January Message from the CEO

CEO Rod Chisholm with artist-in-residence John Wolseley on the high ground at Gill Sandbrook’s Bibbaringa near Albury last November. The Earth Canvas series delivered wonderful artistic interpretations of our diverse landscapes and ecology, enabling Soils For Life people Kirsty Yeates and Rod to address and engage in a two-way dialogue with literally hundreds of mostly rural people about re-generative agriculture in the presence of farmer practitioners, scientists and even a local GP, not to mention teachers, nurses, allied health practitioners, clergy, indeed a complete cross-section of rural communities. And a few urban folk! 

It has been a very tough start to 2020 for many people in our rural communities, especially for those in agriculture with ongoing drought and bushfires. City people too have a stark reminder of the fires crisis with palls of sometimes heavy dust and smoke for days on end. Water restrictions too are looming in many locales and cities. When the current crises are over we encourage governments at all levels to collaborate to identify the contributing factors and to work together to address these whilst also ensuring communities are well prepared for future fire events.

During 2019 Soils for Life published seven new case studies and had direct engagement with some 700 people in rural communities at field days and town hall meetings. More and more people from Australia and overseas are reading our publications and engaging with us on social media. I have no doubt that the huge upswing in momentum of interest in regenerative agriculture practices will continue during 2020. We are now endorsed and partly funded by the PM and federal government, and we’ve also had generous support from a dozen or more private benefactors for which we are very grateful.


10,000 tonnes of compost on display near Langhorne Creek, South Australia. Proprietor Peter Wadewitz discusses compost products with delegates from the Soil Organic Matters Symposium, held in Adelaide during October. These products are being adopted widely in agriculture across SA.

At Biggara Farms, Corryong the local community were addressed by Steven Whitsed and scientist Dr Maartin Stapper on the importance of building soil organic matter and one tool being applied successfully by some farmers to build soils organic matter – the Soil Key Renovator. The first carbon credits (ACCU) went to farmers Marja and Neils Olsen of Hallora using this method.

Edward Scott and Michael Eyres of Field Systems in South Australia explaining soil biology, amendments, structures and drip irrigation to 50 or so delegates of the Soil Organic Matters Symposium, October 2019.

At Yammacoona owned by farmers Joy and Bill Wearn, north of Holbrook, NSW. This field session under a tree saw more than 50 people enthralled with the achievements of Joy and Bill to regenerate and rehydrate the landscape.

The highlights of 2019 were undoubtedly the PM’s Dubbo statement of 18 July and the excellent “Soils Organic Matters” symposium in Adelaide in October. Our engagement with the “Earth Canvas” initiative has also facilitated the chance to engage directly with several hundred people in rural communities. There was an extraordinary level of interest in WA for the RE-Gen Ag WA conference. The level of interest attendees at the NSW and Queensland rangeland conferences showed for regenerative agriculture was impressive.


A nice picture supplied by a proud regenerative practitioner. Draw your own conclusions!

In 2020 we look forward to cracking on with our case studies program, now being funded by the government. We will also host a Soils Carbon Conference with the University of Tasmania and the Chinese Agriculture Academy at the end of February, the conference will address the issue of measuring soil carbon economically and at scale. We plan to increase our social media presence and advocacy throughout the year. The Soils for Life board and management team will be meeting in early February to revise our strategic direction and see how we might deliver the regenerative agriculture message more effectively. Your ideas are welcome, email me.

I look forward to working with you one and all in 2020.

Rod Chisholm

Balala Station

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Richard Daugherty and Sarah Burrows set out to find a property that provided the lifestyle and outdoor experiences they so desired. With a young family they chose to move from South Africa and settle in the New England district of northern NSW. Having done their research they settled on Balala Station which just happened to be up for sale for only the second time since establishment.

Whilst drought has been a setback, this determined couple are forging ahead setting the property up for a time when rains return. New business ventures and further plans keep these two firmly planted on the ground.

FARM FACTS

Balala Station, Balala NSW

ENTERPRISE: Merino sheep and Angus cattle breeding

PROPERTY SIZE: 1250 ha

AVERAGE ANNUAL RAINFALL: 760 mm

ELEVATION: 860 – 1000 m

MOTIVATION FOR CHANGE

  • Richard’s background in South Africa observing wild animals on their annual migration and learning about holistic grazing practices that mimic these natural processes influenced the choice to implement regenerative agriculture and matched Sarah’s commitment to healthy, ethical food production systems.

