Health from the Source Podcast: Regenerative Agriculture and How Provenir is Revolutionising the Industry | Vital Origin Skip to main content
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Today we talk with Chris Balazs who is the founder of Provenir, Australia’s only on-farm mobile abattoir, about regenerative agriculture and the role of agriculture and farming in sustainability. There are a lot of misconceptions and propaganda around agriculture and sustainability and on this episode we break down a lot of concepts around sustainability including soil health, the role of ruminants, creating a sustainable food supply and much more!

📕 References

Transcription

Welcome to the health from The Source podcast, where we’re dedicated to educating people about health, ancestral nose to tail nutrition, regenerative agriculture and the interplay between environment, health and sustainability. 1.1s Welcome to part two of our six part series. On the last episode, we talked to myself. Chris interviewed me but in my background, and we learned a bit about ancestral health and how that ties into the bigger picture. And at the end, we kind of mentioned a little bit about regenerative agriculture. So today we’re going to dive in. I’m going to interview Chris, who is the owner of provender, where all of our sourcing comes for Vital Origin. And we’re going to learn a little bit about regenerative farming, how farming really ties into the bigger sustainability picture, and how it helps improve not only animal welfare, but also, you know, environmental perspectives of improving soil and everything else. So I’ll let Chris kind of dive into that. But welcome, Chris. Why don’t you kick us off with a bit of your background and how you became a farmer in the first place, because you’ve got quite a diverse background, as you said, starting with science. And then moving into that. So please share with us. Um, yeah. So I, I, um, came out of, uh, uni and, uh, with science degree and ended up in a, at that stage, little company called CSL, which, uh, over the almost 20 years that I was there grew into, um, the world’s largest biopharmaceutical company. Um, at the moment all came out of Australia. And, uh, that was a wonderful, uh, job. Learnt a lot about science, learned about a lot about the scientific mythology, um, methodology, which I’ve always been very interested in. Um, but after 20 years and, um. 1.4s Definitely sick and tired of the corporate, um, lifestyle. I became a, uh, referred to myself as a corporate refugee and, uh, went back to my little, uh, 110 acre farm, uh, in southern Victoria, and, uh, decided that I wanted to become a farmer. 1.1s Um, we’d already had the farm for 15 years, and I was like, all right, this is it. I want to return back to nature. I want to get my hands dirty. Um, I, uh, uh, grown to love cattle, um, and, uh, observed a lot around their behavior and so forth, and was just really fascinated, um, about the farming process and, um, over the, the sort of ten years when we first bought the farm had, uh, very much been instructed by, uh, family and friends in the traditional, um, method of farming. So that was very much, uh, you’ve got a couple of weeds in your paddock. Uh, what you got to do is you got to get a sprayer, spray the whole thing out with, uh, um, something that’s going to kill everything. Uh, a little compound called Glossy Fate. Yeah. Um, for those that don’t

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know, um, and so you’d spend $7,000 of that, um, and then you would go and buy a monoculture grass such as a rye or something. Um, you would plow all of that into the soil, turning over the, the soil when you’re doing. Because obviously the top of the soil, um, was no good and all the good stuff was on the bottom of the soil. So you want to flip the whole thing over and, um, you know, get all the good soil on top and run it all through. And then sure enough, uh, all the, all the weeds would pop up again. So then you had to put on a another spray, uh, selectively from there. And, um, then you’d get the cattle in to eat down the grass. And because it was an annual, obviously you didn’t want any more weeds to come up. So once the pasture had been eaten, you would just spray it out again and lay dormant for about six months. Um, and, you know, from a scientific point of view, I was like, this isn’t really making a lot of sense. Yeah. Um, and from a financial perspective, uh, particularly on 110 acres, which, uh, uh, many farmers would be sitting there laughing, uh, particularly up in Queensland, I’d say that’s the front paddock. Um,

