HOW IS AN ECOLOGICAL REPORT PRODUCED FOR A SOILS FOR LIFE CASE STUDY?

An ecological report is produced for each case study in the Soils for Life program. To produce an ecological report the Soils for Life team follows a robust formula developed and tested by Richard Thackway, Honorary Associate Professor at The Australian National University and long-term member of the Soils for Life team.

Land managers typically keep production and financial records over time and have no written record of the regenerative management of their farm and outcomes of regenerative practices applied to their farm. Soils For Life ecological assessors use a handbook for preparing ecological reports. An assessment on “Pallerang”, a farm in the Mulloon Creek Catchment, is an example of the approach detailed in the handbook.

The ecological report quantifies what has happened ecologically on a farm over decades. A detailed ecological report consists of 20 to 30 pages.

The Soils for Life ecological assessor supports the land holder to develop a chronology of the production systems for the main land types their land. Production systems include time based paddock grazing, no-till cropping, minimum use and biodiversity protection, revegetation, controlling wildfire, controlling feral animals and weeds, and fencing water points and creek to exclude stock. The ecological assessor can liaise with the farmer remotely via telephone and email.

The land holder completes a graphic response to ten ecological assessment criteria which is the land holder’s interpretation of what has occurred ecologically on the property during their management.

The land manager provides reports, photographs and results of soil tests, and water and biodiversity surveys.

The chronology of production systems and the farmer’s graphic responses indicate the impacts of the land holder’s management decisions on the ecological health of the land.

Satellite imagery verifies the ecological transformation and health of the agricultural landscape. Ground cover and actively photosynthesising vegetation are analysed using satellite imagery. Ground cover on the property is compared to the surrounding district which provides an independent verification of the regenerative capacity of the land.

A three to five-page summary ecological report is produced by the Soils for Life team and included in the case study, promoted on the website and on the social media platforms.

Greg Hosking is an ecologist. Honorary Associate Professor Richard Thackway is a Research Scientist. Both Greg and Richard are members of the Soils for Life team.


THE PACIFIC WEEK OF AGRICULTURE 2019

In Spring 2019 I had the privilege to attend the Pacific Week of Agriculture in Apia, Samoa. The theme of the conference was “Enhanced Partnerships for Sustainable Agriculture and Forestry Systems in the Pacific”. The conference was attended by delegates from the majority of nations in the South Pacific. Delegates came together at the conference to highlight the research and different projects that had been undertaken in the South Pacific in recent years, all with the goal of improving the sustainability of the current agricultural systems in place.

Source: https://www.pwasamoa2019.ws/photos#gallery_18-1

A major threat facing agriculture in the South Pacific is soil degradation caused by continuous same species cropping and lack of inputs. The impact of this is already being felt throughout the South Pacific in the form of reducing yields and reliance on imported food products for survival. Dr Ben McDonald from CSIRO is one of many researchers working in this space conducting crop trials in conjunction with local researchers to combat the issue of soil degradation.

The University of the South Pacific (USP) is also conducting research and trials into improving the agricultural systems currently employed throughout many of the South Pacific Nations. The USP campus in Apia has recently discovered that sheep can be run in conjunction with a taro crop as the sheep do not browse taro plants. Small discoveries such as this are important in the South Pacific as they enable landholders to have multiple enterprises providing monetary and ecological benefits.

A team from CSIRO was present at the conference as part of the Pacific Soils Partnership. They presented the work that they have been doing in the South Pacific funded by Australian Government aid. Seeing the impact of Australian aid funding on the lives of land holders in the South Pacific highlighted the important role that Australia plays in leading the South Pacific region in advancing agricultural practices and technology.

The conference also highlighted the potential to utilise agriculture as a way to combat domestic violence in the South Pacific. Typically, in South Pacific Nations women and girls do not earn their own incomes and this limits the potential for them to leave violent situations. The conference touched on this and highlighted the need for it to become socially respectable for women and girls to work in agriculture, this would provide them with an income and options.

The conference was an excellent opportunity to understand the agricultural systems Australia’s closest neighbours employ and how Australian aid funding facilitated through organisations such as CSIRO and ACIAR can make a difference in the everyday lives of people from the South Pacific.

