Changing our mindscape, to change our landscape

We only have one generation to turn this around – that’s all.” Quoting leading social and environmental change agent, Paul Hawken, this was the stark message delivered to the 20th birthday celebrations of Diversity Arrays Technology (DArT).

Sound like a gloomy thing to say at a birthday party? Maybe, but for the people of DArT it was a timely message, an endorsement of the work they have been doing for 20 years, and an articulation of the challenge ahead for DArT in its drive to use its innovation and technology to improve agriculture where it’s most needed around the world.

The speaker was Dr Charlie Massy, inspirational grazier turned advocate for regenerative agriculture as a means for improving the efficiency, yields and sustainability of farming practices. Charlie’s is a great story. Inheriting the family farm in the Cooma district of New South Wales, he started off just carrying on the practices of past generations, accepting that when seasons were bad, the country was bad, and when things got better – well, fingers crossed the land would recover.

But then Charlie got thinking. Maybe there was a better way – a way to use the insights and advancements of modern science, to change the paradigm and find a – let’s be honest – more intelligent way to manage land use. He set about challenging the traditional way of thinking – that nature is the enemy – an idea that has seen generations of wholesale land clearing, ploughing and suppression of the natural environment.

This is what Charlie calls ‘landscape illiteracy’ – practices born of ignorance for the implications of the way the land is being treated. By becoming ‘landscape literate’, however, the damage can be reversed and high agricultural yields returned while treating the land sustainably.

A stark comparison between land that has been managed with landscape illiteracy, and landscape literacy. The effect is particularly evident during sustained rainfall, where the land on the left is unable to absorb water, which runs off taking valuable topsoil with it. The country on the right is absorbing the water, even after a significant amount of rain. Photos: Charlie Massy

DArT founder and director, Andrzej Kilian, describes Charlie Massy as “probably the most inspirational person” he has met, and points to the great synergies between the work Charlie is doing and the aims of DArT Pty Ltd – namely to find and support better ways to approach agriculture, identify more appropriate crop varieties and crops for particular environments, and above all embrace and learn from the natural environment – adapting agricultural practices that are both diverse and sustainable.

Through its work in genomic data production, linking genomic data with disease (biomedicine) and performance (agriculture and ecology) – along with its provision of proprietary software platforms, machine learning and data mining capabilities – DArT’s aim is to improve the viability, productivity and diversity of agriculture, particularly in the poorest countries of the world.

Both Andrzej Kilian and Charlie Massy agree with the three principles for ‘good farming’ as articulated by US environmental historian Donald Worster. Good farming should make people healthier, promote a just society, and preserve the Earth and its network of life.

DArT celebrated its 20th birthday in style in the beautiful lakeside setting of the National Museum of Australia – with good food, good company and just a bit of dancing. We are so pleased that, being based in Canberra, we were able to proceed with the celebrations before COVID’s viral interference, though we missed our colleagues from Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney who were not so fortunate. We’ll just have to have another party for them next time they’re in town.

Happy Birthday to Diversity Arrays Technology Pty Ltd. Twenty years down and definitely many, many more to follow.

The DArT Pty Ltd team at the company’s 20th birthday celebrations, just missing colleagues caught in lockdowns interstate. Photo courtesy David Hunter