U1

uh, yeah. Yeah. So it’s a, it’s it’s still very small, but it is kind of large in Victoria. Um. 1.1s And, uh, yeah, from a financial perspective, I was just going backwards completely. So I started to have, uh, have a read of a couple of, uh, individuals, um, namely, uh, Alan Savory was was one of them who is pretty much, uh, considered the grandfather of, uh, regenerative farming. He’s a Zimbabwean, um, and made some really key observations about the interactions of herbivores, uh, with grasslands. Um, and then I read, uh, quite a bit of an American called Joel Salatin. Um, which, uh, he’s he’s almost the rock star of, uh, regenerative farming. Um, everywhere he goes, he pulls a very large crowd. I’ve met him a couple of times. Um, and he’s he’s incredibly practical as well. So he talks about living with nature, not fighting against nature. Um, which which to me made eminent sense because, uh, when it comes down to it, uh, one human versus nature is always going to be a winner. Um, and so I started reading a lot more about that, and I was really intrigued about my preconceived ideas about, um, you know, what was what? Um, the I read an incredible book, um, called weeds. And, um, the opening was, was written by Costas, who’s a well known gardener as well. And the forward has always stayed with me as well, because he said, who defines what a weed is? 1.5s The question. Good question. And why do we hate weeds? 1.7s Because we’re told. Yep. You know, we’re told that’s a weed and therefore that weed is bad. Yeah. Um, the the. 1.7s One of the ways that people spray out is amaranth, which is a native natural food from the Greeks back 2500 years ago and is the second highest, um, nutritional fodder plant for cattle. And yet, because it’s not rye, wheat or whatever it is, everyone

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was throwing it out and it’s like it is the best food for for the cattle. Like, if I could get a paddock full of this weed, I’d be happy because it made sense. It was. It was a wonderful fodder for the cattle. So I started to develop more of that. And, you know, just from a, um, a soul perspective, I just felt that I was doing a lot better farming than what I had done before. And the really cool part is you let nature do all the work. Yeah, because nature’s going to do it anyway. 1s Um,

U1

and it’s interesting, right? Because there’s a few few narratives in the space where there’s still an argument. I’m interested from the cost perspective. There’s still people making the argument that regenerative farming is is too expensive, which is funny because it seems when you allow the system to do its thing and you allow the ecosystems to manage themselves, then it should it should save you a fair bit. So where do you think that that narrative comes from?

U2

It’s. 1.1s I think the narrative comes from when you’re in a high input traditional farming system. 1.7s There’s been many examples where people have gone on going regenerative farming. They don’t do any more inputs or, um, fertilizers or pesticides, herbicides, all the rest of it. And what happens is there’s a vacuum of, um, infestation of crickets, of weeds, of all of these things. And that’s a natural part of the cycle because weeds are the early adopters. So they weeds will grow in the most distressed soils. 1.2s And their function basically is to open up that soil, put the nutrients back into there, and grasses will outcompete weeds every single time. And so on my farm. I haven’t had any inputs, I haven’t reseeded, I haven’t sprayed out, I haven’t done herbicides. I have just rotationally grazed. For the last 15

U1

years. And what is what does that mean for people who are not familiar necessarily with that term? Because it’s an important part of regenerative agriculture. If you could explain to people what that means. Yeah. Um. Good point. So rotational grazing is this concept that, um, Alan Savory discovered in the first place. And this was, uh, his farm backed on to the, uh, Serengeti. And what he observed is that he had his, um, cattle that backed on to the Serengeti reserve, and the ground was dead flat, hardly could grow any grass. And he would look over the fence. And there in the Serengeti, was tall, lush grass everywhere. 1.1s And he started to say, well, you know, what’s the difference? Because it’s basically a fence line between mine and theirs. Now, theirs had wildebeests, they had elephants, they had a lot of large herbivores that came through. 1.1s But what he noticed was that he came through for very short periods of time. And they ate all the grass down to about half its growth height. And then they would move on to another area. And so this high disturbance for a short period of time is really, um, beneficial to grasses and the churning of the, of the heavy herbivores of, of soil disturbance in there. And they generally come through when it’s, um, after a rain. So there’s been lots of grass because they follow the grass around. So wherever the grass is good, that’s where they’ll go. Um, and so that disturbance of the soil actually, um, regenerated the soil microbes as opposed to his cattle that were constantly on the land, always walking around and, um, eating the grass down to such a low point that, um, the regrowth rate is actually proportional to the height. So, um, that’s more or mainly livestock. Australia have got a lot of information on this, is that if the grass is above and it depends on the grass, but roughly seven centimetres. The growth rate to 15cm is a 10th of the time. If the grass is only two centimetres, so that first growth is really, really slow. I didn’t know that

