Natural Sequence Farming | Principles | Benefits | Criticism

Natural Sequence Farming (NSF) is an agricultural landscape managing practice used to restore the natural water-cycle that allows the lands to thrive through droughts/arid conditions. In 1970s, Peter Andrews introduced this technique to conserve and restore natural landscapes.

What are Natural Sequences?

Natural sequences are natural systems that can be used by knowledgeable leadership. This includes the grazers (animals), insects, and bird’s movement from the bottom of the valley during the daytime to the high levels on the sides of the valley at nighttime and the fertility transformation. Nutrients and seeds gradually move along the edges of the valley through the water cycles, vegetations, and soil processes, constantly improving the landscape fertility.

  • Natural farming systems
  • Maximum natural outcome with minimal input
  • Natural grazing
  • Natural agriculture
  • Sustainable landscapes

What is Natural Sequence Farming?

Natural Sequence Farming is a universal landscape technique that concentrates on water and nutrient movement from the hilltops to the lowest floodplain points, from forests to aquaculture. NSF attempts to restore, rehydrate, and ultimately rehabilitate the landscape through natural processes.

Several experts now believe that the universal landscape restoring technique can be applied daily to the management of properties, river basins, and landscapes in various zones in synchronization with Australia’s environment.

Natural Sequence Agriculture is the restoration of degraded agricultural and ecological systems into the landscapes that functions as an environment and the farmer’s productive relationship. Significant regions of water and land bodies in Australia have been severely affected, largely by the abandonment of natural means of water conservation. Meeting Australia’s current water needs without compromising the country’s environmental sustainability require informed and urgent action.

The introduction of natural sequence agriculture is essential for the future productivity and stability of degraded/degrading landscapes and ecosystems to certify the development of a resourceful ecosystem for future generations.

Forage farms are a multi-farming operation that contributes to the conservation of biodiversity on the farm and in nature. They strive to produce food that is produced in a system using NSF methods that are reliable for the animals, us, and most significantly environment.

Natural Sequence Agriculture started in an effort to reinstate the high valleys and rivers in southern New South Wales that were once ecologically clean ponds or marshy meadows. But these water-ways are deeply cut, degraded, and separated from their floodplains. This cut causes not only heavy sediment pollution but also many agricultural problems.

Natural Sequence Farming

Founder of Natural Sequence Farming

In 1970s, Peter Andrews (Founder) has dedicated his life to developing an ever-evolving agricultural system established on his interactions and observations to a wide range of local landscapes cultivated naturally. NSF approaches to restore the natural water cycle balance to previous conditions earlier to disruptions.

Peter Andrews being a third-generation farmer with 60 years of farming and horse breeding experience, believes that the intensive grazing on the river banks after European colonization, mainly due to the reduction of vegetation, significantly increased the flowing speed of the river. This led to the erosion of river channels and a decrease in the level of groundwater in the floodplain.

Andrews realized the impact of landscape transformations resulting in droughts faster than expected, reducing biodiversity and, in many cases, depleting freshwater, lay on salt water, leading to salt runoff into the streambeds.

Taking a full view of all landscape interactions, Peter Andrews believed that the floodplain’s health and riverbeds can be restored considerably by slowing down the water flow, particularly after rain, through a series of natural obstructions in the landscape.

Peter Andrews used similar natural methods and mimic others to combat water and soil degradation and biodiversity loss. He ensures this by reuniting natural sequences within the NSF management techniques.

Basic Principles of Natural Sequence Farming

There are four basic principles of Natural Sequence Farming:

  • First, the restoration of fertility by organic matter and nutrients in order to improve soil biological functions.
  • Second, restoration of hydrological equilibrium to increase groundwater reserves, producing freshwater, in the floodplain aquifer, reducing the discharge of saline groundwater.
  • Third, restoring the natural sequence of vegetation with wild species to promote the growth of local plant species.
  • Fourth, hydrological and bio-geochemical means that feed and manage the natural landscape systems to restore ecological function.

