Message from Liz Clarke, CEO of Soils For Life

Message from Liz Clarke, CEO of Soils For Life

Soils For Life CEO Liz Clarke at the Parliamentary Friends of Soil meeting with Michael Crawford and David Littleproud.

The past two months have been hectic in the Soils For Life office as we pull together a new strategy to align our focus to support Australian farmers in regenerating soils and landscapes. We are also looking at how we ensure our case study process and engage in new projects in 2021 that help us to support landholders to build natural and social capital and transform the food system.

In the past year, Soils For Life is one of the three organisations involved in the establishment of a Parliamentary Friends of Soil group along with lead organisation, the Soil CRC and Soil Science Australia. The first meeting of the non-partisan group co-chaired by Michael McCormack and Linda Burney at Old Parliament House on 4th December, just ahead of World Soils Day.  The new National Soil Advocate Penelope Wensley addressed the meeting, along with Minister David Littleproud. Ministers Sussan Ley and Angus Taylor also attended along with a broad range of key partners in involved in soil research and management.

Saturday 5 December is World Soils Day. This day, championed by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, is a reminder of the fundamental importance of soils which support all terrestrial life and without which we cannot survive.


World Soil Day- Keep Soil Alive, Protect Soil Biodiversity

World Soil Day Q&A!

Each year, World Soil Day celebrates the importance of soil health and raises awareness for the sustainable management of our soil resources. The theme for World Soil Day 2020 is ‘Keep soil alive, protect soil biodiversity’.

Sampling the soil at Winona to assess the soil microbial biomass.


What is soil biodiversity and how can we manage soil resources to protect it? We asked soil scientist Katharine Brown a few questions on how to protect soil biodiversity and keep soil alive:

Q. What is soil biodiversity?

A. In the simplest terms, soil biodiversity is the variety of living organisms in the soil. The living soil may include bacteria and fungi as well as larger soil organisms such as earthworms and insects. It is estimated that greater than 25% of the living organisms on Earth live in the soil!

Q. Why is soil biodiversity important?

A. Soil organisms represent the soil ‘workforce’. They contribute to soil health, plant growth, water purification, carbon sequestration and human health. A range in workforce skills (soil biodiversity) will result in greater outputs (soil productivity).

Q. How do we protect soil biodiversity and keep soil alive?

A. Soil organisms have the same needs as we do. They need air, water, food and shelter to survive. Implementing land management practices that promote soil aeration, maximise water infiltration and retention, provide a food source for the soil organisms and preserve the soil structure, will protect soil biodiversity and keep the soil alive.


Smelling the soil at Rothesay. Healthy soil with a diversity of active organisms will smell earthy and sweet.


Q. What can land managers do to protect soil biodiversity?

A. There are a number of ways land managers can both protect and encourage soil biodiversity. Maximising groundcover and minimising soil disturbance are two effective methods.

Groundcover, whether it be green plants, stubble, mulch or leaf litter, protects the soil surface, promotes infiltration, stabilises the soil (think anchoring roots and root exudates binding soil aggregates), and contributes as a food source.

Minimising soil disturbance preserves the soil structure (shelter for soil organisms),  reduces the rate of breakdown of organic material, and reduces the loss of soil biodiversity as a result of soil erosion.

Q. Does soil organic matter help soil biodiversity?

A. Increasing soil organic matter will definitely help soil biodiversity. Planting green manure crops or spreading mulch or compost are examples of how a land manager can increase soil organic matter. Managing the ratio of carbon to nitrogen in the soil to control the rate of organic matter breakdown and the release of nutrients is also important.


Ground cover after rain on Milgadara.


Q. How do plants contribute to soil biodiversity?

A. Plants contribute by transforming carbon dioxide and water from the air and soil into sugars (a food source for soil organisms) through photosynthesis. Some plants contribute to the soil (for example, nitrogen fixing legumes), others deplete the soil, particularly under agricultural land uses. Introducing plant diversity and rotation can help to both preserve soil nutrients and prevent pests and disease. In addition, planting trees, shrubs and grasses (along boundaries for example) will provide habitat and food sources for soil organisms.

Q. Does the use of chemicals have an effect on soil biodiversity?

A. Yes. A useful analogy is to consider the effect antibiotics have on our gut bacteria. It is common knowledge that antibiotics can eliminate both harmful and beneficial bacteria. Ultimately, the balance of the gut biome is disturbed. A similar imbalance will occur in the soil when chemicals are used to either eliminate or promote an element or organism. Minimising the use of chemicals will help to maintain the balance and diversity of soil organisms.

Learn more about  soil biodiversity and World Soil Day from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation.



