This edition contains a report on the Launch of the Charlie Massy (PhD) book The Call of the Reed Warbler, feedback on the decision by TEQSA not to endorse the proposed Bachelor of Agroecology through Thurgoona TAFE, and the Future of Urban Farming.
The Call of the Reed Warbler is a call to action around climate change and a need for a different form of farming. Charlie refers to this as regenerative agriculture which embraces ecological knowledge. The book is heavy on case studies of farmers who have embraced this form of farming and how they have managed the transition from industrial farming.
Each case study is a fascinating documentation of what happened and how the strategies have succeeded. The case studies roam across the five landscape functions of Regenerating Solar-Energy Functions, the Water Cycle, the Soil-Mineral Cycle, Dynamics Ecosystems, and importantly, the Role of Human-Social.
Charlie Massy doesn’t exclude his own farm on the Monaro from his analysis but builds it into the story line. He tells of his failures on the farm and his observation that in 30 years of farming he has witnessed a decline in the landscape of his own farm and he believes the same to be evident across the Australian landscape. It was this that led him to return to university to study the reasons behind why this might be – a study that three years later led to the completion of his PhD. Upon completion of his PhD thesis Charlie gave a public presentation in Canberra of his findings and I and about 70 others attended. His presentation provided a fascinating insight into why farming is as it is through documenting the beliefs that led farmers to farm in a particular way, a way that he refers to in his latest book as Industrial Farming.
The Call of the Reed Warbler has a story line all of its own but his depth on knowledge and the insights are soundly grounded in his PhD. It is a thoughtfully written story and one that demonstrates a great attachment to the land - its beauty - and one that the AIEA believes has the capacity to live on and become a classic in the realm of agricultural literature.
Its status is best described by Valerie Brown AO, BSc M Ed, PhD who said in her foreword: “A philosopher, Thomas Berry, describes the present as one of the key moments in history when humans and the environment share the choice of moving in a new direction. He calls this ‘a moment of grace’, a time when a new way of thinking means all things are possible. Berry identifies the taming of fire and the invention of the wheel as moments in human history that changes the relationships between humans and the land forever. Massy finds a moment of grace in the present. He foresees that mutual learning systems between humans and landscapes are developing a regenerative relationship that could extend to the whole of life on the planet.”
It is ironical that at a time when Charles Massy is pointing to a new direction in agriculture an attempt to introduce a degree program in Agroecology into Australian education, that would have dovetailed neatly with his vision, was thwarted by the TEQSA (Tertiary Education Qualification Standards Agency) who regulate standards in university education across Australia. The proposal for a Bachelor of Agroecology was three years in the making and was submitted in 2016 and received a negative response from the two academics from TEQSA who reviewed the course. In 2017 Thurgoona applied again but still the two academics who reviewed it on behalf of the regulator refused to give it the tick of approval. In effect, three years of planning and subject design and writing came to naught, unless of course Thurgoona TAFE decides to convert the degree to a diploma!
At the recent (18-20 October) book launch tour of Bathurst, Orange and Dubbo the question was raised by those in the audience regarding where young students could go get a university education in subjects which relate to regenerative agriculture (which requires a more holistic worldview). The answer was simple: There is no tertiary level degree course in Australia on ecological agriculture or Agroecology. Charles Sturt University had a degree program in ecological agricultural systems which they inherited when they took over the Faculty of Rural Management (Orange campus) from the University of Sydney. They abided the presence of this course in their stable of agricultural courses until three years ago when they decided to axe it. Why they did this could be the subject of another editorial but of interest was a comment at the Charlie Massy launch in Dubbo that universities are about 15 years behind the rest of the community and are slow adopters when it comes to themes which are outside the orthodox approach to agriculture.
The AIEA believes that in axing the Bachelor of Ecological Agriculture CSU lost the opportunity to become the leading agricultural education university in Australia. The more traditional reductionist agricultural science course would have been balanced with the more holistic science interpretation via the degree in ecological agriculture. The cross fertilisation of thinking between the two worldviews would have been beneficial for the School of Agricultural & Wine Sciences (CSU), students, and the wider agricultural community.
Of particular interest, also, is the fact that the university farm at Orange, which was bequeathed to the Department of Agriculture for educational purposes, no longer fulfils this need other than for it to be used as a cash-cow to finance educational activities at the Wagga campus. (The 500 ha farm at Orange became the Orange Agricultural College commencing its intake in 1974). While the Orange campus had varying levels of engagement in on-farm education from 1974 onwards the removal of undergraduate courses to Wagga, where CSU has all of its agricultural courses, has meant that the property, and the associated caveat that it be used for education, is no longer respected, unless of course the provision of cash from Orange to subsidise education at Wagga is seen in this light!
The last edition of the AIEA newsletter carried the story of the demise the Bachelor of Agroecology submission and that led to a strong response from our readership. The responses are as follows:
- It is unfortunate about the degree course, especially after all the work that has undoubtedly gone into it, and the need.
- Very disappointing and sad, given the general rise in interest in agroecology everywhere else. So, there will be no educational third-level institution teaching agroecology anywhere in Australia? If that is so, it is hard to take, hard to fathom when agroecology courses seem on the rise elsewhere. Do you think there might have also been a hint of anti-agroecology sentiment among any of those reviewing or passing judgement? Any pressure or lobbying from elsewhere, industry?
Out of interest, is what sounds like a very comprehensive curriculum – 4 years, 21 courses, 12 experts – available publicly to review?
Also seems like a very narrow review in terms of ‘who decides’. I would be seriously pissed off!
- Many thanks for an excellent newsletter. Sad to read of the demise of the proposal. ‘Education’, even at primary level, seems to be about 3-D geometry and ‘coding’! Note also the trend in education and science toward ‘How’ questions and the shying from the ‘Why’.....interesting. Nothing wrong with that in balance, but ‘how’ equals more of the same whereas ‘why’ changes paradigms....
- This is a very disappointing piece of news.Healthy farming requires students to understand concepts that encompass soil health for food quality and human/animal health. I have students with 4 year degrees in agriculture from U of Melb and La Trobe who come to my lab for internships to learn about biological farming because it is not taught in their universities.
There must be a place for holistic agriculture in our education system because it is not there at the moment.
- So sad about the degree.But I know that you will still do it in another way. You do not give up.
- I'm so sorry to hear about the rejection of the Bachelor of Agroecology course you have talked about in the editorial of the latest newsletter. That must be so frustrating for everyone involved. Also a shame that CSU aren't running EcoAg anymore too. Perhaps, as you say, it might be that an RTO needs to be formed to offer these courses?
- So sorry to hear this. It’s all about control, box ticking, and the extension of a political agenda. So, I empathise with you. Best thing - become your own RTO. That’s more work, but then you have control, as much as is possible, in this difficult climate.