This month our scientists have spent time out on regenerative properties in New South Wales and Queensland. In the coming months we will develop these into new case studies. In these new case studies, we will introduce soil testing to our assessments and expect these to add further strength to our comprehensive case study reports. This month we reintroduce you to Rothesay and highlight some exciting work that is occurring in the area.
This week we
held the first of three Australia-China Soil Organic Carbon Measurement
webinars. This is a collaborative
webinar program with the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences focused on
the importance of organic carbon for healthy soils and methodologies and
technologies for measuring soil organic carbon across agricultural landscapes. This
webinar program brings together leading Australian and Chinese soil scientists
and associated experts in remote sensing technologies and big data to exchange
knowledge and discuss potential scientific collaboration. We will share
the recordings of these webinars as they become available. If you are
interested in participating in these webinars please register your interest via
Our friends across regen ag have been busy producing some great quality podcasts and webinars, we have collated them for you here. We are also pleased to link you to some important work by the Academy of Science on Soil condition after bushfires, this is part of a series which will also look at wildlife recovery, ecosystems and human health.
would like to welcome Liz Clarke our new CEO on board. Liz starts in August but is already
building relationships with a range of Soils For Life stakeholders.
Have you been able to keep track of all the regenerative agriculture podcasts that have sprung up in the last few months? There’s been so many good ones it has been hard to keep up! So we’ve collected them all in one place. Covering topics from sustainable farms to Indigenous fire management you are bound to find something that’s just right for you.
Podcast: The Regen Narration
The RegenNarration features conversations with high profile and grass-roots leaders everywhere who are enabling the regeneration of life on this planet. They’re sharing their stories, and changing the stories – the stories we live by. And the systems we create in their mould. Hosted by Anthony James, award-winning facilitator and educator, widely published writer, Warm Data Lab Host, and Honorary Research Associate at the University of Western Australia.
Hosted by John Kempf, Founder of Advancing Eco Agriculture, this podcasts helps professional growers improve there regen practices while increasing crop quality, yield and profit. John and his guests describe why most growers have crop challenges, and how to resolve them. You will find straightforward, actionable information about growing that can be implemented right away to increase crop quality, yields, pest resistance, and climate resilience — to regenerate soil health, and most importantly, increase farm profitability.
Podcast: The Regenerative Journey with Charlie Arnott
The Regenerative Journey podcast is a must for anyone who is curious about regenerative agriculture and the wide ranging and significant benefits of its adoption and practice, not just for farming communities but also for anyone who eats food and cares for the planet!
RegenWA has an impressive library of webinars they have hosted covering a variety of topics in regenerative agriculture. From the operation of a regen farm, carbon 101 and informative conference material, these webinars are useful and important resource for anyone wanting to learn more about regenerative agriculture.
Welcome to Ground Cover. A podcast created for farmers, by farmers. Ground Cover is a uniquely Australian podcast series exploring real life stories of land managers who have undertaken the transition from conventional farming to regenerative agriculture. In this series, we share unique and honest conversations about the challenges and opportunities of regenerative agriculture, so you can make informed decisions about how to best manage your land. Proudly brought to you by The Regenerative Agriculture Alliance and Southern Cross University.
Sustainable Farms is a project by the Australian National University (ANU). ANU has researched and collected data from over 300 farmers engaged in sustainable farming from north-east Victoria to south-east Queensland. It is one of the largest, long-term studies of its kind in the world and now translates these findings to help all farmers better manage the balance between agricultural production and long-term sustainability, and be more profitable along the way. Learn more about they work they do through their podcast series, joining host Gordon Taylor as he interviews project staff and external experts for regular insights into the latest research.
Dr Kelvin Montagu summarises the potential role of cover crops in managing mycorrhizal fungi in vegetable production.
The webinar covers:
– Why mycorrhizal fungi – Do Australian vegetable crops have mycorrhizal fungi – a survey of 50 vegetable crops – Levels of mycorrhizae in vegetable growing soil – Trials adding inoculant to cover crops
As part of the Soil CRC’s research program, a team at the University of Tasmania is working with Soils for Life and other grower groups to develop a simple, affordable 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”, and provide useful and useable information to farmers to help them monitor their soil. We held a workshop earlier this year to find out what farmer’s need, join us on the 25th of August for a webinar and Q&A with Soil CRC Project Leader Dr Shane Powell Dr Robert Hardy from the University of Tasmania to find out more.
This podcast series is designed for food producers seeking to increase the nutrient density, flavour and medicinal value of their produce. You will discover multiple strategies to increase profitability, productivity and sustainability, in a wonderful win/win scenario. Nutrition Farming will help you reclaim your passion for the most important of all professions.