Four key economic measures used in our case studies

Dollars and sense: What we look at in our case study economic reports

The Soils For Life team provides professional assessment of properties that are using regenerative landscape management practices. Our case study program considers the quadruple bottom line of each property by looking at the effects of regenerative agriculture practices on a farm’s production, economics and ecology as well as the social implications of these practices.

Preparing an economic report

To prepare our economic reports, Soils For Life conducts a detailed analysis of each case study farm to investigate how the business has performed over time. Using data from Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES), we compare the farm to others in the same industry and climate. Case study participants supply production records and Profit and Loss statements for a 10-year period.  We also interview business managers to understand why they do what they do, how they make decisions and what changes they have made. The numbers are crunched by an agribusiness consulting firm to generate indices which make the business performance clear, whilst still protecting the privacy of case study families.  This allows like for like comparisons.

Our four key measures

There are four key measures we use to assess business performance.

1.     Production and Income

A great way to get an initial picture of activities on a farm is to assess how much was produced and what that earned.  By looking at the proportion of income generated by each enterprise we can see what is keeping the business afloat.

2.     Costs

Examining expenses allows us to understand what is driving the profitability of farm activities.  This is a topical issue in agriculture today with some producers focusing on reducing costs wherever possible and others making significant investments to build resilience and improve outputs.  A number of successful farmers have applied both strategies at the same time.  To the extent possible we break costs down on a per enterprise basis.

3.     Gross Margin

Gross Profit Margin shows how much revenue you keep after accounting for costs.  It is an important measure because it indicates how much room there is for mistakes or other things that can’t be controlled. Gross margin also reflects the capacity of a business to make investments in new capital items or other longer term initiatives.

4.     Business Profit

At the end of the day this is the bottom line of business performance. Business profit is calculated as total revenue less total direct and overhead costs, like almost all our other measures it is represented on a per hectare basis.  Ultimately, profit allows a farm business to provide income on an ongoing basis.


Read about how land managers have improved each of these business criteria on their farms in latest case study reports. You can search them by state or sector here.

Are you farming using regenerative agriculture practices? Why not consider applying to be a case study.

‘Dukes Plain’- Continuous Improvement of the Farm Resource

‘Dukes Plain’- Continuous Improvement of the Farm Resource

Shane and Shan Joyce came to Dukes Plain in 1982 from a background in organic farming. Over the years they adopted new management practices: ceasing the use of fire, retaining timber and valuing regrowth, prioritising pasture diversity and native pastures, and employing low productioncosts and inputs. In 1993 a radical change was made to the grazing system on Dukes Plain, moving from continuous grazing in sevenpaddocks to a cell grazing system across almost 100 paddocks. Focus moved from the production bottom line to a measure of kilograms of beef produced per hectare of available pasture. Production increases were experienced within two years of adopting planned grazing management.

In addition to cell grazing, outcomes were further enhanced by the later application of organic and biodynamic methods.

By persisting through obstacles and impediments to change, the Joyce’s have experienced improvement in the natural resource with healthier soils, more diverse pastures, more trees, fewer weeds, improved water quality and water use efficiency, as well as increased carrying capacity, easier animal management and reduced labour requirements. They have been able to maintain or increase production through periods when many properties have had to reduce stock numbers.

Observation, monitoring, and recording data has allowed the Joyces more informed decision making, benefiting both landscape and business health. Approximately 800 hectares of crop land has been returned to perennial pasture at a zero dollar cost and gross margin per hectare is now between $64 and $113 on land types varying from eucalypt forest to brigalow scrub.

FARM FACTS

30 km south of Theodore, Southern QLD Brigalow Belt

ENTERPRISE: Cattle. Certified organic beef cattle breeding, backgrounding and fattening

PROPERTY SIZE: 7900 hectares, 3000 hectares farmable

AVERAGE ANNUAL RAINFALL: 700 mm

ELEVATION: 300 m

MOTIVATION FOR CHANGE

  • Inputs and maintenance costs exceeding production returns

INNOVATIONS

  • Comprehensively monitored and measured time-controlled cell grazing
  • Soil improvement using biodynamic methods
  • All organic management
  • Innovations commenced: 1993

KEY RESULTS

  • 30% productivity increase with gross margins between $64-$113 per hectare
  • Higher yields on revegetated brigalow paddocks than cleared paddocks
  • Increased water availability due to increased rainfall infiltration and reduced losses to evaporation

Dukes Plain- Property Background

Dukes Plain is a 7900 hectare sub-tropical property of which 3000 hectares is used as grazing land for beef cattle. This country was formerly dominated by brigalow (Acacia harpophylla) scrubs and semi-evergreen vine thicket, which are both endangered ecosystems, and small areas of eucalypt forest.