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the second part of the growth is higher, and the root depth is directly proportional to the height of the grass. So what regenerative farming really is focused on is as opposed to sustainable farming is sustainable farming sustains the farm. So it keeps the status quo, which is great if you’ve got a wonderful farm, but if you’ve got a screwed farm, you’re just sustaining a screwed farm. So regenerative farming is actually about regenerating and improving the land, um, in the process. So regenerative farmers are actually focused more on the soil and the ecosystem. And the herbivores, whether that’s sheep or cattle, 1.1s um, goats are just a tool to actually improving the land.

U1

Yeah. And I think this is something that people don’t realize. Again, a lot of the narrative is very surface level, like meat, bad eliminate cattle. And they don’t go into the nuance because often a lot of people have never been on a farm. They don’t understand ecosystems, they don’t understand how biology functions. And so they don’t know the importance of the soil, the of the microbes in the soil, of how, you know, specific keystone species, like herbivores and ruminants, play a role in how the natural grazing all all plays a major factor into, as you said, regenerating the land. And there’s even some amazing examples now of areas. And this is happening a lot in the States at the moment, where there’s a lot of desertification of a lot of areas, because they basically just completely destroyed the area through mono cropping and not good land management. So they’ve completely destroyed the topsoil. There’s no more nutrients. All the grasses have very shallow roots, so that water runs right out. And there’s all these issues, and people don’t consider that a lot of the foods we’re trying to shift to now that require a lot of these mass industrialized mono crops are completely destroying the soil. And without ruminants grazing and pasturing on that land, how do we how do we regenerate the soil, especially if you’re, you know, you don’t want to use synthetic fertilizers because now we’re running out of phosphorus and we’re running out of, you know, some of these compounds which we need to make fertilizer, which are also from a sustainability and an environmental perspective, like the industrial processing of those those products are pretty bad when all you could do is put some ruminants and some herbivores to go on that land and just go eat some of the grass poop on it, put some nitrogen back in, and and there you go. So yeah, I find it difficult.

U2

That’s that’s the really cool thing about regenerative farming. Is you’ll at night to do the work.

U1

Exactly. You just work within the nature cycles and you know it’s not a magic wand. So everyone goes. I tried regenerative farming for three years and it didn’t work. Well. Where you in drought were you in flood? You know, there’s all these environmental overlays that always happen in, in any, um, farm or environment. But what it is, is

U2

you set the basis of returning back to what the natural ecosystem is because, you know, the world wasn’t filled of deserts. Yeah. Before we started the agricultural revolution.

U1

It’s one of the the interesting things. There’s numbers on the amount of bison that used to graze across the Americas. And so, you know, the, the again, the narrative of the beef are farting and creating too many greenhouse gases. But actually, if you compare the amount of cattle that we have now compared to the amount of bison that we used to have, it’s actually not even close. There used to be millions and millions of bison that were roaming. So yeah, it’s always interesting to to look at how nature naturally had a lot of these ecosystems before. And I like how it ties into our ancestral health talk we were talking about before. Right. It’s it’s getting back to nature, getting back to our normal ways of being and looking at how biology functions and how can we tie in our modern approaches with the science and technology we have now? How do we leverage those things and bring them together to live with nature, with the amazing tools that we have today?