Chris Cobern from the Upper Goulburn Landcare Network in Victoria was heavily involved in the recovery efforts following the Black Saturday bushfires in 2009. He worked with local communities, government, and volunteers for many years to help the landscape heal and recover. In our upcoming webinar Chris will chat about how he navigated issues around sourcing funding and volunteers, providing training, supporting local landholders, and what he’s learnt that can help groups and organisations working in similar circumstances today. Chris will also be joined by Landcare Australia’s Rowan Ewing, who will give an update on our bushfire recovery fund activities to date, and what’s planned for the coming months.
Recovering after bushfires – what role can Landcare play? will take place at 2pm (AEST) on Tuesday, August 4th, through the Landcarer platform.
Victor Steffensen is an Indigenous writer, filmmaker, musician and consultant applying traditional knowledge values in a contemporary context, through workshops and artistic projects. He is a descendant of the Tagalaka people through his mother’s connections from the Gulf Country of north Queensland . On the Pip Permaculture Magazine podcast, listen to an interview with Victor on how he became the face of indigenous fire management over the 2019/20 bushfire season and his thoughts on burning regimes of the future.
Regen Ag Series #1: Mark Wootton on carbon-neutral farming at Jigsaw Farms
A recent conversation with one of Australia’s most prominent sustainable farming advocates completely shocked me when it came to his views on regenerative agriculture (or, “regen ag” as the cool kids call it).
Farmer and owner of Jigsaw Farms in south-west Victoria, Mark Wootton, likened regenerative agriculture to “an evangelical movement”, which is proving to be more of a distraction when it comes to true environmental sustainability and farm productivity.
Can African lovegrass be beaten? Three strategies that are working
African lovegrass (Eragrostis curvula) is one of the major
scourges of pastoral agriculture in New South Wales and is a declared noxious
weed in most states of Australia. It has negligible nutritional value for
grazing animals and can suppress growth of more nutritious pasture species by
blocking access to sunlight, soil moisture and nutrients. It can go unseen at
first because it looks like other tussock grasses until seed is set, but can easily
spread to dominate the pasture.
While lovegrass is a strong,
persistent competitor once established, it is a weak competitor while becoming
so (Firn 2009). It is therefore more likely to become a problem in degraded
pastures, where there is insufficient competition to retard it. The good news
is that once established, it develops a strong and deep root system and is
therefore drought tolerant and can add valuable organic matter to the soil.
The examples below, from two
past Soils For Life case studies as well as a new look at the practices at
Coolringdon in southern New South Wales, provide some insights into how this
weed has been dealt with in three different contexts.
Located in the New South Wales Northern Tablelands, Soils For Life case study property Shannon Vale shows how this scourge was controlled by an integrated strategy of fastidious attention to soil nutrition together with carefully planned pasture and stock management. Stock management on Shannon Vale posed particular logistical issues because the main stock product is pedigreed bulls. These animals need extra space or they become irritable, so using grazing pressure to control weeds (ie rotational grazing) is problematic.
Conventional fertiliser and
herbicide application and pasture re-sowing practices had led to a situation at
Shannon Vale where costs were increasing while productivity
could not be sustained. Seeing that the weeds, particularly African lovegrass,
were winning led to the realisation that the practices that had been used were
steadily degrading soil structure and fertility. Advice was obtained on pasture
nutrient and compost production. Old practices were abandoned and replaced with
ones based on organic fertilisers, preventing soil disturbance and regularly mulching
the lovegrass before it set seed. Within 10 years, the soil organic carbon
content and available phosphorus had increased markedly and lovegrass was no
longer a problem.
The team at Coolringdon, a merino wool property west of Cooma NSW,
have also been working out how to deal with African lovegrass. A team from
Soils For Life visited Coolringdon in July 2019 to understand their approach.
Coolringdon is historically significant in the context of the early settlement of the Monaro region. Stewart Ryrie, one of NSW’s pastoral pioneers, established it in 1829. From 1854, it was the centre of William Bradley’s vast Monaro holdings and was subsequently owned by John and Betty Casey. Having no dependents, the Caseys established and bequeathed the property to the John and Betty Casey Research Trust. The profits from Coolringdon support the University of Sydney to conduct research and education relevant to agricultural industries in the Monaro region on the property. Management policies since 1999 have been determined on behalf of the John and Betty Casey Research Trust by a committee of trustees as well as the farm manager.
There are several challenges
The main farm income is from wool so a large breeding flock of merino sheep must be maintained.