Greg Hosking

SEEING REGENERATIVE AGRICULTURE THROUGH THE ARTISTS EYES

An innovative approach to sharing knowledge on regenerative agriculture to the wider community attracted farmers, artist, and regional and city folk to recent on farm open days. The project, Earth Canvas started this year with a vision from six regenerative farmers between the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers on the SW slopes of NSW.

Leading Australian landscape artist John Wolseley at the Bibbaringa Woolshed, north of Albury on the first open day in the series. John spoke about the synergies of the landscape with the human body, “When you look you see the heart, the lungs and different body parts reflected in the landscape. We need to understand the process of nature,” he said.

Six leading Australian artists were invited to work on their properties and share their knowledge and practice of regenerative agriculture. The artists came up with a body of work highlighted at six open days during November 2019. Over 450 people attended the series of open days. This was a unique opportunity to visit commercial size working farms and see the landscape from the artist’s perspective. Visitors learned how farms are building ecosystems to produce healthy food.

“It is about connecting all ecosystems to produce a healthier environment and food. Everyone is involved in this process. We all consume food, and all rely on healthy soils and agriculture to produce the food”, says chairman of Earth Canvas Gillian Sanbrook.

“The artist can help us see the fragility and beauty of nature and the importance of balancing economic and environmental outcomes. Improved farming practice is part of the solution to climate change and to make the world a better place.”

Earth Canvas artists John Wolseley commented, “The language of art and regenerative agriculture are the same. You must immerse yourself in your subject as an artist and it is no different for the farmer.”

Artist Jenny Bell from Goulburn took a holistic approach in her artwork of 15 images reflecting the importance of decision making by the people who manage the landscape and the effect that regenerative practices have on the soil microbes, animals, water and energy from the sun and the moon.

Artist Jenny Bell from Goulburn with host regenerative farmers Michael and Anna Coughlan from Mt Narra Narra, Holbrook. Jenny and the Coughlans agree that nature is complex, and it is human nature to try and make it complicated.

We are grateful for the support of Soils for Life CEO Rod Chisholm who was a speaker at four of the days. Soils for Life agro-ecologist Kirsty Yeates spoke about cutting edge research at the plant science division of ANU. Earth Canvas looks forward to working with the Soils for Life team when coordinating future events.

The next event will be a Writers and Readers Festival at Bibbaringa north of Albury on April 4 and 5 2020. Follow website for workshops programmes throughout the year.

Gillian Sanbrook – info@earthcanvas.com.cau – 0428696724  – www.earthcanvas.com.au

Gillian Sanbrook Chairman of Earth Canvas with Temora Doctor Jennifer Smith. Jennifer came to the open days because she is concerned about the health of agriculture on the food chain and her patients.

DESERTIFICATION AUSTRALIA AND THE PERFECT STORM

Article by Adam Wilson, Director Soil Systems Australia, published on NexusNewsfeed.com

Its time to implement an Australian Sovereign Wealth Fund

Across Australia we are seeing the effects of more and more extreme drought. The landscape is drying up rapidly, rivers are running well below expectations and aquifers are shrinking at record rates. Trees are dying, pastures are disappearing and the soil is more exposed than ever to potential wind and water erosion. Is it good enough to simply think it will all go away at the end of the next rain? Is this not desert intensification and why hasn’t anyone put forward a plan of recovery? Like a rabbit stunned by the headlights of a coming car, Australia is motionless and seems unable to act as it awaits a perfect storm.

Signs of the perfect storm

The term desertification is a form of land degradation and refers to the expansion of arid areas across a landscape. This is typically areas where vegetation, wildlife, biodiversity and water bodies begin to disappear leaving large tracks of land that have bare soil. This leads to depletion of soil organic matter and nutrients essential for revegetation following rains. It is caused by deforestation, overgrazing and poor agricultural practices (all human induced activities). As shown on the USDA’s Global Desertification Vulnerability Map, Australia has vast areas that have a high to very high vulnerability to desertification (USDA Ref 1)

Read full article here.

FOOD WILL DECIDE THE HUMAN FUTURE

The fate of civilization in the mid-21st Century turns critically on food. Success in overcoming the intersecting challenges of climate and resource scarcity will bring peace, plenty and a chance to repair the planet. Failure will bring war.

Julian Cribb

Worldwide, compelling evidence is amassing that we must urgently re-think the present global food system – or face the risk of spreading conflict and mass-migration triggered by disputes over food, land and water. In short, we have a choice before us – between food or war.

