Acting CEO’s Report

Report from Acting CEO, Narelle Luff

Acting CEO, Narelle Luff.

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.

We hope you are enjoying the education articles we have been preparing, this month we have an article about managing African Lovegrass. If you missed last month’s education topics here are links to articles we published last month on water management and measuring bird diversity.

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 admin@soilsforlife.org.au

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.

Lastly I 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.

Narelle Luff

Operations Manager / Acting CEO

Regenerative Agriculture Podcasts and Webinars

Podcasts and Webinars

Tune in to Regenerative Agriculture

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 podcast regenerative agriculture

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.

Podcast: Regenerative Agriculture

podcast regenerative agriculture

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

Charlie Arnott podcast regenerative agriculture

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!

Webinars: RegenWA

RegenWA podcast regenerative agriculture

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.

Podcast: Groundcover

Ground Cover podcast 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.

Podcast: Sustainable Farms

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.

Podcast: The Big Shift for Small Farms

A podcast helping to share and grow the knowledge amongst small scale farmers. Previous episodes include:

  • Holistic thinking – Why do you farm the way you do?
  • Certification – There’s a growing trend amongst consumers to know how their food is produced.
  • Farm resilience in a changing climate – All about understanding the function of our natural landscapes.
  • Compost – For farmers, compost is like black gold because its really valuable for efficient high quality food production.

Webinar: Crops and myzocorrial fungi

Soil Wealth webinar podcast regenerative agriculture

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

Webinar: Smelling soils

SoilCRC webinar podcast regenerative agriculture

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.

Nutrition Farming Podcast

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.

Landcarer Webinar

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.

Podcast: Aboriginal Fire Management

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.

Know about any regen ag podcasts or upcoming webinars and would like to share it? Contact us

Subscribe to our monthly newsletter

Subscribe to our monthly newsletter

Signup below to receive our monthly newsletter and, follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

* indicates required
I’m interested because

Can African lovegrass be beaten? Three strategies that are working

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.

Shannon Vale

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.

Photo: Mulching on Shannon Vale

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.

Coolringdon

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 at Coolringdon:

  • 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 NSW advice:

  • Sub-dividing paddocks 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 in 1999.
  • 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.
Text Box:  
Photo: sacrificial paddock. Recycled cliplock roofing is used as double-sided troughs for grain feeding. Grain is poured in evenly along the length from a feed truck or trailer that straddles the troughs.
Photo: sacrificial paddock. Recycled cliplock roofing is used as double-sided troughs for grain feeding. Grain is poured in evenly along the length from a feed truck or trailer that straddles the troughs.

Lana

Also on the NSW northern tablelands, Lana 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.

Photo: Lana winter landscape, 2011

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.

Conclusion

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?

References

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.

Intensive farming is eating up the Australian continent – but there’s another way

Intensive farming is eating up the Australian continent – but there’s another way

Sue McIntyre, Author provided

July 7, 2020

Sue McIntyre, Australian National University

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.

Grassy eucalypt woodlands used for cattle farming in subtropical Queensland. Tara Martin. Author provided.

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.

Read more: IPCC’s land report shows the problem with farming based around oil, not soil

NSW and Victoria have similar eucalypt grassy vegetation, but farming here has taken a very different path.

Fertilised legumes and grasses grown for livestock fodder have replaced hundreds of native grassland plants. Over time, native trees and shrubs stopped regenerating and remaining trees became unhealthy, destroying wildlife habitat. The transformation was hastened by aerial applications of fertiliser and herbicide.

By 2006, 4.5 million hectares of box-gum grassy woodland – or 90% – in temperate Australia had been destroyed.

Aerial delivery of fertiliser, seed and herbicide transformed grassy woodlands in NSW. F. G. Swain. Author provided.

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.

Farmers should conserve sufficient areas of landscape to support native plants and animals. Sue McIntyre, Author provided

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.

Read more: Three ways farms of the future can feed the planet and heal it too

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.

How to sustain production, natural resources and native flora and fauna on a landscape or farm. Sue McIntyre

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.

Retaining grassy woodland ensures habitat for native animals. Duncan McCaskill/Flickr

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.

Read more: Australian farmers are adapting to climate change

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.

Sue McIntyre, Honorary Professor, Australian National University

To see farmed landscapes managed for biodiversity in action, look at our case studies.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Soils For Life appoints new CEO

Soils For Life appoints new CEO

Dr. Liz Clarke

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.