While native vegetation regulations now prevent native pastures from being replaced with improved pastures, half of the pastures are improved pastures (sown to phalaris, clovers, etc.). There are also substantial areas of native pastures (Poa species, Stipa, etc.). The native pastures tend to be sparser than the improved, which poses a challenge to maintaining adequate ground cover. The improved pasture species are notably more vigorous than the native pasture species so that with careful rotational grazing ground cover can be maintained to minimise the ability of lovegrass to invade.
There are substantial areas of rocky ridges and hilltops on Coolringdon, many with original forest or woodland cover, where lovegrass can go unseen until it is too late to spray to prevent seed sources from developing. Together with sources on other farmland and road reserves in the area, this means that it is not practical to totally eliminate incursions.
The NSW Department of Primary Industries advises that healthy pastures are the best
long-term defence against African lovegrass. Thin, bare patches and pastures
with less than 70% ground cover are at more risk of invasion. The strategy adopted
at Coolringdon is to minimise the opportunity for lovegrass to take hold. This
strategy comprises a number of elements, the first two of which reflect the DPI
according to soil type, vegetation and other landscape features to increase the
number of paddocks/reduce paddock size to enable more precise control of
grazing. Native pastures are separated so that they can be de-stocked when
necessary to maintain ground cover. There are now 80 paddocks compared with 30
Using small ‘sacrificial’
paddocks – simplified feedlots – where sheep are fed with grain when pasture
cover is in danger of getting over-grazed (see photo). The sheep are moved into
these when, due to inadequate rain, regrowth has not caught up towards the end
of the grazing cycle. While groundcover is sacrificed in these paddocks, weed
incursion is easily managed with herbicides because these paddocks are small.
Supplementing grass feeding
with lucerne, which can be grown on a few of the lower-lying paddocks.
Fertilising improved pastures
to sustain vigour and productivity.
In 2020, several projects are
ongoing studying the both ground cover and African lovegrass control.
Also on the NSW northern
illustrates an alternative approach to dealing with lovegrass. Along with
Shannon Vale, Lana
was one of the first Soils For Life case studies. As at Shannon Vale,
traditional agricultural management was found to be running the property into
the ground. The solution implemented since the 1990s started with adopting
time-controlled rotational grazing. Many kilometres of fencing reduced paddock
sizes from 100 – 120 hectares to 10 – 15 hectares so that grazing pressure
could be managed precisely.
African lovegrass is
prevalent at Lana,
but isn’t found to be the problem it is at Coolringdon and elsewhere. Indeed, on
this property lovegrass has an advantage over the other (mainly native) pasture
species because it can produce some fibre even in the driest of dry spells.
That fibre might not be as
nutritious for grazing animals as preferred pasture species but it does provide
some grazing potential when the animals diet is supplemented by by-pass protein (a protein source that resists
degradation in the cow’s rumen
so that it passes into the lower gastrointestinal tract, and can therefore
provide essential amino acids to the cow).
The key at Lana
is that carefully managed rotational grazing using a ‘leader and follower’
system (in which cattle are rotated followed soon after by sheep) ensures that
the lovegrass is eaten down to a minimum, is suppressed and does not take over
the pasture. Trying to eliminate it with herbicide, as has been tried at Lana
in the past, was found to create a worse problem because sprayed areas tended
to remain barren for too long.
So, can African lovegrass
actually be beaten? Reflecting on the above examples, an answer to that question
is: maybe, but if not, at least it is possible to learn how to live with it. It
might be a scourge and practically impossible to eliminate, but careful
management tailored to the production system and landscape can minimise or
avoid the problems that African lovegrass causes. What might work for you?
Firn, J. 2009. African
lovegrass in Australia: a valuable pasture species or embarrassing invader?
Tropical Grasslands 43: 86-97.
Read more about the
innovative strategies and regenerative agriculture solutions being implemented
on Soils For Life case study farms here.
Last week we learned woody vegetation in New South Wales is being cleared at more than double the rate of the previous decade – and agriculture was responsible for more than half the destruction.
Farming now covers 58% of Australia, or 385 million hectares, and accounts for 59% of water extracted.
It’s painfully clear nature is buckling under the weight of farming’s demands. In the past decade, the federal government has listed ten ecological communities as endangered, or critically endangered, as a result of farming development and practices.
So how can we accommodate the needs of both farming and nature? Research shows us how – but it means accepting land as a finite resource, and operating within its limits. In doing so, farmers will also reap benefits.
Healthy grazing landscapes
In the 1990s, I worked as a research ecologist in the cattle country of sub-tropical Queensland. The prevailing culture valued agricultural development over conservation. Yet many of these producers lived on viable farms that supported a wealth of native plants and animals.