Humans have been fighting over food and the resources to produce it for over 17,000 years. Famine accompanied most of the major conflicts of recent history, as cause, effect or both.

Today up to a dozen conflicts are being fought out worldwide – mainly in Africa, but increasingly in the Middle East, Asia and Latin America – in which food, land and water insecurity has fuelled the confrontation. There are now seven ‘powderkeg regions’ of the Earth, places which harbour most of the human population, where water and soil are running out and food supplies increasingly stressed in the face of insatiable demands.

More than a third of a billion people now leave their homes each year, either as refugees or ‘economic migrants’, seeking a safer future elsewhere. If food continues to be neglected, this could rise to a billion or more by the mid-century, overwhelming national borders and toppling governments.

The same global food system that fed 2.5 billion humans in the mid-20th Century, one based largely on broadacre farming pumped up with technology and fossil fuels, cannot meet the needs of 10 billion people living on a hot planet in the mid-21st. It is unsustainable.

Every meal you eat devours ten kilos of topsoil, 800 litres of water, 1.3 litres of fuel, 0.3g of pesticide and emits 3.5 kilos of CO2. Like most people, you do that three times a day. In total humanity does it 20 billion times a year. We are consuming the Earth in order to feed ourselves – an act that is both unwise and bound to end badly.

These present an irrefutable argument to change our old food system in favour of one that can withstand climate change, which uses vastly less land, water or chemicals and which constantly recycles all nutrients.

A global food system capable of achieving a safe human future will have three main pillars:

  • Regenerative farming, replacing current systems, which repairs soil and water, provides clean healthy food, locks up carbon and re-wilds almost a third of our present farmed area to end the sixth extinction.
  • Climate-proof urban food production, based on intensive systems that recapture and recycle all urban water and nutrients, currently lost, back into sustainable, healthy food.
  • Deep ocean aquaculture to replace the failing wild harvest of sea fish. Algae culture to provide basic feedstock for both aquatic and land-based livestock, using recycled nutrients.

Though much of the world is complacent and supermarkets appear to bulge with food, it is neither healthy nor sustainable. It could vanish in days, if its just-in-time system were to be disrupted by war, energy crisis or climate. No megacity on Earth can feed itself. We are far closer to hunger than most of us imagine.

Just as a clean, green energy revolution is sweeping the Planet, we now need a clean, sustainable food revolution. The ideas, technology and resources to achieve it already exist. We must now apprehend the urgency – and set to work, together, to build it.

Julian Cribb is the author of ‘Food or War’, Cambridge University Press 2019

MESSAGE FROM THE INCOMING CHAIR – ALASDAIR MCLEOD

Soils for Life founder Major General Michael Jeffery has stepped aside from his role as Chairman of the Board to focus on his role as National Soils Advocate. As Interim Chairman I will continue the vision for Soils for Life and bring renewed vigour to the commitment to regenerating the Australian landscape which has been ably demonstrated by Michael for more than a decade.

Interest in regenerative agriculture is growing as farmers across Australia manage the challenge of the current devastating drought. Farmers and graziers are adopting regenerative principles and practices that will improve and maintain their lands and waterways. I am determined to ensure that there is renewed effort behind the promotion of integrated management of soil, water, plants and animals to ensure a sustainable agricultural industry providing healthy food and fibre. Management principles and practices underlying the success stories shared by Soils for Life.

Earlier this year Prime Minister Morrison addressed the Daily Telegraph’s Bush Summit held in Dubbo. The Prime Minister acknowledged Soils for Life as a national leader in promoting regenerative agriculture and endorsed the critical need to have a national objective to restore and maintain the health of the Australian agricultural landscape to guarantee a food secure nation and sustainable farming communities. The Prime Minister acknowledged that, “Healthy soils with high carbon content are essential for any serious water resource management policy.”

The Coalition government recognizes that any serious water resource management policy must include action to promote healthy soils with high carbon content. The Prime Minister observed that, “Land is becoming increasingly marginal therefore we have to do more with less.”

A soil that is well-managed and has built high levels of fertility, organic matter and structure is more resilient in dry times and responds more rapidly when it does rain.