U2

There is a, um, for me and the study that I’ve done, and also just my lived history is there is an undeniable link between humanity, ruminants, and soil health. It’s absolutely all of them are completely linked together. And if we screw with that, you know, every each one of those key elements actually fall down. And so, you know, I’ve, I’ve had many discussions, um, with vegans. So, you know, I’m, I’m in the business of, um, processing cattle, which we’ll get on to a little bit. Um, and they’re like, you know, we shouldn’t kill any animals. And it’s like, well, if the ruminants aren’t consumed and then we don’t have enough ruminants, the grass is going to die. And if the grass has died, the soil is going to acidify, and, you know, the whole thing falls over. There is just a natural balance between carnivores, ruminants, grasses and soil health. Absolutely. Um, and that’s, that’s the biggest, um, I guess, protein cycle, which is what humans are absolutely trapped in, um, protein. Um, yeah. So, so that, that I always found really fascinating. Um, the more that I read and, um, the fact that I’d studied science and technology for 20 years, um, and particularly in the biological space, I came to learn that there is far more that we don’t know than what we do know.

U1

Absolutely. Which is this weird

U2

science is. But, you know, the assumption of science is we know everything and we’re just, you know, really so clever because we just learned the next thing. All of that exists around us all the time. We just don’t know it until we develop the technologies to understand it. It doesn’t mean that, you know, these things didn’t exist beforehand.

U1

Yeah, it’s a classic sort of hubris, I think, of of our species, unfortunately, where we think we know many things. And there’s a good engineering analogy that a lot of people use is the aspect of a complicated system versus a complex system. And so we tend to look at things as complicated, which can be reduced to something. So our reductionist scientific approach often works really well. But biology and ecosystems are infinitely complex. So there’s so many interactions that it’s almost impossible to really know that complete effects. And this is where I worry about the direction we’re going now, where we think we can, you know, engineer our way out of our food systems and remove ecosystems, things like, you know, lab meats and these artificial meats that I don’t know if they’re food or what they are, but it would definitely going down a different, different range. And I’m sure we can go into a bit of a rabbit hole with that. But you mentioned obviously your farm and I’d love to talk about that because Grosvenor, which is your company, is obviously doing some phenomenal work in the space of not only meat, but supplying what we do as well. So why don’t you share a little bit about provenance and what they’ve done? And some of you know, the first in the space, the stuff that you’ve brought to market. 1.2s Yeah. So, um. 2.1s The province is Australia’s first and currently only operating commercial mobile abattoir. So what we say quite simply, instead of the animals going to the abattoir, the abattoir goes to the animals. Um, there’s a um a lot of animal welfare considerations that go into that. So, um, coming to the conclusion that we are carnivores and that we will eat ruminants, um, once there is an acceptance of that fact, then the next stage of animal welfare is okay. If we are going to consume and process these animals, how do we do that the best way possible? So for myself, um, having lived on the farm, I had, um, consumed my own cattle, um, and had tasted the difference, um, of home slaughtered meat. Um, and at the time, I just thought that I was producing the world’s best beef and lucky, um, which I discovered afterwards. It wasn’t. It was, um, the fact of removing stress from the animal actually has a really positive impact to the meat quality. Uh, from there. So, um, we got into, uh, what’s called a startup incubator. So basically, these are programs where people have an idea and, um, other rich people, if they think it’s a good enough idea, they back it and they start to shop as a startup company. So we went into, um, went into that we won a couple of awards in that. And the whole concept was, um, we wanted to produce Australia’s best beef. And for us to do that, it was through a mobile abattoir. So we take the stress out of the animal. The animal never has to go on the back of a live transport truck, never has to go to a saleyard, never has to be transported again to an abattoir, never has to go into leverage or the holding pens um, before that, which are quite noisy and and have artificial light the whole time. Um, and so if we can remove that part of the process, then. 1.4s I think we’re rewarded with a vastly superior product, and it actually marries into the welfare aspects that, you know, animal born on the farm, raised on the farm, processed on the farm, never has to, you know, move beyond the farm, which is, um, the natural place for the animals to be. Um, took, uh, probably 18 months to get the idea off the ground. Uh, we had some wonderful people support us along the way. And, um, we got several grants from, uh, Maine Livestock Australia, um, which have been a wonderful supporter of innovation in the red meat industry. Um, and then we had some, uh, sort of key individuals that, um, like, uh, what’s the expression? Um, the, the teacher comes when the student is ready. Um, and so one of those people was an individual called Theo Hennessy’s, um, who was, uh, very experienced, um, businessman, um, and just loved the idea and the passion that we had behind what we were doing. And he got heavily involved in the business and gave us a lot of the guidance to, to turn, uh, what we thought was a great idea into a great business as well. So, um. Probably jump forward now. Um, Provine has been operating for five years. Um, we process on, um, farms across Victoria and New South Wales for the, um, each week, um, of every year. And, um, we process probably around about a thousand, maybe a little bit more head of cattle per annum from there. And then, um, we sell that through various retail options from there. So the story of provenance was um, definitely, uh, one of, um, struggle and hardship. So when we. Yeah. Well, you know, as they say, it takes takes five years to be an overnight success. Yeah. Um, 1.1s so we’re probably not too far off from, uh, hopefully being an overnight success. Um, and, uh, we even had to go to the fact of, um, changing the laws in Victoria to actually operate. So, um, you know, all the people who backed us and invested with us, you know, a big, big thank you to those who, um, basically said, uh, yeah. Love the idea. Yeah, yeah. You just got to go and change the laws. Um, you know, you