The remaining 4900 hectares is sandstone escarpment of virgin native vegetation comprising eucalypts, spinifex, acacias, grass trees and numerous other shrubs, forbs, and grasses. This area is a significant wildlife corridor linking Isla Gorge and Precipice National Parks.

Traditional management of Dukes Plain had seen continuous grazing over its seven paddocks, with water provided through open dams with constant stock access. The brigalow and other vegetation had been cleared from the landscape as a result of government lease conditions in the newly opened 156,000 square kilometre Fitzroy River Basin in central Queensland in the 1950s and 1960s. The clear and burn practices reflected the tree management techniques of the era. Regular fires were also used to control timber regrowth.

Shane Joyce points out that, as a consequence of the prevailing farming practices, the landscape was in steady decline from the beginning of the brigalow scheme. Pastures were degrading through loss of soil structure and fertility and species variety had reduced. This was combined with a reliance on external inputs with rising costs all at the same time as commodity prices were falling.

Shane and Shan took over operation of the property in 1982 after coming from a background of permaculture and organic farming on the Sunshine Coast. Not daunted by what they had come into, they began experimenting with elements of various farming management systems ranging from fully conventional to what, at the time, were considered extreme alternatives. They read about advantages of various alternative agricultural models from around the globe. They constantly questioned their farming practices and the resultant impacts on the land and production. In this process they focused on differentiating between symptoms and causes in the indicators that they observed.

This process of observation and review continued over the next ten years until Shane and Shan had gained a body of skills and knowledge that enabled them to begin to measure the results of their management practices.

Dukes Plain vista

Embracing Change

Change was evolutionary on Dukes Plain, but became inevitable when a cost benefit analysis demonstrated that input and maintenance costs from their current farming practices were far exceeding returns from production.

The reality of the inevitable outcome of this situation firmly committed Shane and Shan to a complete change of production management. They realised that the landscape was out of balance and it needed to be returned to balance to achieve long term economic production. They were convinced that, once the balance was returned, they could increase cattle carrying capacity, using the same area of land, without detriment to the landscape.

Self education played a big part in deciding what changes to make to production operations. For the Joyces this included reading, observation and experimentation with both alternative and conventional systems. Shane and Shan spent eight years learning about and working with permaculture techniques. Knowledge was furthered through attending workshops, courses and field days, and engaging with leading edge consultants. They eventually completed the Grazing for Profit course which, among other outcomes, provided the tools and guides to enable measurement of production success.

Changing the grazing system on Dukes Plain was the major single change to overall production. The introduction of cell grazing for their cattle focused on high stock density for minimum grazing time to allow pasture maximum time to recover. This has lead to significant improvements in landscape health and production outputs, as detailed below, as well as substantial reductions to inputs required. As Shane says, “The ‘cow tractor’ is now the most used piece of farming equipment”.

A one-off capital investment in fencing and water distribution was necessary to establish the cell grazing system. An extensive network of single wire electric fences, sub-divide the property into what are now 97 paddocks of around 20-40 hectares each. A water reticulation system services all paddocks, gravity fed through polythene pipes from two ‘turkey’s nests’ – dams constructed at high points of the property which can have water pumped into them as required.

Continual monitoring and adjustment has been an essential part of the Joyce’s strategy. Receiving peer input through exposing the property and management to public scrutiny by hosting field days has also been an important element of implementation. Close working relationships have also been established with conservation groups and Queensland National Parks officers.

Currently, Shane and Shan are being approached by resource companies seeking to purchase environmental offsets. These organisations have been attracted to the farm by the high levels of regrowth on the previously cleared endangered brigalow and semi-evergreen vine thicket land types. Shane and Shan see the potential for possible future sale of soil carbon credits. However they note, “This is a complex issue that requires further investigation and clarification to ensure appropriate recognition of the land, the landscape and agricultural production”.

Seven paddocks were converted into
  ninety seven on Dukes Plain

Impediments to Change

Shane cites a broad range of challenges that he has encountered in the process of changing their property management, “The first and most obvious challenge was overcoming prior learning ranging from my schooling days – the broadly ingrained views that Australian soils are old, barren, degraded and can’t produce topsoil – to the generally accepted use of low management techniques”.

Shane points out that this long accepted approach is seen as the easier path, but over time it inevitably degrades the land, leading to ever falling production. “From that outcome it is only a short step to the general acceptance of external interventions such as fertiliser dependency, re-seeding and drought feeding regimes, all of which also eventually contribute to degradation of the system.”

