine wastes, global mineral resources (including critical minerals), mining methods, rehabilitation, sustainability metrics and life cycle assessment. He has worked with communities across Australia and in various parts of the world, along with collaborations with Yale, Columbia and many others.
Patrice Newell AM is Senior Adjunct Lecturer: University of Newcastle and author of The Olive Grove, The River, Ten Thousand Acres: A Love Story, Who’s Minding the Farm: in this Climate Emergency. She is manager of Elmswood Organic/Biodynamic Farm: producing beef, olive oil, honey, garlic and Co-Founder Kwala Pty Ltd.
Jane N O’Sullivan is a former senior researcher at the University of Queensland’s School of Agriculture and Food Sciences, where she led research projects on agricultural intensification of subsistence crops in the Pacific and Vietnam. She subsequently turned attention to the demographic pressures on food security, economic development and environmental sustainability. She has published on the economic impacts of population growth, population ageing, population projections and demographic impacts on climate change. She is an executive member of Sustainable Population Australia, an associate of The Overpopulation Project and on the Expert Advisory Board of Population Matters (UK).
Shane Mortimer is a Ngambri Elder, Uncle Shane Mortimer, has a commitment to
refurbishing the 488 million hectares of degraded native grasslands of Australia for sequestration of atmospheric CO2 and fresh water, in addition to regeneration of native foods, flora and fauna. Ngambri are the original ‘First People’ of Canberra, part the oldest living human culture in Earth. Since the first dawn, Uncle Shane’s ancestors have lived on the land known today as ‘Canberra’. Australia’s Capital City is named after the Ngambri People.
In 2016 Uncle Shane established the ‘Allodial Title’ international legal precedent for all First People, when he
asserted Ngambri Allodial Title in the Australian Capital Territory Supreme Court and was awarded an interlocutory injunction to stop the transfer of land title in the ACT, based on his ancestral connection to Ngambri Country (Canberra). As a result of publication of a paper about his case in the 2019 Commonwealth Law Bulletin, Uncle Shane was conferred full membership of the Horasis Forum of World Leaders.
Will Steffen is an Earth System scientist. He is a Councilor on the publicly-funded Climate Council of Australia that delivers independent expert information about climate change. He is also an Emeritus Professor at the Australian National University (ANU); Canberra, a Senior Fellow at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Sweden; and a member of the Anthropocene Working Group. From 1998 to mid-2004, Steffen was Executive Director of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programmed, based in Stockholm. His research interests span a broad range within Earth System science, with an emphasis on sustainability and climate change.
Guy Webb Guy draws on a strong background in agronomy, and a deep understanding of the scientific principles of soil health, microbiology and sustainable land management. He has been the driving force behind the organisation for a number of years and has brought together a cohesive and committed team to work towards SoilCQuest’s vision.
Former Governor of Queensland and distinguished Australian diplomat, the Honourable Penelope Wensley AC, has a long-held interest and substantial experience in natural resource management and sustainable development matters. Ms Wensley was a key contributor to the negotiation of several landmark international treaties to address environmental challenges though the United Nations in her roles as Australian Ambassador for the Environment from 1992 to 1996, as Ambassador to the UN, Geneva 1993-96 and Ambassador to the UN, New York, 1997-2001. Ms Wensley brings to the position of National Soils Advocate substantial expertise in public policy development, strategy development and implementation, communication and negotiation, and community and stakeholder engagement.
Michell Young is Director of the Sustainable Farms project. Michelle has developed an innovative outreach program to ensure that the knowledge and understanding developed through ANU research meets the needs of both farmers and the natural resource management sector. Michelle is a social scientist who has previously worked on the evaluation of environmental management programs for the Federal Government and on health promotion programs in NSW. Michelle’s research background also includes several studies looking at biosecurity and sustainability in the Australian meat and grains sector, and the application of narrative research approaches to the assess the impact of changes in environmental management.
Charlie Prell is a sheep farmer from Crookwell, an hour north of Canberra in the Southern Tablelands of NSW. He is one of four farmers under the Crookwell 2 windfarm. He has had 20 years of experience in renewables, focusing on wind farms. He is a strong public supporter of the benefits wind and solar farms can bring to small regional communities. He is a passionate advocate for an inclusive “benefit sharing” model for renewable energy developments, where the whole community benefits from the infrastructure, not just the few who host it. He worked as the NSW Regional Organiser for the Australian Wind Alliance (now the RE-Alliance) for 5 years from July 2014 until August 2019.