How Does NSF Work?

NSF offers an inexpensive and versatile method to reduce the severity of droughts and increase the productivity of Australian landscape and farms. The landscape managing practice is founded on ecological and conservational principles, low input, and the natural freshwater and nutrient cycle to make the earth and rural lands more sustainable.

Although most of the soils have lost their top soil profiles, the nutrient supplying ability of the soil can be restored. NSF system can assist in improving soil and organic content availability, resulting in higher yields without increasing water consumption.

The natural sequence agriculture tests have ensued in an increase in the production of bacteria that deliver essential nutrients to the plants in a ready-to-eat form. NSF has the ability to deliver better landscape management than the mineral fertilizers – functioning soil, not just a carrier hydroponic medium. Crop diversity is promoted with the NSF series approach that uses grazing, pruning, and mulching to create a sustainable agricultural system with essential nutrients and materials.

Because topsoil is frequently susceptible to leaching, NSF protects deep rooting plants to protect top soils while simultaneously recycling and retrieving the trace minerals to aid the upcoming succession of delicious herbs. For plants and soil, the NSF’s structural responsibility is in modeling the flowing pattern in watercourses can be as significant as minimizing the flow rate. Several models can support creating new soils by depositing clay, sand, and organic matters in the floodplains while shielding the top green vegetation that previously exists.

Principle Applications of Natural Sequence Farming

According to the NSF, cultivation is best for methods that complement the maintenance of large areas of seasonal perennial grassland. If necessary, agriculture may be limited to soil on the slopes of valleys instead of floodplains, but it may be prudent to first investigate direct drilling techniques with minimal soil before sieving. Horticulture can be moved outside the floodplain, with the fertility of the valley floor and water carefully moved in the NSF system.

Natural Sequence Agriculture harmonizes completely with a sustainable approach to produce high quality agricultural products for domestic growth and export markets. More and more consumers and suppliers are demanding products that are manufactured using environment-friendly systems combined with agricultural accreditations and certified products before they are accepted. Off-site resource use or on-site processing of agricultural products can be the share of an achieved transfer of fertility equally on the farms and in the sub-basins.

As Hay harvesting of tall legumes can be done rotationally at different locations on the plot to meet the needs for reduction of weeds and management of soil fertility. Irrigation is finest done at the bottom of the valley, although in most NSF-managed areas, a minimal amount of water transfer addition is required, which already occurs naturally on and below the floodplain.

Government Efforts and Restrictions for NSF

In fact, minor and mid-sized landscape systems in most of Australia have developed since the European resolution. Leaking NSF dams are operative, they can be used in many ravines and cut through rivers across the country.

The virtuous update is that land-owners and governments have used NSF techniques in these valleys for years to combat soil erosion.

Since the 1970s, soil erosion control structures have become a useful erosion control method around the world. They used to be concrete, today they usually consist of rock heaps (called mountain landslides) and tree trunks.

These barriers significantly reduce the flow rate of water, catch sediments, promote vegetation, and prevent canyons from extending. These are all objectives of natural sequence agriculture with leaking dams. There are several thousands of structures in the Australian landscapes maintained by government initiatives acting as the anonymous rehydration and drought protection experiment.

Perhaps officials must have assessed these barriers by now, however, the rehydration capacity of this work has not been analyzed in history. Now the time has come for a scientific assessment of this public investment.

The supporters of NSF claim that these methods are difficult for farmers to apply as government guidelines restrict the usage of willow, blackberry, and other weeds they state are used to restore watercourses effectively.

Governments are fairly wary about weed use, and some studies suggests that native plants can perform relatively similar. The restrictions on weed use may irritate supporters of natural sequence agriculture, but it would not be an ultimate hindrance to the acceptance of the NSF system.