…having the courage to try new methods and trust [our] own judgement has been an obstacle in itself.

Even with newly acquired information and the benefits of formal study and research, the Joyces found that it was challenging to put the theoretical principles into practice in a manageable form. This was exacerbated by a lack of peers to share ideas with or successful models to ‘copy’ from. General scepticism of new or different ideas was, and is, commonly encountered. Both Shane and Shan say that having the courage to try new methods and trust their own judgement has been an obstacle in itself. Old habits can be hard to break.

In addition, Shane notes that, “Declining product value across the agricultural sector, in contrast to increasing land values, provides additional challenges. Wrong decisions can easily lead to economic hardship”.

Shane also sees a threat to innovative land management in the dictation of practices, such as vegetation and pasture management, by authorities which often do not have direct experience on the land. “Ordinary people in remote places lack the opportunity to ‘have a conversation’ with such entities. To share and demonstrate actual experiences, is a missed opportunity for these authorities and virtually guarantees ‘more of the same’ from them.”

Delivering Continuous Improvement

Shane Joyce firmly believes that the natural resource base does not have to inevitably ‘run down’ with production over time, as is a commonly held view. With the management techniques applied, the Dukes Plain environment is clearly ‘running up’, showing only continuing improvement, not degradation over time. A number of principles have helped the Joyces to achieve continuous improvement of their farming resources, including:

  • Maximize animal density through large mob size and small paddocks.
  • Match stocking rate to carrying capacity. Have a good agent who assists with selling and acquisition of appropriate stock as determined by rainfall and pasture conditions.
  • No purchasing of supplementary feed for livestock during drought (see point two).
  • Do not become emotionally attached to livestock (see point two).
  • Provide adequate rest for pastures to fully recover before grazing.
  • Continually monitor and adjust.
  • Encourage diversity of animals and plants.
  • Provide adequate tree cover on landscape to minimise stress on land, livestock and people.
  • Continue to up-skill management and staff through ongoing education.
  • Minimise external inputs.
  • Seek the best in external advice.

The 97 paddocks are now grouped into three cells to manage the various mobs of cattle. Actively managed rotation averages around two to three days grazing and 60 days recovery, longer in slow growing season. Stocking is based on 26 stock days per hectare per 100mm of rainfall. This is based on one adult equivalent – a 450kg animal at 0.5kg per day live weight gain to 2 hectares. The stocking rate is continually adjusted according to rainfall and feed availability.

In 1995 the Joyces began to record individual paddock yields. Records maintained and grazing practices are based on those learned in the Grazing for Profit course. Measurements were more rigorous in early years, though these have been adapted over time and reduced to what is most useful. Specific ground cover measurement processes used to be followed in a regular format to record both ground cover and species present, but these have been reduced to set point photographs taken twice a year at the end of the growing and dry seasons.

A recently grazed paddock (left) next to a recovering paddock (right)

Shane sees a real strength in having the ability to measure the results of different landscape management methods in dollar terms – tools to measure trends in both landscape and business. The paddocks are now continually monitored and measured and grazing time adjusted accordingly to support optimum grazing and recovery periods.

Fixed point monitoring, left: October 1997 (top) and October 2011 (below); right: March 1998 (top) and March 2012 (below)

Shane points to the importance of planning, “Once the infrastructure was established, preparing, monitoring and controlling the grazing management plan became the major regular input required for the operation of Dukes Plain. A one to two month grazing plan can be prepared in a couple of hours, outlining paddock rotation in a form that can be followed by anyone. Less physical work is now required on the property, mostly just opening and closing the electric fence tape ‘gates’ to move cattle from one paddock to another, in accordance with the plan, and occasional fence repairs”.

Shane and Shan value continuous learning. All management and staff on Dukes Plain attend the Grazing for Profit workshop, as well as the Low Stress Stockhandling workshop, various field days and biodynamic farming workshops.

As an added bonus, the increased human visibility and animal handling has made the stock far more approachable and easy to manage. The stock are familiar with the rotation process and eagerly move between paddocks once gates are opened.

Creating Healthy Soils

Shane and Shan use biodynamic products to enhance soil fertility and have adopted innovative distribution practices for improving the soil quality on Dukes Plain. “Fertile soils provide oxygen, water and nutritious food for plants, animals, insects and microbes”, Shane acknowledges. Good soil underlies – literally and metaphorically – much of the success on the Joyce property.

Fertile soils provide oxygen, water and nutritious food for plants, animals, insects and microbes.