The ability of soils to sequester carbon as soil organic matter can help to mitigate emissions of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere from other sectors and improves soil health. Paying farmers to sequester carbon could benefit agricultural landscapes, and the benefits will flow to the broader community in Australian regions and internationally.

Following the Prime Minister’s announcement, the Soils for Life team has implemented plans to use the funding provided by the Department of Agriculture to complete a further 30 case studies. Two million dollars distributed over four years enables Soils for Life to continue to publish, promote and advocate diverse examples of regenerative agricultural practices.

Michael Jeffery continues to support our team as the Patron of Soils for Life. We wish him well in his role as National Soils Advocate and thank him for his vision in establishing Soils for Life and his commitment to rehabilitating the Australian landscape.

Alasdair MacLeod, Chairman MICHAEL JEFFERY (CHAIRMAN, SOILS FOR LIFE),

SOILS FOR LIFE DOCUMENTARY LAUNCHED ON 5 DECEMBER, WORLD SOIL DAY

The launch of a Soils for Life documentary outlining the vision and commitment of founder, Major General Michael Jeffery, to a food secure nation and sustainable farming communities.

A new documentary outlining a regenerative agriculture visionary’s commitment to a food secure nation and sustainable farming communities.

The Soils For Life documentary launches on World Soil Day, Thursday 5 December, as drought and dust storms rage in many parts of Australia.

The 10-minute documentary acknowledges the vision and commitment of Soils For Life founder, Major General The Honourable Michael Jeffery. Three case studies are interspersed to provide practical examples of applying regenerative agriculture principles.

Thursday 5 December is the United Nations World Soil Day. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (UNFAO) theme this year is “Stop soil erosion, save our future.”, a theme that resonates as drought and dust storms rage in many parts of Australia. https://www.un.org/en/events/soilday/

The film includes the announcement by Prime Minister Morrison when he addressed the Daily Telegraph’s Bush Summit held in Dubbo on Thursday 18 July 2019. At the summit, the Prime Minister endorsed the critical need to have a national objective to restore and maintain the health of the Australian agricultural landscape to guarantee a food secure nation and sustainable farming communities .

The Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Nationals, Michael McCormack endorsed the Prime Minister’s initiatives on the day, commenting, “The overarching principle is that Australia’s soil, water and vegetation are key natural, national, strategic assets and must be managed in an integrated way across the continent.”

The Prime Minister acknowledged that, “Healthy soils with high carbon content are essential for any serious water resource management policy.”

The Coalition government recognizes that any serious water resource management policy must include action to promote healthy soils with high carbon content. The Prime Minister observed that, “Land is becoming increasingly marginal therefore we have to do more with less.”

Soil is an essential ingredient for the growth of crops and pastures. It provides the medium in which plants grow, it stores and provides the nutrients essential for plant growth, and it stores and supplies the water essential to photosynthesis and life.

Australia’s droughts are becoming more intense, the periods between droughts are shorter, average temperatures are rising and the long-term outlook is for a generally warmer and drier environment. A soil that is well-managed and has built high levels of fertility, organic matter and structure is more resilient in dry times and responds more rapidly when it does rain.

The ability of soils to sequester carbon as soil organic matter can help to mitigate emissions of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere from other sectors. Sequestering carbon as soil organic matter also improves soil health. Paying farmers to sequester carbon could benefit agricultural landscapes, and the benefits will flow to the broader community in Australian regions and internationally.

The documentary is available on the Soils for Life homepage.

For more information more information about the Soils for Life documentary launch, please call Rod Chisolm, CEO of Soils for Life at 041 967 1483, or email: rod.chisholm@soilsforlife.org.au

FAREWELL FROM THE OUTGOING CHAIR – MAJOR GENERAL MICHAEL JEFFERY

It is time for me to step aside from the role as Chairman of the Board of Soils For Life after seven years to be able to focus on my Prime Ministerial appointment as National Soils Advocate.

I leave the Chairmanship of Soils For Life in very good hands. Alasdair MacLeod and I started out together as members of the original Soils For Life Board in 2012. We have worked hard to share regenerative principles and practices and supported changed farming practices to include carbon in our precious national asset, the soil. Soil carbon benefits include resilience and food security, plant nutritional quality, improved water filtration, and reduced erosion and nutrient runoff.