INNOVATIONS

Regenerative landscape and livestock management regimes, including:

  • Increase paddock numbers to facilitate rotational grazing
  • Water infrastructure including dams and water reticulation points
  • Soil testing to identify key nutrient deficiencies
  • Restoration of biodiversity through tree thinning
  • Conservation work with the Bells turtle and Regent honeyeater Projects
  • Fence out riparian zones

KEY RESULTS

  • Complimentary sheep and cattle grazing on a rotational plan.
  • Natural capital enhancement leading to improved biodiversity and drought resilience.
  • Connections through the University of New England on sustainability and land management issues.
Balala Station – Picturesque rural setting where colonial history blends with modern agriculture
Angus cattle wandering among vegetation on the flats
Fallen trees strategically placed to catch organic matter and slow water sheeting across the ground

Narrative

From a regenerative perspective Balala Station may have been a blank canvas which makes the work undertaken and the transition story more intriguing. With minimal farming experience and a desire  to learn from others, relationships with the broader community have blossomed and so too has the family.


Ecological

From the formative years of Australian agriculture, this once vast station stocked 44,000 sheep. There we no dams and few paddocks. Over a century of set stocking had exacted a toll on the landscape. The turn around and potential thereafter looks promising.


Economic

Education, training, goal setting, trading strategies, infrastructure, cashflow, productivity and on and on it goes…

A farmers lot is never easy, taking the time to plan your approach and not go in boots ‘n all is an effective strategy.


Social

Intent on farming, the political landscape in South Africa was judged too risky, alternatively Australia looked promising. Richard and Sarah settled on a property in the New England area, it had “good bones” but there was work to be done…

Regenerate 2020

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Regenerate 2020 is a five-day conference featuring two of the world’s leading educators, performing at their peak.  Discover how you can regenerate your land resources through a practical and theoretical immersive. This is essential training for food producers seeking a more profitable, productive and regenerative approach. Guaranteed to give you new insights and tools.

More information here

The Story of Nutrients

The story of nutrients – how to nourish soils, crops and us by Professor Susanne Schmidt

Professor Susanne Schmidt scientist and educator from The University of Queensland describes plant nutrition and its relationship with soil. Key to improving soil health whilst meeting the needs of a growing population are next generation fertilisers and developing a circular nutrient economy.

View the full essay

‘What Value In, and Who Benefits from Soil Carbon and Regenerative Agriculture?’

“It is a challenge to account for the greater depth of topsoil, better soil moisture retention, improved growth of crops and pasture, higher carrying capacity, better quality produce and a better bottom line due to less expenditure on chemical fertilisers and farm chemicals.”

 Bernie Hunt: In the first 18 years of his 53-year valuation career, Bernie was on many farms in south-west NSW and spoke to many farmers. He was early to pick up on emerging issues such as soil compaction, soil acidification, aluminum toxicity, tree dieback as well as adverse impact on soil life and structure from use of herbicides, pesticides and chemical fertilisers. 

This is an edited version of an article initially prepared for publication in the Australian Property Institute Journal. 

View the full article

Note from Kirsty Yeates

I am an agroecologist. I’m inspired by the deep commitment that the regenerative community has towards enhancing the landscape, building strong, vibrant communities and producing healthy, nutritious food.

At Soils for Life, my role helps to share the innovations, experience and insights of land managers using regenerative approaches to support wider adoption. Soils for Life is a partner in the Soil CRC (https://soilcrc.com.au/), the biggest collaborative soil research effort in Australia’s history. By working with others in the Soil CRC, I help to bring the research community and other industry groups together with regenerative landscape managers to improve understanding of regenerative approaches and support continuing innovation in regenerative agriculture.

My research interests also include climate recovery through landscape regeneration. I am working to develop modelling, system design and monitoring tools for regenerative agriculture as part of a research team at the Australian National University. These tools aim to embrace the complexity and adaptive nature of agricultural systems as well as support the integration of carbon drawdown, biodiversity and agricultural production.

Connect with me on Linkedin (https://www.linkedin.com/in/kirsty-yeates/) and our Soils for Life Facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/232991290672074/) to join in the conversation.

Kirsty Yeates, Soils for Life, Agroecologist

Rural Aid to Benefit from Residential Soil Testing

eNose – Developing Tools to Monitor Soil Biology

 Western Australian not-for-profit organisation, The Ground Files Inc, is currently supporting Rural Aid by donating $10 for every residential soil test conducted. 

Soil testing is the only way to fully understand the needs of our gardens. Plant tissue testing also provides information about what is in the food we grow and consume. 

Executive Director, Bronnie Kemp said, ‘Hundreds of tonnes of nutrients leach into our river systems each year as a result of the over fertilisation of residential gardens. 