Good litter cover on the soil and denser stands of healthy perennial grass plants and legumes, all contribute to creating soil organic matter, leading to greater water absorption, and minimising surface erosion and runoff. Traditional management practices saw soils in decline with poor water and mineral cycles. District averages for soil organic matter are less than 1%. Measured in 2003, Dukes Plain showed around 4% soil organic matter.

The 2003 soil tests revealed no glaring deficiencies, however more recent analysis identified insufficiencies in levels of boron and manganese which are now being addressed. It was through a series of events that Shane developed an innovative and organic way of increasing the nutrients in his soil.

Upon adopting cell grazing, Shane felt pressure to put urea in the water for the cattle as a protein supplement. Uncomfortable with this concept, due to urea’s potential toxicity, Shane explored other options, influenced by previous experience in permaculture and interest in biodynamics. Initially he experimented with releasing liquid seaweed in water troughs by means of a special dosage pump mechanism. However, in 2002 he explored other options as management of the dosage pump/medicators was challenging when caretaker maintenance of the property was required.

Shane decided to address nutrient deficiencies and improve soil fertility with a product entirely sourced and made on the farm. He developed a biodynamic preparation drawing various components from the field to produce what he now calls ‘soil activator’.

Originally attempted methods of distribution by spraying on paddocks was time consuming and unachievable for the size of the property. Aerial spraying was too costly, so alternative distribution methods were considered. Shane noted that the stock responded favourably when diluted supplement was added to the drinking troughs, and thought that the preparation could also act as a tonic for the animals.

Further experimentation for dosage control led to the development of a ‘tea bag’ made from shade cloth, filled with the soil activator and placed by the inlet valve of water troughs. As a result, the product was ‘steeped’ every time the cattle drank, passing through their digestive systems and eventually ending up on the soil in their waste.

Shane observed the formation of greener patches related to cattle dung and urine points, also noting that the cattle did not avoid these areas in their grazing patterns. Soil biology indicators showed improvement in comparison to ‘untreated’ ground. These green patches have gradually expanded over time.

Ingredients to make soil activator can be purchased for around 60 dollars a kilogram, and Shane’s biodynamic preparations are sold by one of Australia’s top biodynamic educators. The ‘tea bags’ weigh only a couple of kilograms and diffuse into the water, moving from paddock to paddock with the cattle, for up to a number of weeks before they need to be replaced.

‘Tea bags’ filled with biodynamic preparation are attached to a
  float and placed into water troughs.

This method of distribution is an innovative way of using the ‘cow tractors’ to further fertilise the land and improve soil biology at a very low cost. Results from 2012 soil biology tests are being eagerly awaited.

Optimal Vegetation

Shane Joyce shakes his head in response to the previous vegetation management practices and how they are today costing him money.

“Through the 1950s and 1960s the brigalow and softwood scrubs were pulled with bulldozers, let lie for a couple of years, then burned and aerially seeded with a mixture of grasses. Subsequent timber regrowth was dealt with through burning and mechanical means from the 1970s. With fuel price rises and commodity price declines, by 1982 the cost of maintaining the pasture was beginning to outstrip the grazing return.”

Management practices changed, fire ceased being used on the property in 1977 and regeneration was allowed to occur naturally. Some strip removal of regrowth was performed in 1988 – corridors were blade ploughed for 120 metres with 30 metre shelterbelts, and later narrower corridors of six to seven metres with same sized shelterbelts on another part of the property (see image below). Original intentions were to undertake further clearing and thinning, however this was never performed, particularly once production rates were observed.

“Grass diversity, particularly native species, increased quite quickly after establishment of cell grazing.”

“Areas of natural revegetation with around 40% canopy cover are yielding nearly 40% greater return than those areas that were completely cleared. Counter to the long held views that the land needed to be cleared to provide more pasture for grazing, the trees are instead providing protection to the pastures and soils, allowing for much better growth and increased fodder for the cattle. Water loss through evaporation is better controlled, and the trees – notably the narrower corridors more so than the wide ones – protect the pastures from wind and frost damage. Increased diversity in grasses is also evident.”

Shane points out where up to 50% of previously cleared land on Dukes Plain has now retained regrowth. He estimates that around a 40% canopy cover appears to be optimal in the brigalow landscape, and natural thinning seems to be occurring.

He also points out that previous management practices had pastures which were developing into monocultures of buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris), and native grasses were being dominated by unpalatable species such as white spear-grass (Aristida leptopoda), wiregrass (Aristida calycigna) and yabilla grass (Panicum queenslandicum).