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guys go easy, you guys go and do that, and then, uh, then get into the business of, um, you know, providing an alternative to the red meat supply chain. Um, and we, um, exclusively work with regenerative farmers. So the whole value proposition that we have for our customers is to truly know where their food comes from, which is, um, you know, the red meat industry is quite an opaque, um, industry. Uh, you know, people might say that, you know, I love, uh, Cape Grim because it comes from the the north of Tasmania. Uh. A proportion does. Um, not all of it. Not most of it. Um, so we wanted to bring some real traceability into that. So we developed a software that, um, each piece of meat goes out with a little QR code on it, and then, um, consumers can use their phone scan that, and it’ll actually link back to the story of the farm that we’ve been on. So we process on on probably 75 different farms so far now. Um, and, and many of them, we have really deep relationships with the farmers because we’re basically staying in their farm stay or, or wherever it is. We know their kids. We know the dogs. Um, it’s it’s, um, it’s quite a, 1.2s a beautiful relationship that you develop with the farmers who care so much for the cattle that they have, and you can really see the care that they put to the land. So

U1

I think that’s, that’s, that’s another that’s another thing where I think people often have the wrong image of farmers, especially people in the cattle and meat industry. They think that they don’t care about their animals and they’re just slaughtering them. But often, as you said, when you actually meet these farmers, they take the utmost care of their animals and they really treat them amazingly. And they have fantastic lives, especially in that regenerative source. Living on pasture is is often a bit of, yeah, a strange view from that perspective. So it’s nice to hear from someone who spends their time there of how well these animals are treated and taking care of.

U2

Yeah. So these these farmers and I would say the vast majority of farmers as well have a connection with the farm animals that over years becomes really deep. You know, you talk to them and they’ll go, oh, that’s 52. She’s going to be really shy. She’ll stand around the back, but she’s a great mother and she’ll she’ll comb mother 40 Sixes child as well because she actually had a bit of mastitis. And you know, this isn’t a herd of hundreds of cattle and they will individually know each one, and then they’ll go, and that’s the rogue bull that actually just jumps over all the fences all the time. Yeah,

U1

it was much more of a connection to land overall. It’s something that as we moved into cities, we’ve really lost touch of, we we’ve forgotten where our food comes from. We’ve forgotten we used to be a part of the land and we’re part of the ecosystem. There’s a lot of things I feel like we’ve we’ve forgotten now, moving away from being connected to to animals and to land. 1s

U2

And I think. That is something that has evolved. Um, farmers have always had a strong connection to the land. You know, that’s that’s where they get their livelihood from. Um, but I think science and, um, poor science has actually led to the, um, 1.5s to a lot of the problems that we have with the land, with the, uh, artificial super, um, fertilizers, with a lot of the pesticides and herbicides, you know, they they did really limited studies. Does this work as a killer grass? Yeah. Great. You know, what’s the bioaccumulation of it? What is the, um, bioaccumulation into the food chain of it? None of that was done. Yeah.