Precisely managing soil and plant intake of nutrients minimises leaching, produces strong and resilient growth and reduces the need for herbicides and pesticides.’ 

Other benefits include saving water and money, by only applying the nutrients that plants require. 

It’s a simple process and soil samples can be posted. 

Soil testing costs $189 and vouchers are available at www.soils.org.au 

Contact Bronnie Kemp 0499 776 626 b.kemp@soils.org.au 

‘eNose’ Tool Workshop and Milgadara Tour

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eNose – Developing Tools to Monitor Soil Biology

As part of the Soil CRC’s research program (soilcrc.com.au), a team at the University of Tasmania is working with Soils for Life and other grower groups to develop a simple and easy to use device which will monitor the activity of soil microbial communities. This device, popularly referred to as an eNose (or electronic nose), can detect many different compounds at the same time. It will measure something similar to an “aroma fingerprint”. In much the same way that a person can detect the many different compounds that make up the smell of “coffee” without identifying particular compounds, the eNose will be developed to recognise different biological communities based on the chemicals they are producing. In the future, it is hoped that growers will be able to use this information to help make decisions on how best to manage their soils to be healthier, more productive and more resilient.

Why is soil biology important?

Soil biological communities are a vital part of the soil ecosystem providing the ecosystem services that allow soil to continue to be productive. When we think about biological communities in the soil, we firstly think about larger organisms such as earthworms that are often easy to see when digging up dirt. Worms, mites and fungi that we can see are also important, but there are many thousands of smaller organisms such as single-celled protozoa and algae in the soil. Smaller again are bacteria, viruses and fungi that live in the soil and on and in plant roots. Together with the physical aggregates that make up soil particles and the nutrients and water, they form a complex soil system.

The physical, chemical and biological components of the soil system are very closely linked. The physical structure and chemical nutrients (including water) influence what lives in soil, and the soil organisms change the structure and the organic and chemical components of the soil. These interactions are important for plant growth because plant roots interact with the physical, chemical and biological components of the soil. People are also important in this system. What we do to soil affects the biological communities which, in turn, affects the soil structure and nutrient availability and therefore plant growth.

This microscopic world is fascinating. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to study not only because it is so small but also because there are so many thousands of different organisms. It is now possible to sequence DNA from soil to see what lives in that particular soil by looking for “signature” or “marker” DNA sequences. Over the last twenty or so years we have discovered that the soil contains a vast and very diverse array of microorganisms, but we still don’t know what many of them do!

Rather than simply looking to see which microorganisms are in the soil, another way of studying them is to measure what they are doing. People have often heard of the “bury your undies” test for microbial activity  which requires leaving a sample of cotton buried in the soil for several weeks. Another example is measuring how much carbon dioxide is produced to estimate the total soil respiration or how much the soil is breathing. There are many other gases and volatile compounds produced in the soil that people often instinctively take notice of. The fresh earthy smell that you find when digging into soil is geosmin, a compound produced by a specific group of bacteria. The sharp rotten egg smell that can sometimes be detected in water-logged soils is due to sulfides. Sulfides are produced by another group of bacteria that only grow where there is no oxygen. All the living organisms in the soil are constantly releasing complex compounds into the soil, as part of their normal metabolism, to send signals to other organisms, to help them find nutrients and to attack or defend themselves. Perhaps if we were to measure these compounds, we would get an overall picture of biological activity and how this relates to the overall status of the soil. This would provide us with a faster way of assessing what the soil organisms are doing.

Have your say! Join our workshop near Young, NSW to tell us what’s important to you.

Experts in soil science and technology from the University of Tasmania and the Soil CRC will be joining Bill and Rhonda Daly, leading regenerative farmers from “Milgadara”, to talk about more support for building healthier, more resilient and productive soils.

We’ll be doing a paddock tour and running a workshop to get your input on the design of the “eNose” – a tool to help farmers monitor soil biology.

Book here at eventbrite

Register for the Free Farm Safety Pilot Program

Meet with Farm Safety Advisor, Charles Laverty, who supports your business in developing an effective Workplace Health & Safety program.

NSW Farmers have secured funding from SafeWork NSW to deliver the farm safety pilot program. 

The program explores where your business currently sits with its Workplace Health & Safety framework, to reduce risk for all members of the farm. 

This program is a free service to all NSW Farming business who employ less than 20 Full time equivalent staff who are both members and non-members of NSW Farmers.

For more information and to express interest in the program take a look at the NSW Farmers web link by clicking here