“Grass diversity, particularly native, increased quite quickly after establishment of cell grazing. Native grasses which emerged and rapidly increased include curly Mitchell (Astrebla lappacea), hoop Mitchell (Astrebla elymoides), kangaroo (Themeda triandra), flinders (Iseilema membranaceum), satin top (Eulalia aurea), Queensland blue (Dichanthium sericeum) and sorghum almum.”

As a result the ‘monoculture’ species decreased, though there seems to be a natural increase and decrease in the predominance of all species over time, with native grasses growing into introduced pastures and vice-versa. When asked about the mix of native grasses into improved pastures, Shane says that it is harder for native grasses to dominate as they have longer rest and regeneration requirements as well as unpalatable stages of growth. “Production does not always support the predominance of natives, for example kangaroo grass is the first to emerge in spring, and hence is eaten first. However, the regular movement of stock – which can also be manipulated and controlled with selected rotation – allows for animal transfer of grass seed to desired areas and some influence on pasture variety.” The cow tractors help again.

Left: Leucaena provides a source of protein for the cattle. Right: Shrubs are quickly stripped during grazing periods

The Joyces use no chemical interventions and are not attempting to remove any particular species from their pastures as greater resilience is obtained through biodiversity. Also, over time cattle grazing preferences have been observed to change. Native legumes also multiplied naturally with cell grazing, and the leguminous shrub Leucaena leucocephala has also been randomly introduced to enhance animal protein supply. Protected for a couple of years until they are established, these shrubs are a favoured fodder for the cattle, which quickly strip the leaves in their couple of days in the paddocks.

Left: Pasture grasses growing under eucalypt. Right: Recently grazed grass under brigalow

Cell grazing, more fertile soils and vegetation protection has also allowed for grasses to grow right up to trees in both the brigalow and eucalypt. Some areas of high animal traffic are still bare, but this too is constantly improving.

Overall, recovery periods with cell grazing provide for root development and better and continuous ground cover (which, as previously mentioned, equates to increased rainfall infiltration and water holding capacity). Pasture root systems are visible down 1.7 metres.

Shane is insistent that maintaining a minimum pasture height and having sufficient leaf allows grasses to grow from sunlight energy rather than from root reserves so pastures are more resilient and recover quickly with minimum impact on the root system.

Stock have become used to being handled as a consequence of the grazing strategies. Despite only being held by a single wire electric fence, the stock do not try to push through fences as the grass is not always greener on the other side, and regardless, they know they’re going to be moved in a day or two, so are always content.

A single strand electric fence easily contains the cattle which wait patiently to be moved to the next paddock.

Water Management

Provision of water to stock and enhancing rain infiltration in the landscape are the Joyce’s primary water management practices. These have now resulted in greater water use efficiency and enhanced water quality.

Dukes Plain lies at the top of the catchment area, with only one creek, Cattle Creek, originating in a neighbouring property, running along the southern boundary. Outflows from the property all run into the Dawson River, from Cattle Creek in the south, Red and Four Mile Gullies which flow to Gorge Creek in the North, as well as through Lambing Gully. There are no wetlands on the property and the only spring is high on the escarpment and not useful to the property.

As a result, all stock water is provided by farm dams filled from overland flows. Water is reticulated through a poly pipe system to poly and concrete troughs from the ‘turkey nests’. Water points are located at the intersection of four paddocks. Shane initially attempted his own installation of polythene piping across the property, but later obtained advice from local pipe and pump experts to ensure the use of the most effective pipe size and to obtain suitable pressure.

Most dams remain open to stock access, though with paddock rotation they are only exposed to stock for a maximum of some 21 days per year. This exposure aids compacting of dam edges, as completely protected dams had previously dried and cracked then split in flood. As stock access is limited, any damage is minimal.

A couple of dams are still fenced, one to control the water point from animals living in surrounding scrub the other to allow for enhancement and rebuilding.

Water points are located at paddock intersections and provide clean
  drinking water to four paddocks.

Shane describes outcomes of his watering plan, “With the reduced stock access and increased vegetation experienced with cell grazing, both water quality and water-use efficiency has improved. Algal blooms which had previously caused fish and duck deaths no longer occur. The improved ground cover now filters nutrient load washing into dams and less stock time on dams has reduced concentrated nutrient sources [dung and urine] in the immediate area”.

With an average annual rainfall of 700mm, in recent years rainfall has varied from as little as 314mm in 2006 to a high of 1538mm in 2010. The Joyces monitor post rain events to observe how deep moisture has penetrated and have found that rain infiltration in the soil has improved. Rainfall events of less than 10mm have traditionally been seen in the area as “useless”, however with the conditioned land and high levels of soil organic matter, this moisture is now being absorbed into the Dukes Plain soil. With around 70% of rainfall events comprising less than 10mm rainfall, the Joyces are now able to harness this resource that previously had been lost.