U1

Short term thinking often?

U2

Correct. Okay. You got weeds. Here’s here’s your solution. You know, a bit of snake oil and so forth. And, you know, then often within the farming, um, community, you’re looking at what Bob’s doing or Bob’s. Do you think that. I’m going to get some of that as well. Group think that it goes there. So that kind of thinking, you know, regenerative farming just in the last like seven years I’ve, I actually started regenerative farming even before I knew what regenerative farming was. It just 1s

U1

was probably just a bit of a tight ass and couldn’t afford all the different chemicals and just thought, well, here’s an experiment. Let’s see what nature does. Um. 1.3s Yeah. And and at the start, I can remember, uh, probably six years ago, you know, people were saying, what’s going on? You haven’t sprayed out your paddocks. And I was like, I’m not doing that. And they’re like, oh, you’ll have too many weeds. It’s not fair. You’re going to have, you know, and it’s like, well, I kind of think that the weeds have a purpose and, and they have a role in nature to. Oh yeah. So you know, right now there’s, there’s fabulous organizations, there’s farmers for soils like, you know, it’s it’s getting a bit of a groundswell, which is great from there. Um, and now I think the story needs to evolve to, okay, how do we support as consumers in the city? How do we support the farmers that are doing the right thing by the land? Because. 1.1s The fact is that Australian farmers own way more land. 1.4s Then all the city dwellers put together far more.

U2

So if you’re looking at that perspective. But as you know, there’s far more city dwellers than there are farmers. And the farmers produce the food for the city dwellers. How do we create a transparency? So those that do care about it and live in the city can support the farmers that they know are doing the right thing by the land?

U1

Yeah. And that’s why it’s amazing. You have that aspect of transparency and actually traceability and being able to follow where everything is coming from. I think through education, hopefully we start to spread, you know, the good word more and more and people obviously drive things through their pockets. And I think the more people become aware and, you know, you might have to spend a little extra. But if you care about sustainability, like a lot of people say they do, you really need to start considering where your food comes from and where your meat comes from and start to support more regenerative farms. So I think we’re we’re starting to see a shift. It’s nice to hear that from your side. You see that as well. It’s always tough because when you’re you’re in it, you know, you’re sort of in an echo chamber. So I hope that that it is getting bigger and I am seeing more changes. So I pray that more people come around to regenerative farming. And thankfully, depending on where you’re at, if you’re an investor, not so, thankfully, but a lot of the plant based foods and things like that are sort of not being successful because I think in the long run, it’s not going to be something that can be sustained for our population over the long run if we’re not in alignment with nature. So eventually we’ll come back to that.

U2

Cows. Cows will save the world.

U1

I agree absolutely, and

U2

how the cows are raised is vitally important. But they they are the ones that will eat the grass that we need. We need the grass to grow and be eaten.

U1

It’s not the cow, it’s the how is saying from sacred cow.

U2

Yes that’s right. And uh, people will do better when they know better.

U1

Absolutely. Well, it’s been a pleasure. It’s been excellent to learn more about regenerative farming and what you do. And obviously provender being a partner with Vital Origin, we’re very thankful and lucky to be able to have really Australia’s most ethical and some of the best products really in Australia. So we’re very proud of that and we hope to share that with more and more people. And obviously as we go through this series in the coming episodes, we’ll talk a little bit more about the nutritional components and specific products that we do have with Vital Origin.

U2

I’m keen to learn a lot more about that, Richard.

U1

Excellent. Well, we’ll chat soon.

U2

Okay. Thanks, Mike. See you. Chris. 1.2s

U1

Thanks for listening to today’s episode. If you enjoyed the content, be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss out on any future episodes. And if you’re looking to add in nature’s most nutrient dense foods back into your diet, be sure to check out White Origin. Com.au and use Coupon source ten at checkout for an extra 10% off. We’ll see you guys on the next episode.

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