This is the story of an historic farm which almost failed. It’s a story which goes back 200 years, when the pasture at Brownlow Hill, just near Camden, supplied Sydney with milk. A number of crises, including the deregulation of the dairy industry in the 1990’s and the threat of Coal Seam Gas exploration, forced Edgar and Lynne Downes to drastically review how they farmed.
20 FARMERS AND ONE CREEK = A UNIQUE COLLABORATIVE PROJECT ON THE SOUTHERN TABLELANDS
This is the story about a creek
Mulloon Creek is not just any creek. It runs for around 50 kilometres through a beautiful valley in the Southern Tablelands, near Bungendore, New South Wales. It drains an area of around 400 square kilometres in a north- south aligned sub-catchment of the Upper Shoalhaven River.
There’s history there, too. Mulloon Creek followed an original Cobb and Co highway between Goulburn and Cooma.
Mulloon Creek Catchment, NSW
ENTERPRISE: Grazing, cropping
CATCHMENT SIZE: 23,000 hectares
AVERAGE ANNUAL RAINFALL: 600-800 mm
ELEVATION: 692-1260 m
MOTIVATION FOR CHANGE
- Rehydrating the Mulloon Creek Catchment
- Construction of “leaky weirs” to slow down and re-distribute water
- Higher productivity and hydration proved at the Home Farm pilot, with monitoring and benchmarking along the Catchment
This Soils For Life case study, undertaken in collaboration with The Mulloon Institute, examines a unique, long term and broad project.
With the guidance and co-ordination undertaken by the Institute, 20 landholders are working collaboratively to rehydrate the Creek and their agricultural landscapes. It’s presented an opportunity for those land managers to develop a baseline assessment of vegetation condition on different land types.
The Institute was founded by a remarkable man, Tony Coote AM, who bought several farms along Mulloon Creek and began applying regenerative practices, some of them designed by Peter Andrews.
Tony was well-known in the farming community for his work in agriculture, as well as founding Mulloon Creek Natural Farms and The Mulloon Institute. He started a small water project before founding the Institute in 2011, expanding into what is now a 23,000-hectare site with 50 kilometres of creek. The goal has been to reverse the damage done to the landscape and the water by numerous erosion gullies – still far too common sights on farms across the country.
The work he was renowned for was “banking” water, by restoring creeks to pre-European states and slowing flow, allowing farmers to store water in the landscape itself and draw it when needed. By using this technique, which started in a 2006 project, Mr Coote was able to boost agricultural productivity. His institute’s research has been recognised by the United Nations.
The Chair of The Mulloon Institute is Gary Nairn AO.
Farmers are naturally independent souls in their thinking and actions. But a pilot carried out by The Mulloon Institute 13 years ago served to prove the viability – and profitability – of slowing down the Creek. The instream interventions, i.e. leaky weirs, were installed along Mulloon Creek at the Home Farm then, but most of the substantive instream interventions along the Creek commenced after 2016.
The results of this unique project will be monitored and benchmarked by The Institute. Landholders are reporting a better flow of water, and higher quality water. The Institute will collect data over time on the impact of the slower water flows on their pastures.
A comprehensive assessment of the vegetation condition of the Mulloon Creek Catchment and the Mulloon Community Landscape Rehydration Project is available for download here.
The job of coordinating up to 20 landholders and work on14 farms has fallen to Peter Hazell, Project Coordinator at The Mulloon Institute.
Upstream from the “plug” at Peter’s Pond, Sue and Ulli Tuisk need the creek for their household and their Angus cattle. During the Millenium Drought and the fierce drought of 2018, the creek almost dried up.
The Tuisks, who own historic “Palerang” decided to install a slightly different type of weir – in the form of a “V”. As an engineer, Ulli understands the mechanics…
A very recently completed ecological assessment provides early indications of some positive results at Palerang. Richard Thackway, of VAST Transformations, Canberra, prepared the report, Assessment of vegetation condition – Mulloon Catchment and Mulloon Community Landscape Rehydration Project, for The Mulloon Institute in January 2019.
One of the first landowners to come on board with Tony Coote’s vision was Gerry Carroll, of “Mulloon Farm”.
He and his Manager, Andrew Robinson, have seen outstanding results from slowing down the Creek, and building up surrounding pasture.
Next door, John West at “West View” has seen a remarkable transformation on his part of the Creek, in a very short time.
In 12 weeks, and with five interventions, John’s seeing fish and birds for the first time in decades, as well as clean water good enough for a dip.
RESULTS AT JANUARY 2019
Australia’s National Soil Advocate, Chair of Soils For Life and former Governor General Major General Michael Jeffery, says last night’s “4 Corners” program on climate change neglected an important element in the debate about solutions to Australia’s annual emissions of 550 million tonnes of CO2.
General Jeffery said the focus on curbing emissions, and who should or should not pay, ignored the fact that Australia’s soils represented our largest carbon sink.
“We have the capacity to substantially reduce our overall emissions by improving the soil health of 470 million hectares of our agricultural landscape”, General Jeffery said.
Australia’s former Chief Scientist, Professor Robin Batterham, estimates that healthy soils have the capacity to absorb, like a sponge, at least sufficient CO2 to meet our Paris Agreement target, and accordingly we should be pursuing with the utmost vigour, a cheap, accurate, broad acre soil carbon measurement system”.
“It is estimated that, in our Australian agricultural landscapes, our soil carbon levels have decreased from a healthy 4%-5% at settlement to around 1% today”.
“Our Soils For Life case studies have shown that regenerative farmers can dramatically increase their soil carbon levels by drawing down CO2 from the atmosphere, through the application of integrated soil, water, plant and animal management techniques”.
“In the process, farmers who increase their carbon levels can earn extra income through the growing carbon credits market”.
“It is disappointing that this important contribution to climate change adjustment and a sensible transitional energy policy has been largely ignored in the current emissions debate”.
Soils for Life programs demonstrate proven solutions in regenerative landscape management to increase the natural capital value of the Australian landscape – rural, regional and urban.
For more information contact: Niree Creed, Media, Soils For Life, 0418625595