As shown below, land has been contoured in certain areas away from gullies and as required to dams. This technique follows Yeomans’ Keyline Design principles and aims to ‘keep water on the farm, not in the gully’. This is happening across the property as improved vegetation helps to keep moisture in the soil and pasture. Whilst the reduced overland flows result in increased difficulty in filling stock dams, this is an acceptable part of having increased soil moisture content.

View over Dukes Plain showing narrow strip-cleared shelterbelts, wide strip-cleared shelterbelts and water contouring.

Pests & Weeds

Previous methods of weed and pest control used included fire, 1080 baiting for dingoes and shooting of pigs and kangaroos. Now no control methods are used other than through cell grazing strategies. While some weeds persist to varying degrees, amongst the increased diversity of species these are seen as symptomatic of a particular issue and allowed to follow their cycle. Weeds are seen as an ally to colonise bare ground and help change the nature of the soil to make it more suitable for growing grasses.

A better balance of wildlife now exists on the property and despite more extensive water availability; kangaroo and wallaby numbers have reduced and are at an acceptable level. This could be as a result of these animals preference for short new growth, which is less common on Dukes Plain with current management strategies. There are some feral pigs and wild dogs in the region but these are not particularly problematic.

Biodiversity

Increased biodiversity in plant, animal, insect and other species is a clear outcome of the farming practices employed at Dukes Plain.

Diversity in pastures of both native and introduced species is extensive. There is an increase in leguminous shrubs and forbs across the paddocks. Ground cover has increased and regeneration is occurring naturally. In areas where trees numbers are high (too many stems per hectare). a natural self thinning appears to be occurring.

Vegetation linkages are severely limited to the north and east by clearing of surrounding properties, however linkages to south and west are strong due to the topography, which has limited clearing. The area which had received wide strip clearing in the 1980s showed greater biodiversity than the narrow corridors, but this was due to its maintaining connection with surrounding remnant vegetation, whereas the other area had been previously disconnected.Across the property increased diversity and population of birds has been observed over time. Regrowth areas provide wildlife corridors to the undeveloped ridge country and habitat for many more bird species, including significant numbers of small birds due to regeneration of small prickly shrubs which provide habitat that used to be burned.

Earthworms, spiders, ant and other insect numbers and types have increased. The vegetation has also provided the ideal habitat for the orb weaving spiders which can consume significant numbers of insects, such as grasshoppers, which damage crops and pastures.

Golden Orb spiders assist with pest control

Signs of Success

Shane and Shan are experiencing financial, social and environmental gains as a result of their property management practices.

A 30% productivity increase was obtained with cell grazing – paying off implementation of the new model, such as investment in infrastructure, in three years. Previously high external inputs such as seed, machinery and labour have all gone. No production, pasture or land management expenses or inputs costs have been incurred for 24 years. They are no longer required. Shane believes that the value of this method is clear in the lack of input costs – profit is inevitable.

The landscape is telling us that we are on the right path…

The previous focus on animal genetics and individual animal performance, or production per head, has been replaced with the simple measure of kilograms of beef produced per hectare of pasture. Greatest yields are being experienced in the revegetated paddocks – a clear demonstration that totally clearing paddocks is ultimately detrimental to pasture production.

As shown in the graph below, yield figures from the past 16 years of data demonstrate that totally cleared paddocks (scrub soils) are yielding measurably less ($83.96 per ha per year) than paddocks which have 40% ($112.74/ha/year) and 45% ($98.04/ha/year) canopy cover, while eucalypt forest with 90% canopy is yielding $64.83/ha/year.

The property now serves as a host for a broad range of visitors, including field days for the public, work experience for school groups, WWOOFers (willing workers on organic farms), and grey nomads. The Joyces feel that hosting helps with re-building the community on farm, which also flows on into the local towns. Hosting is also a valuable way to bridge the gap between city and country, also providing an excellent method of education.

The Joyces believe that quality food for people is being produced on Dukes Plain through organic and biodynamic practices. In addition, biodynamic preparations are being produced for on-selling by one of Australia’s top biodynamic educators. This helps fund the continuing education of farmers and gardeners in the biodynamic methods.

Shane Joyce branded beef is certified organic.

The improved landscape health would arguably result in cleaner water entering the Dawson River and eventually into the Great Barrier Reef.

Overall, compared to the previous business model on the property, the Joyces have experienced improvement in the natural resource and natural capital through more diverse pastures, more trees, fewer weeds, improved water quality, efficient water use, increased carrying capacity, easier animal management, and reduced labour input and requirements.