A major disappointment for NSF practitioners is the extent to which this approach is applicable. In Australian history, rural journalist John Ryan writes:

“I’m tired of politician and farmer groups and administrators who keep saying that NSF founder Peter Andrews only worked where there are small streams in a mountain valley … I’ve spotted it working on plains, steep slopes, and everywhere else where it is applied.”

Benefits of Natural Sequence Farming

Being a landscape restoring technique, natural sequence agriculture has several ecological benefits which are discussed below:

Flood Control

Flood event can occur only once every 1-2 years. However, floods have abilities to improve or devastate any property. When water moves over the bare ground too quickly, it can remove top-soil and soil nutrient, leaving over unfertile sand. By erecting barriers over streams and encouraging water to diffuse outward, flood energy is reduced, currents tend to sediment soil upstream, and water can penetrate land. This stimulates the establishment of herbs and fast growing plants.

Local flooding of the catchment floodplain occurred more often. This caused the water and rich nutrient sediment to spread over the neighboring soils, adding moisture to the soil and providing nutrients to plants. The freshwater lens system about the water-way has been rehydrated. These, in turn, fill the groundwater reserves linked to the waterways. This freshwater flow creates the sitting effect over salty groundwater.

In many river basins, we have unsuspectingly depleted the Australian environment’s ability to store water and withstand drought. Most of the Australian lands use reverse natural systems and enhance salinity. The loss of wet-lands has been particularly serious for the loss of resistance. Many natural sieves and fertility spreaders have been cleaned, refilled, and drained. General clearance of native vegetation and soil erosion has upsurged the devastation of the fertile pond chains that prevailed in most of the landscapes.

The Role of Weeds

The soil cover shields the land from aeration and burning, and correspondingly alleviates the land in future floods. Whereas rye crop and other field grasses have extensively been considered beneficial grazing crops. Other grasses considered as weeds can enhance the soil texture, fertility, promote the growth of other plants, and help grazing animals. Therefore these weeds would not be eradicated, let them die naturally, and later should be used as feed or green manure.

Many weeds only develop in the regeneration cycle. Once the land is fertile again, the trees will naturally replace the weeds.

landscape managing practice

Soils Improvement

Farming practices such as burning, clearance, drainage, ploughing, and irrigation have turn out to be common in Australia, as elsewhere. Their impact on soil organic carbon has headed to a decrease in the quality of soil on the continent’s agricultural lands, which is now 1/10th of what it was 200 year earlier before the great European Australian colonization.

Soil or water nutrients are in moveable condition and can be lost speedily. The nutrients present in living organisms of biodiversity are stable. Natural Sequence Agriculture systems retain natural purposes associated, enabling rapid metabolism and conversion of ecosystem nutrients into the agricultural soils.

Peter Andrews has already discovered the fact that even weed categorized plants can be pioneers in nutrient suppression and soil erosion. They collect and deliver basic materials important to the health of the environment. Once the landscape restored, fertility increases, and the weeds are naturally replaced with tasty grass.

To achieve maximum production and conservational outcomes, reliable knowledge of the clay and sand interaction is required that how it restores and rejuvenates. Some significant features of soil texture:

  • Maintenance of vegetation cover
  • Organic matter mulching to develop soil structure
  • Maintenance of plant diversity e.g., deep-rooted plants
  • Redirecting water into floodplain increasing soil absorption
  • Streams structuring to reduce the flow rate
  • Streams structuring to offer productive water flow

Global Climate Change

The researchers say, the traditional farming system has affected the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and will pursue to influence global warming if agricultural methods are not reformed. However, the carbon in the soil that is exposed to conventional agricultural practices directs to carbon oxidation and carbon-dioxide release into the environment.

Soils contain twice plentiful carbon than the atmosphere, and thrice more than vegetation.

It is estimated that soils that used to contain carbon matter, 4,000 – 10,000-year-old, now only contain two years old carbon. It indicates poor pasture management which lead the soil to overgrown and enters an oxidizing state.