They made a living from the native grassy eucalypt woodlands, an ecosystem that extends from Cape York to Tasmania. In these healthy landscapes, vigorous pastures of tall perennial grasses protected the soil, enriched it with carbon and fed the cattle.
By 2006, 4.5 million hectares of box-gum grassy woodland – or 90% – in temperate Australia had been destroyed.
A template for sustainability
Back in Queensland in the 1990s, my colleagues and I devised a template for sustainable land use. Funded by the livestock industry and a now-defunct federal corporation, we worked with producers and government agencies to find the right balance between farm production and conserving natural resources.
Our research concluded that for farming to be sustainable, intensive land uses must be limited. Such intensive uses include crops and non-native pastures. They are “high input”, typically requiring fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides, and some form of cultivation. They return greater yields but kill native plants, and are prone to soil and nutrient runoff into waterways.
But our template was not adopted as conventional farming practice. In the past 20 years, Australia’s cropping area has increased by 18,200 square kilometres.
By 2019, 38,000 square kilometres of poplar box grassy woodland in Australia had been cleared – more than half the size of Tasmania. The ecosystem was listed as endangered in 2019. Until that point, it had been considered invasive native scrub in NSW – exempting it from clearing regulations – and was systematically cleared for agriculture in Queensland.
Regenerating the land
Hearteningly, our research was recently revived in a multidisciplinary study of regenerative grazing on the grassy woodlands of NSW. The template was used to assess the ecological condition of participating farms.
The study examined differences in profitability between graziers who had adopted regenerative techniques such as low-input pasture management, and all other sheep, sheep-beef and mixed cropping-grazing farmers in their region.
It found regenerative grazing was often more profitable than other types of farming, especially in dry years. Regenerative farmers also experienced significantly higher than average well-being compared with other NSW farmers.
So what does our template involve? First, it identifies four types of land use relevant to farmed grassy woodland regions.
Second, it specifies the proportion of land that should be allocated to each use, in order to achieve landscape health (see pie chart below). The proportions can be applied to single farm, or entire districts or regions.
Intensive land use involves activities that replace nearly all native species. If these activities occupy more than 30% of the landscape, there’s insufficient habitat to maintain many native species, especially plants.
At least 10% of land must be devoted to nature conservation. The remaining 60% of the land should involve low-intensity activity such as grazed native pasture and timber production. If managed well, these land uses can support human livelihoods and a diversity of native species.
Within that split of land use, total native woodland should be no less than 30%. This guarantees connected habitats for native plants and animals, enabling movement and breeding opportunities.
Respect the land’s limits
Australians ask a lot of our land. It must make space for our houses, businesses, and roads. It should support all species to prevent extinctions. And it must produce our food and fibre.
Global population growth demands a rapid rise in food production. But relying on intensive agriculture to achieve this is unsustainable. Aside from damaging the land, it increases greenhouse gas emissions though mechanisation, fertilisation, chemical use and tree clearing.
To meet the challenges of the future we must ensure farmed landscapes retain their ecological functions. In particular, maintaining biodiversity is key to climate adaptation. And as many of Australia’s plants and animals march towards extinction, the need to reverse biodiversity loss has never been greater.
Farmers can be profitable while maintaining and improving the ecological health of their land. It’s time to look harder at farming models that respect the limits of nature, and recognise that less can be more.
Soils For Life is delighted to announce the appointment of Dr Elizabeth (Liz) Clarke as our new CEO .
Liz will bring with her considerable skills in leadership and management of projects in Australia and internationally, as well as previous experience in multiple roles as a researcher, educator, policy advisor and mentor. Liz currently holds visiting fellowships at ANU’s Fenner School of Environment and Society and the Institute for Land, Water and Society at CSU as well as being an independent consultant. She also holds a PhD in Human Ecology.
“Liz has wide experience in many different parts of the world,” says Chair of the Soils For Life Board, Alasdair Macleod. “Her strong academic record and her recent experience in project and program management for the Australian government, as well as internationally, make her a great person to lead Soils For Life into our next phase.”
Growing up in a farming family, Liz is a passionate advocate for regenerative agriculture. “I am driven by a deep desire to bring about meaningful change for people, food production systems, and landscapes,” she says. “I have a passionate interest and personal commitment to regenerative agriculture, combined with a lifetime of involvement in various aspects of agriculture, sustainability, and natural resource management.”
Based in Canberra, Liz will start with Soils For Life at the beginning of August. “I’m very excited to be taking on this new and exciting challenge in this important field,” she says.