Alasdair is an excellent fit for the role of Chair and will bring renewed vigour to the organisation. Following a 20-year career with News Corporation, Alasdair has interests in diverse agricultural enterprises, including the Wilmot Cattle Company, a grazing operation based in Northern NSW and Cavan Station, a wool growing and Merino stud on the NSW Southern Tablelands. Alasdair is Chairman of Maia Technology, which develops management software for graziers who are focussed on more efficient use of pastures. His agricultural operations are aligned with the Soils for Life understanding of regenerative agriculture.

Recent Soils For Life case studies are highlighted in the documentary, which was launched on World Soil Day Thursday, 5 December. You can view the fresh look at farming on the home page of the Soils For Life website.

As National Soils Advocate, I will increase awareness of the importance of conserving agricultural soil and landscape conditions to benefit the environment, enhance agricultural productivity, realise economic benefits, and secure sustainable food production systems. I will be highlighting the importance of the integrated management of soil, water, plants and animals to ensure the sustainability of our agricultural lands. A strong team in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet supports my Advocate role.

As I say farewell to all the Soils For Life stakeholders as Chairman, I express my sincere thanks for all the friends, associates, benefactors, farmers, scientists and policy makers who I have met along the way. Thank you all for your contribution to building the Soils For Life organisation into the effective ‘change-agent’ it is now. I wish Soils For Life all the very best in supporting farmers to rehabilitate the agricultural landscape to benefit all Australians over future decades and generations.

I remain involved as Patron of Soils For Life and continue to support the rehabilitation of soils, for life.

MICHAEL JEFFERY (CHAIRMAN, SOILS FOR LIFE),

NOTE FROM MADELEINE FLORIN

I am behind much of Soils For Life’s social media. I am a land and water scientist with 15 years’ experience working on agriculture and natural resource management in Australia and overseas.

Two beliefs motivate me. First, we need to accord better value to farmers for the food and fibre they produce while regenerating and maintaining the landscape. Second, building bridges between researchers, land managers and policy makers is needed to facilitate this support.

I started off as a researcher. I have a PhD on reaping environmental benefits from precision agriculture in Australia. And, I have explored food-feed-fuel trade-offs from biofuel production in Brazil and Mozambique.

I am now more practical in my work. I combine a technical understanding of farming issues with commmunication skills to connect and engage diverse actors shaping our food system.

THE COLLINGWOOD STORY

Taking over the family farm can be challenging in itself. Leaving a secure job in the public service, a young family and relatives watching over a farm that extends back generations, now that’s a challenge!

History of the Kane family runs deep in Coleraine, Western Victoria. Since 1878 four generations have farmed this area. John and family made a tree change in 1996 to take over the farm from his uncles and thus began a journey of transformation.

John Kane

Through self education, independent thinking and the support of immediate family, John was able to turn Collingwood around to be the thriving black Angus cattle breeding property that it is today. A focus on soil through an integrated approach to managing physical, chemical and biological processes has seen Collingwood get the balance between soils, water, plants and animals just right.

FARM FACTS

Collingwood Farm, Coleraine VIC

ENTERPRISE: Cattle breeding

PROPERTY SIZE: 242 hectares

AVERAGE ANNUAL RAINFALL: 620 mm

ELEVATION: 90-100 m

MOTIVATION FOR CHANGE

  • Opportunity to embrace biological farming to regenerate run down enterprise with potential for improved profit and farm landscape improvement.

INNOVATIONS

  • Fencing of stock water and improved fencing along creek line
  • Stock medication (supplements added to water troughs)
  • Stock mineral supplement powders
  • Effective weed management
  • Consistently high levels of ground cover all year round
  • Improved extent of tree and shrub cover along the creek

KEY RESULTS

  • Significant reduction in input costs
  • High level of consistency of cattle breeding
  • Rotational grazing of high quality pastures
  • Cash flow all year round
  • High level of personal satisfaction in outcomes achieved

INTRODUCTION

John Kane, his wife Jenny and their three children, Andrew, Christopher and Melissa took up an offer from two elderly uncles to manage their farming enterprise, Collingwood, near Coleraine in western Victoria in 1996. The family moved onto the property, but John also undertook work from the local council while he found his feet in managing the farm.