Carbon extraction in plants is done from air CO2 through photosynthesis. This carbon nutrient is unsafe to soil’s well-being and fertility, however, is wasted while plowing the land without soil vegetation cover. Cutting the grasslands and trees produces more carbon. However, if the vegetation is allowed to cut, even if covered with weeds, the soil carbon content will increase and improve the soil’s growing conditions.

Plants have another important function, both for soil fertility and for the stabilization of climate. The atmospheric cooling, which occurs by the moisture evaporation from the plant leaves. Moisture evaporates to form rainy clouds and then falls back down to restore a small water cycle in a specific area.

Location of Existing Natural Sequence Agriculture

In many parts of Australia, floodplains are separated by streams and rivers and natural flowing patterns. This prevents them from storing water to support growth and productivity agriculture and the coastal vegetation. Most of the Australian floodplains are cut by deeply polluted ravines and gorges. These canals accelerate the rapid removal of much of the soil’s fertility and the transport of more and more salt. The nutrients and soil are highly vulnerable to soil erosion and leaching due to the use of inappropriate agriculture and grazing practices that depletes soil and vegetation covers.

Financial Budgets

Due to its natural processes, NSF is believed to provide more sustainable results than traditional piped and pumped irrigation structures, since it does not entail high financial costs or long term environment degradation, biodiversity losses, and salinity increasing, as is often the case in river basins with high regulated modes of electricity.

Natural Sequence Agriculture uses small amounts of imported or industrial materials such as herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers. In relation to financial expenses and operational resources, implementation is not costly and brings benefits from greenhouse gas emissions by increasing the carbon footprint of the landscape.

Farmer Training

The only capital required is in landowner’s training to understand the natural landscape practices. Training of the farmers to spend time in reading their land needs and issues and the application of natural sequence agriculture principles to the specific region and landscape. Unsurprisingly, Peter Andrews grew-up on a land near Broken Hill and spent a lot of his time studying landscapes with his father and Aboriginal community members.

Positives and Negatives of Natural Sequence Farming

Some of the positive and negative impacts of Natural Sequence Agriculture are enlisted below:

Positive Impacts

  • Water balance
  • Sediments balance
  • Salt balance
  • Increased productivity
  • Nutrient balance
  • Efficient farm economics
  • Preserve landscape biodiversity
  • Weeds usage to revive worn-out soil.
  • No use of chemicals such as fertilizer or pesticides.
  • Less agricultural inputs
  • Seed and tree planting in streams to aid the movement of water into the soil.

Negatives Impacts

  • Reduction in total soil nitrogen in floodplains
  • In Upper Hunter Valley, alluvial sediments of floodplains are of sandy texture allowing high movement and infiltration of rain-fall and stream-water. Thus, it is controversial whether Natural Sequence Agriculture systems have a similar capability for soil restoration in clay soils where, into and through, water movement is constricted owing to the restricting pore spaces.

Natural Sequence Farming Criticism

Some critics have questioned whether improving land management and moving away from destructive farming practices will necessitate NSF. Others disagree to Peter’s proposal to exploit the weeds. Because conservational projects generally encourage the planting of widespread Australian plants instead of permitting hostile weeds, as they are believed to struggle with the wild native plant to fulfill water needs in scarce times.

However, a 6km plot on Mulloon Creek, an experimental Natural Sequence Agriculture site, an hour-east of Canberra, appears to prove that Andrews’ hypotheses on weeds can perform well and is workable, although to a limited extent. The landscape farm site is a 6-kilometer, Malloon Creek, that works on a system of organic farm currently utilizing and indorsing Andrew’s work. This site runs over a system of organic farms utilizing and encouraging Peter Andrews’ work.

The US Sustainability Solutions Development department publicized in 2016 that “Mulloon Creek Natural Farms” are among the few farms of the world that are actually sustainable.

Mulloon Creek Natural Farms