He was part of the working group and then the steering committee that formed “Farmers for Climate Action”. He was previously co-chair and deputy chair of Farmers for Climate Action. He has been Chair of Farmers for Climate Action since October 2020. He is passionate about the health and well-being of small regional communities and in assisting these communities to meet the challenge of climate change. He also promotes the opportunities that meeting these challenges can bring to individual farmers and the small regional communities where they live.
Jenny Goldie has been active in Sustainable Population Australia (SPA) since its inception in 1988 and is currently National President. She is a former science teacher and a science communicator with CSIRO. She has had a life-long interest in the nexus between population numbers, food, and ecological sustainability. On behalf of SPA, she organised the 2013 Fenner Conference on Population, Resources and Climate Change. Jenny established Climate Action Monaro in 2011. She writes a weekly climate e-bulletin and a monthly column on climate for her local paper in Cooma. She is a former (failed!) olive grower.
Genevieve Jacobs is the Group Editor for Region Media, Australia’s fastest growing digital news platform. Genevieve chairs the ACT arts minister’s Creative Advisory Council and co-chairs the ACT Reconciliation Council. She sits on the boards of the Cultural Facilities Corporation, the National Folk Festival and is deputy chair of the Canberra International Music Festival. She is also a director of the Conflict Resolution Service and the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture. She was made an AM in the Australia Day honours list for her service to public broadcasting and the community. Genevieve has an enduring interest in building community engagement, and is a partner in the family farming enterprise.
Sandra Kanck has been a social, environmental and political activist for all her adult life, beginning with protests against the French for their atmospheric nuclear testing at Muraroa Atoll. Representing the Australian Democrats she served 15 years in the South Australian Parliament, making the topic of population the centrepiece of her first speech.
Upon her retirement in 2009 Sandra became National President of Sustainable Population Australia. Since then she has been a constant presence in the SPA Executive mostly serving as President.
Sandra is active in the Palestinian human rights movement, writes, sings in a choir, reads books and line-dances.
Ian Lowe AO is emeritus professor of science, technology and society at Griffith University and an adjunct professor at two other universities. He has published widely and filled a wide range of advisory roles for all levels of government, including chairing the advisory council that produced in 1996 the first independent national report on the state of the environment. A Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering since 2005, the International Academy of Sciences, Health and Ecology recently awarded him the Konrad Lorenz Gold Medal for his contributions to sustainable futures.
Barbara Norman is Chair and Professor of Urban & Regional Planning, University of Canberra and a Visiting Fellow at the Australian National University. Professor Norman has a combined professional and academic background as a former national president of the Planning Institute of Australia and a current leader in urban and regional research. Recent international research includes Sustainable Pathways for our Cities and Regions: planning within planetary boundaries (Routledge, 2018); Are autonomous cities our urban future? Comment in Nature Communications (Nature Communications, 2018) and Apocalypse Now: Australian Bushfires and the future of Urban Settlements (Nature Urban Sustainability). Professor Norman’s next book is Urban Planning for Climate Change (Routledge, 2022).
Bethaney Turner is an Associate Professor in the University of Canberra’s Centre for Creative and Cultural Research and a founding member of the University’s interdisciplinary Future of Food network. Her research engages with the multispecies relationships among people, place and the environment in order to explore how to best support the resilience and capacity of communities to generate more sustainable futures.
Bethaney has particular expertise in local urban food systems (including community food production, food rescue and food waste management) and understanding the impacts of everyday interactions with food on human and planetary health and wellbeing. Her current research also includes a focus on practices of reuse and repair through community sharing projects.
Rebecca Vassarotti MLA is ACT Greens member for the seat of Kurrajong. She is the Minister for the Environment; Heritage; Homelessness and Housing Services; and Sustainable Building and Construction. She has earned a Bachelor of Arts and a Masters in Environmental Law from ANU. Rebecca has held the positions of Executive Director at YWCA Canberra, Deputy CEO of the Australian Council of Social Service, and Executive Director of the International Network on Hepatitis and Substance Use.