A young Tasmanian farming family is out to prove beef farming is not the "punching bag" for climate change by focusing on what goes into the ground rather than what comes out of it.
Sam and Steph Trethewey of Dunorlan recently launched their premium Tasmanian Wagyu beef brand, but it's not just the product that has people talking.
The pair, who met on the mainland, where Sam was talking at a national beef conference, and Steph was working as a television journalist, have embarked on a mission to create a unique carbon-neutral beef product by using a method called regenerative agriculture.
Regenerative agriculture is a set of practices and guidelines that have been used in the past but are gaining more popularity globally in agriculture circles.
It focuses on introducing soil biodiversity to be gentler on the environment, and advocates for carbon sequestration, as a way of combating the inherent impact farming practices have on the climate.
Regenerative Agriculture is growing as a movement among farmers to take leadership on the issue of climate change and provide a unique solution.
Mr Trethewey said he was exposed to regenerative agriculture practices growing up on his parents' farm in Tasmania, but he didn't know it then.
"Some of those practices I grew up with, which was quite unique given the decades between then and the movement now," he said.
But the penny dropped for the pair when they were living in Melbourne, and the lure of the Tasmanian countryside became too much for both of them to bear.
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"We were both working in more corporate jobs and all of a sudden it became obvious, what we needed do to," Mr Trethewey said.
"We were looking at, you know, where the world was heading with food and what consumers, particularly in city areas, what were they going to start to demand," added Mrs Trethewey.
"There's all this talk about sustainability and we thought, well, if we're going to start a beef business, what will be the next trend beyond the sustainable."
Mr Trethewey said he and his wife were both "means-driven people" and wanted to create positive change for the environment and find a way where climate and agriculture could meet in harmony.
"Beef has sort of become the 'punching' bag [in the climate change debate] which is ridiculous when you're talking about the full impact of climate change and emissions," Mr Trethewey said.
"It's easy to demand change, and shout about it, as opposed to what it takes to actually create change and answer that call. But regenerative agriculture is global agriculture's response to the the climate disaster."
VARIETY IS THE SPICE OF LIFE ON THE FARM
Trethewey's regenerative agriculture practices' major focus is about putting back nutrients into the soil rather than taking it out.
Mr Trethewey said traditional agriculture practices had focused on taking things out of the soil by focusing solely on yield and profit, sometimes at the environment's expense.
But by refocusing their efforts to work with nature, rather than with a profit goal in mind, Tas Ag Co has managed to create a reduced carbon beef product that has minimal effect on the soil's natural biodiversity.
The pair have dubbed their technique the "salad bowl", a method of crop rotation in paddocks that sees a large number of different grasses and forage crops planted in one paddock at one time.
"We've now got up to 17 and 25 different species of grasses and other crops planted in the paddocks...the cows get to decide what they want to eat and it creates greater biodiversity in the soil," Mr Trethewey said.
"If you go into the bush anywhere in the world you'll see lots of different types of things living together and that's the way she likes it. They are all providing something to the environment."
He said the industrialisation of agriculture, post both world wars, introduced a "monoculture" approach. The farmer would spray and kill all plant life, including grasses and weeds, and start from scratch with one of two types of grass, which disrupted nature's balance.
"You'll see on our paddocks up here we've got like big tubers in the form of turnips and we've got clover and grasses to spice up the root systems," he said.
The "salad bowl" paddock method has resulted in cattle with better nutrition and has resulted in a better end beef product than those of the farmers who fed those cows only grain, or only grass," Mr Trethewey said.
So, while it's good for the environment, it's also good for the farmer because it's increasing the quality of the product, which therefore increases the price.
However, the Tretheweys say they are not focused on the financial gain as much and how their farming methods impact the environment.
Another way the family helps offset the impact of traditional farming methods is through its unique collaboration with the dairy industry.
We didn't want to talk bad about the dairy industry, because they are on their own path to change.Sam Trethewey
Mr Trethewey said he was purchasing bobby calves, or the male calves produced as part of the dairy industry to be bred with his female cattle.
"It was another way for us to start without having to spend millions of dollars on breeding females," he said.
Traditional female beef cattle only produce one calf per year, so purchasing the bobby calves from the dairy industry helped bolster the herd and increase the number of animals born without the extra outlay.
However, Mr Trethewey said it helped reduce waste in the dairy industry, as the bobby calves are considered.
"We didn't want to talk bad about the dairy industry, because they are on their own path to change...we are thinking that bobby calves will be banned in a few years, so we were thinking how we can manage that change," Mr Trethewey said.
"So we found a way to use the bobby calves and address the controversial issue of bobby calf culture. It's a bit of a trial, but we will see how it works."
WORKING WITH, NOT AGAINST TRADITION
A key tenet of regenerative agriculture is not about shaming traditional agricultural practices but rather asking why they were traditional.
The Regenerative Agriculture Network of Tasmania sprung up about three years ago to help educate farms about the methods and assist with the transition.
President Celia Leverton said regenerative agriculture was a growing global movement, but Tasmania was a good place for farmers to have a go at it.
"It's as good as place as any...there is a growing interest, we are getting inquiries all the time," she said.
Regenerative agriculture was not Ms Leverton's first stop on the path towards climate-friendly farming; she was first drawn towards permaculture.
However, when she began investigating further, she found more and more resources on "regen ag".
Despite its popularity as a growing movement, Ms Leverton said there was still a lack of understanding among farmers but growing curiosity.
"A lot of people are interested because it builds carbon into the soil, which results in higher yields," she said.
"But they have also seen degradation first hand [of the environment] over their lifetime."
Despite this, Ms Leverton said regenerative agriculture was not about challenging or replacing traditional methods but rather using science and evidence to find a new way to farm for those who want to.
We want to offer an alternative way, not in opposition with traditional methods.Celia Leverton
RANT aims to help provide education through workshops and practical help for farmers looking to make that transition.
She said the not-for-profit provided risk analysis and information on how farmers could transition to regenerative methods with lower financial risk.
'DON'T LEAVE US OUT OF CLIMATE DEBATE'
Mr Trethewey said regenerative agriculture and other methods were some of the ways farmers were leading the charge when it came to action on climate change.
However, he said the individual effort could be compromised by the actions of those in Canberra, citing concerns with comments made by Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals leader Michael McCormack.
In February, when addressing the government's intentions on climate change, Mr McCormack said agriculture "could be left out of the debate" when setting climate and emissions targets.
Mr Trethewey said it was a disappointing approach from the Canberra leaders to want to exclude agriculture from the climate conversation.
"Regenerative agriculture is very much a ground-up approach, it's farmer-driven. That's why it's getting so much excitement and movement and talk about it. But where it's going to slow down is where it meets the top-down directive from our leaders in Canberra."
He said the comments made by Mr McCormack were misguided and didn't appreciate the work being done on a grassroots level by farmers like himself.
"Regenerative agriculture is the the future possibilities that we're generating for Australian agriculture, and farmers have a role to play in addressing climate change."
"It was a pretty disappointing set of remarks and strategy from Canberra. Australia is so uniquely positioned to be a leader in this field and we deserve to be included."
Tas Ag Co's products launched last month, and come in compostable packaging, are available at Hill Street Grocers.