Australia’s National Soil Advocate and Chair of Soils For Life, Major General Michael Jeffery, has welcomed yesterday’s passage of the Future Drought Fund legislation with optimism that it will provide funds for fundamental change to the way Australia farms. “Our case studies and interviews for Soils For Life (www.soilsforlife.org.au), especially those undertaken in drought affected areas, have proved that regenerative agriculture practices have the capacity to help “drought-proof” agriculture”, General Jeffery said. “Those of our case study farmers still technically in drought have functioning streams, ample or adequate top cover and have not needed to buy supplementary feed”. “Through integrated soil, water, plant and animal management, they have effectively drought-proofed their farms”. “Our case study at “Illawong”, due to be published shortly, reveals that pasture management including measures to retain moisture in soils, rotational grazing and the revegetation of remnant trees and ground cover has provided abundant pasture and healthy profits on a relatively small holding”.
“The increasing use and interest in regenerative practices we see at Soils For Life have largely been a direct response to the drought, with farmers seeking long term resilience to the inevitable future drought events”. General Jeffery said the adoption of common sense regenerative practices on farms also had positive financial implications, through the payment of carbon credits for resilient, carbon-rich soils. “Soils For Life farmers demonstrate that improving soil health could draw down sufficient CO2 to meet our Paris Agreement target”. “Indeed, it may well be possible to neutralise Australia’s total annual industrial emissions of around 550 million tonnes of CO2, thus allowing a more orderly transition to renewable energy options”, General Jeffery said.
The Chair of Soils for Life and Australia’s National Soil Advocate, Major General Jeffery attended the Imperial Springs International Forum in Guangzhou, China on December 14th. The meetings included former President of Timor Leste, Jose Ramos Horta, former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clarke, the President of the Australia China Friendship and Exchange Association,Dr Chau Chak Wing, and the former President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai.
The latest case study undertaken by Soils For Life tracks the regeneration of the Brownlow Hill Estate near Sydney through 200 years of farming – and a brush with disaster. Edgar Downes is the fifth generation to farm Brownlow Hill.
Situated near Camden on the outskirts of the city, it is one of Australia’s most significant early agricultural and settlement sites. Originally named “Cowpastures”, it was the first dairy farm to serve the fledgling settlement of Sydney. Current ownership and occupation stems back almost 160 years.
The case study tracks the ecological, production and social changes on the property over the entire period.
Since 1985, Edgar has gradually transformed the soils, pasture and protected stands of Cumberland Plain Woodland into a property which requires no chemical or non-organic inputs for his dairy and beef cattle and his thriving lucerne paddocks. However, the family came close to walking away following the deregulation of the dairy market, the prospect of coal seam gas exploration on the property, and the encroachment of urban development just over their hills.
The turning point came when Edgar entered a Bio Banking pilot program which involved protecting the Cumberland woodland. The sale of BioBanking credits has guaranteed the future of Brownlow Hill. All of the 1215 hectares are heritage listed and will never be developed for housing. Edgar adopted Natural Sequence Farming methods and started spreading a mixture of horse manure, sawdust, straw and urine on his paddocks. This was provided by a recycling business for free.
Edgar’s changed management practices have meant that he no longer uses chemicals. He rotates his crops and renovates his pastures as needed and his cattle don’t require drenching or inoculations. His dairy cows share the land with a growing beef herd, the 8 cuts of lucerne a year from 330 hectares are in great demand, and the stable waste has dramatically improved the soil.
The Soils For Life case study delves deeply into the history, productivity, social and ecological transformation of a unique and historic settlement.