The Landscape

The property consisted of two main blocks comprising a complex set of titles left over from the World War 1 Soldier Settlement Scheme. One block, Evestons, is 102Ha and the other, Collingwood, is 140 Ha. There were thirteen paddocks that were set stocked with sheep and cattle. Some fences were run down and dams and watering points did not match the paddock subdivisions, a must if rotational grazing was to be introduced.

There were three paddocks totalling 36 ha under hay when John took over the property. He increased that to four paddocks totalling 48 ha as part of his feeding out strategy.

Kanes Creek runs through the property and poor land management in the 1930-40s led to the formation of a 12 metre deep erosion gully. In the 1960’s, as part of Soil Conservation Service work, the creek was fenced-off and partially revegetated. Its intermittent flow carried water and soil nutrients off the property to the Glenelg River and out to sea. The creek bed was a haven for rabbits and foxes and home to a considerable number of snakes which prey on the proliferation of frogs which share the habitat.

In 1996, the enterprise carried 12 DSE set stocked on pastures heavily infested with Cape Weed and lesser infestations of Onion Weed, Rush, Wild Geranium and Dandelion. About one third of the stock was sheep and two thirds cattle. Poor quality grazing combined with poor cattle genetics and underweight calves being dropped at inopportune times of the year.

Planning and Implementing Change

Initially, John opted to improve the cattle genetics. He soon realised that he had the wrong strategy. Even with top quality bulls, poor pasture was leading to poor returns from cows grazing sub-standard pastures and dropping underweight calves.  Above and beyond soil test results, poor quality pasture indicated poor nutrient density and nutrient deficient soils. John decided to improve the soil as a first priority.

In 2000, at some risk to the economic viability of the enterprise, John decided to streamline his workload by selling off his sheep and concentrating on breeding Black Angus cattle. The strategy has paid off, but he now has two fully function shearing sheds to maintain in case of a future decision to bring back sheep.

Today John’s annual production cycle is geared to producing consistent numbers of high grade weaner steers (calves) that are sold locally. John’s cattle are finished on farms in NSW and Queensland.

Soils and Soil Fertility

John first conducted his soil tests in 1996 to establish a baseline. Initial tests and associated observation and research highlighted an average pH of 4, an imbalance of the Calcium (Ca) and Magnesium (Mg) ratio, soil compaction, indications of over-use of superphosphate, poor soil hydrology and considerable bare ground after broad leafed annuals died off. Since that time subsequent soil tests have been used to inform progress and to adjust management regimes to improve soil condition. John dispensed with the services of the agronomist and took over the fertiliser program himself. He opted for a program of mineral fertilisers and foliates. He introduced Bubas bison dung beetles, in addition to extant native varieties for greater aeration, water penetration and nutrient sequestration of the soils.

In the early years John used a soil aerator to break through the hard pan that had established historically through ploughing with a mouldboard plough. Soil compaction is a thing of the past.

The fertiliser program includes regular applications of lime and recent soil testing indicates an average pH of 6. Organic matter content has increased significantly. Water infiltration has increased considerably due to physical soil aeration, dung beetle activity and rotationally resting paddocks that are dominated by deep rooted perennials such as cocksfoot and phalaris. Periodically, John renovates the pasture to increase diversity of species by direct drilling of clovers and ryegrass.

Vegetation and Ground Cover

When John took over management of the farm in 1996, the pastures were run down, they were weed infested and fertilised with superphosphate.

John’s new fertiliser program has dramatically changed that situation. John describes himself as a biological farmer with a strong focus on soil function (refer to the annual production cycle below). As a result, his pastures have high nutrient mixed species of high density pastures with very little weed burden.

Most paddocks comprise improved pasture including phalaris, clover and rye. One paddock is set aside and managed as native pasture including Kangaroo Grass, Wallaby Grass and Weeping Grass.

John’s uncles had begun a program of tree planting (Red Gum and Blackwood) and had, with the assistance of the Soil Conservation Service, planted some 7,000 trees. John and Jenny continued this program and planted a further 10,000 trees and shrubs of a variety of species.

Weed Management

In the early years, annual weeds and seasonal bare ground favoured outbreaks of the red legged earth mite and the Lucerne Flea. While weeds are much less of a problem today, John addresses the annual weeds with a targeted program of spraying with a broad leaf herbicide mixed with fulvic acid. John advises that “It is important to spray in Autumn when plants are small – the clover at two leaf stage – to gain maximum effect using low spraying rates”.   

