Cows and carbon: could sustainable beef farming help solve the climate crisis?

In our current debate on the impact of our eating habits on the planet, beef is getting a pretty bad rap. 

From the water required to raise livestock, the land degradation and biodiversity loss caused by overgrazing and deforestation to the direct emissions from the sector and chemical pollution from fertilisers. The list of environmental impacts caused by some farmers in the beef and livestock industry is long. 

But to Tasmanian farmers Sam and Steph Trethewey the cows are not really the issue. To them, and a growing number of regenerative agriculturalists, the problems we have come to associate with meat consumption are the result of industrial agricultural practices, not the meat and dairy producing animals themselves. 

Or as Steph puts it: “It’s not about the cow, but the how.”

Regenerative farmers Sam and Steph Trethewey
Regenerative farmers Sam and Steph Trethewey.

In 2019, Sam and Steph gave up their corporate careers in Melbourne and bought some land near Deloraine in Central North Tasmania to found the Tasmanian Agricultural Company (Tas Ag Co). The pair is now on a mission to prove that it’s not only possible to farm beef sustainably, but also to make beef farming part of the solution to fight the climate crisis.

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The Great Barrier Reef is under threat from coral bleaching

Coral bleaching is jeopardising our reefs – government action on climate change can save them

Coral reefs are an important part of a healthy global ecosystem. They function as nurseries for many fish and provide important coastal protection for low-lying islands.

An estimated 400 million people in developing countries depend on coral reefs for protection and income. According to a report by Deloitte Access Economics, tourism at the Great Barrier Reef alone is a $6.4 billion a year industry, providing 64,000 jobs.

But the future of our coral reefs is at risk. Back-to-back coral bleaching events caused by a warming climate are jeopardising their survival.

Marine biologist Professor Terry Hughes has dedicated his career to studying coral reefs. I recently had the chance to talk to him about his research on the linkages between coral reef ecosystems, the goods and services they provide to people and the role of governance.

The poster child of climate change

“In the context of climate change, coral reefs are often called the canary in the coalmine,” says Terry. “ I am not sure if this analogy is accurate or that coral reefs are more vulnerable than other ecosystems.”

Professor Terry Hughes
Professor Terry Hughes

“In Australia, we are currently dealing with burning rainforests, so one could argue that many other ecosystems are equally at risk. But coral reefs are very photogenic and iconic, so with their increasing degradation, they have become the poster child for the impact of climate change on biodiversity.”

The other issue with the canary metaphor is that it suggests that we’re still in the early stages of understanding and responding to the impact of climate change on the natural environment.

Scientists Thinkers
Australian farm

From tree changers to regenerative farming trailblazers

Murray Prior and his wife Michelle had been thinking about a tree change for a long time before they finally took the leap and bought a farm. “Inner City Sydney seemed like a very intense place to raise children. And as our two kids got older, it was time to make a decision,” says Murray who purchased a 220 acres property near Gundaroo in the Southern Tablelands of NSW just over 18 months ago.

The mixed-grazing plot ticked a lot of boxes. It had access to a river and the relatively short distance to Sydney made it possible for Murray to continue to work as International Marketing Director at a law firm four days per week before returning to his family and farm life over the weekend. 

Murray Prior regenerative farmer in the Southern tablelands of NSW
From tree changers to regenerative farmers: The Prior Family. Image credit: Murray Prior .

But the change in surroundings brought about much more than just a lifestyle change for the Priors. Murray and Michelle are now right in the middle of turning their property into a model for regenerative farming practices. 

Of mentors and newly minted farmers

It’s a transformation that was set in motion by a colleague’s book recommendation. Call of the Reed Warbler is an urgent call to move to less intensive agricultural practices. The author of the book is 5th generation Australian farmer, Charles Massy. His book is a powerful mix of personal memoir and scientific evidence. 

“Reading Charlie’s book changed our lives,” remembers Murray. “His story changed our perspective on the enormity of what we had just done. We started to think about our responsibility as custodians of the land we now owned.”

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Tasmanian Devils

Saving Australian wildlife from extinction

Hayley Shute has her hands full as we are about to start our chat. A couple of koalas need her attention before we get the chance to talk about her work at Aussie Ark, a wildlife conservation organisation dedicated to protecting Australia’s endangered species. “That’s one of the things I love most about my job: you never know what they might spring on you next”, she says with a laugh.

With the koalas safely moved, Hayley shares her love for Australian wildlife conservation with infectious enthusiasm. “Most people get so excited about lions and elephants, and other exotic animals from far-flung locations, but we are so lucky to have so many unique animals here in Australia – and we need to do much more to protect them”, she asserts.

As the curator at Aussie Ark, Hayley Shute is working to protect enadangered Australian wildlife
Hayley Shute is the curator at Aussie Ark.

As the curator at the non-for-profit organisation she’s working to save some of Australia’s most vulnerable species from extinction and to educate the public about the need to protect them. “Unfortunately, many people have never heard about some of our most threatened animal species”, she says. “And the less awareness there is, the harder it is to secure their future.”

Saving the Tasmanian Devil

Aussie Ark is a project-based Australian wildlife conservation organisation founded by Australian Reptile Park owners John and Robyn Weigel, and conservationist Tim Faulkner.   

Australian wildlife: Tasmanian Devil

The Tasmanian Devil is endangered because of a contagious form of facial cancer.

In 2011 they launched Devil Ark with the aim to establish an insurance population of the endangered Tasmanian Devil on the Australian mainland. The iconic marsupial – that now can only be found in Tasmania in the wild – is under threat because of a particular nasty form of cancer called Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD).

Conservationist