The hay paddocks are sprayed annually with foliar sprays, trace elements, biologic agents and kelp. This spraying program encourages the growth of the pasture grasses and tends to effectively control the annual weeds through competition.

Water

When John first came to the property, the watering infrastructure consisted only of a number of dams.  Kane Creek was fenced off from grazing and was not used as a source of reticulated water.  Only half the paddocks had water and the fenced dams did not coincide with the number of paddocks which made John’s intention of introducing rotational grazing somewhat problematic.

John has established a system of troughs in each paddock. Potable water is pumped from the dams by solar power to storage tanks on the high ground, holding 80,000 litres and 120,000 litres, respectively. This allows all troughs to be gravity fed.  John achieved this through the purchase of a “Ditch Witch” machine to trench piped water 650 mm under the ground.

Water Medication

John’s water infrastructure hosts his program of water medication.  Trace elements and food supplements are fed into the drinking water by vacuum pumps that are worked by water pressure. The pumps require a 2 metre head of water to operate and on average they are situated some 200m below the water storage tanks.  The medication is fed into the stock watering system 3 to 4 times a year. When the water medication is operating, this program ensures that each animal gets the required amount of trace elements and food supplements.

Production

John has a highly disciplined approach to farm management with his task organisation and time management of a very high order. This approach is essential as Collingwood is a one-person operation. An example of the Collingwood production management program is at Annex A to this report.

Cattle Production: The days of a stocking rate of 12 DSE faded into memory. In the really good seasons of 2000 to 2010, the stocking rate peaked at 18 DSE. John has reduced that to a modest 15DSE as a conservative hedge in case of a down turn in stock prices or seasonal conditions.

High Impact Hay Production: There were three paddocks totalling 36ha under hay when John came to the property. He has increased that by four more paddocks totalling 48ha as part of his feeding out strategy. John pays great attention to the fertility of the soil in the hay paddocks and to the nutrient density of the phalaris, clover and rye that comprises the makeup of the hay cut in October each year.  The resulting hay production of some 600 large round bales is fundamental to John’s animal nutrition and soil biology strategy. All of the hay produced on the property is retained on the property as part of this strategy.

John feeds out daily from mid-February to the end of July, covering the crucial calving period from March to April. The dung reflects the soil fertility of the hay paddocks and the nutrient density of the hay, and is transferred into the grazing paddock soil by the dung beetles, notably the imported Bubas Bison.  This is a flying variety that scents andflies to new dung pats, therefore expediting the burial of dung across the paddocks. This cycle is critical to John’s biological farming.

Pest Management

 Over the years, the burgeoning rabbit problem has been tackled by local landholders using at different times, Sodium fluoroacetate (“1080”) impregnated carrots, Myxomatosis and Calici Virus. These operations have reduced the rabbits to negligible numbers and the foxes that also inhabit the creek bed keep them that way. There are no other pests affecting the management of the property.

Outcomes and End State

John Kane has worked both hard and smart for 22 years and Jenny was part of that effort for 18 of those years. John started with little knowledge and little standing as a farmer in the eyes, not only of his uncles, but also many of his peers. He sought knowledge through training courses, field days and practiced what he learned innovating on the farm.

John can now look across pastures and vegetation that represent his goal of 100% ground cover 100% of the time. He can see healthy, unstressed cattle in good condition grazing on pastures of high nutrient density. This ideal situation has eventuated from his initial adoption of a fertility-first strategy for his soils all those years ago.

Ecological summary

Over a century of conventional farming practices had caused deep erosion gullies and a hardpan 200 mm below the soil surface. Through perseverance, education and a little ingenuity the ecological assessment for this farm leaves no doubt about the improvements and ongoing resilience of Collingwood.

Economic summary

Collingwood is productive and profitable, but it wasn’t always like that. Through an investment in soil health and the smart acquisition of some second hand machinery, the returns from this farm and the potential for future capital gain look promising.

Health and wellbeing

The potential of Collingwood was evident but you had to look beyond the weeds and erosion gullies. A cursory look back then would never have foreseen what is evident today. If John had his time again, what would he change? “Nothing”

Do you want to know more about the regenerative agriculture practices of Australian farmers? View our case studies sorted by state or sector.