Shane and Shan are experiencing a greater sense of wellbeing with their current management practices, “the landscape is telling us that we are on the right path”. Observing the problems that have arisen in agriculture in the recent past, and not being affected by them, provides the clear impression that they are doing is working.

There is a clear sense of satisfaction and pride in being a part of the landscape for management, staff, volunteers, and visitors of Dukes Plain.

Lessons Learned

Shane and Shan have found that data capture, planning, monitoring and adjusting has been invaluable to success on Dukes Plain. By ensuring careful observation, such as of plant lifecycles, and behaviour adjustment, such as not grazing when grasses are just shooting, better outcomes can be received. Shane says that he wishes he had been more diligent in these activities in the early days of adopting changed practices.

“However”, he says, “I have been lucky, I have learned to have the courage to make mistakes and re-label them as learning opportunities. I believe more time can always be spent in seeking out knowledge”.

…choose what works for you from the range of methods and information available…

And what about a baseline from which to judge progress? In Shane’s region he finds that the roadside provides a good comparison tool for his own pastures. “Without technology or investment, they provide me with the opportunity to observe what is occurring naturally. That stimulates thinking on what systems or management can be implemented to replicate healthy results.” Shane’s experience has shown that investment in most productive areas first, reaps the greater rewards, “Improvements will spread to less productive areas, and increased production will subsidise later action in the harder to regenerate areas”.

With the broad range of practices available, Shane advises to choose what works for you from the range of methods and information available and from your own ideas and experiences and to “select the tiles that you want and make your own mosaic”. Ultimately, he recommends “care deeply about the land and take responsibility for your decisions and actions”.


Reference: Joyce, S. (2000), ‘Change the management and what happens – a producer’s perspective‘, in Tropical Grasslands, 2000, Volume 34, pp223-229


THIS CASE STUDY WAS PUBLISHED IN SEPTEMBER 2012 AS PART OF THE SOILS FOR LIFE INNOVATIONS FOR REGENERATIVE LANDSCAPE MANAGEMENT PROJECT.
DOWNLOAD THE FULL PROJECT REPORT OR CONTACT US TO ORDER A COPY.
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Where can I study regenerative agriculture?

Where can I study regenerative agriculture?

From Netflix to the Archibald Prize, regenerative agriculture is making headlines at the moment, which might have you wondering where you can deepen your understanding of the principles and practices behind it.

There are now a variety of courses that explore regenerative agriculture practices and principles. From university education to professional development, we have compiled a list of the courses available to support your regenerative journey.

Tertiary courses in regenerative agriculture

Bachelor in Regenerative Agriculture

The Bachelor of Regenerative Agriculture is delivered by Southern Cross University, and has been developed by leading experts including Dr Charles Massy, Dr Terry McCosker, Bruce Pascoe and Lorraine Gordon. The degree draws on regen ag principles including alternative farming systems, agroecology, regenerative agronomy and rural ecology.

Bachelor of Sustainable Agriculture

The Bachelor of Sustainable Agriculture from the University of Queensland is a three-year degree, providing you with the skills and knowledge to tackle sustainable food production. The program introduces scientific and managerial principles required to assist farmers increase their output with the least environmental and social impact.

Graduate Certificate in Regenerative Agriculture

The Graduate Certificate in Regenerative Agriculture was developed by Southern Cross University after a high demand from farmers seeking this kind of post graduate qualification. The course is flexible for students with the option of face to face or online learning, and can be completed in six months’ full time or a year part time. The graduate certificate allows students to gain a higher-level understanding of underpinning philosophies and associated management practices of regenerative agriculture.

Master of Science in Agricultural Innovations

The Australian National University has released a new postgraduate program to solve problems in the agricultural sector. The degree takes an interdisciplinary approach to problem solving which are applicable across government, industry and research institutions. With access to the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility and the Centre for Entrepreneurial Agri-technology, the degree provides hands on learning to help you address industry challenges.

Short courses in regenerative agriculture

Tarwyn Park Training

Tarwyn Park training is a highly-regarded 4-day hands on workshop learning the principles and actions of Natural Sequence Farming. The training shares knowledge of landscape regeneration with the wider community, helping them implement Natural Sequence Farming into any operation. It is run by Peter Andrews and three generations of the Andrews family.

RCS- Grazing Clinic and Grazing for profit

RCS offers practical-hands on workshops for land managers. The RCS Grazing Clinic covers the principles and practices of grazing management including how to design and manage a grazing cell and use grazing charts as a planning and decision making tool. The course has a focus on implementation, so participants leave with an action plan to implement on their property.

Colin Seis Pasture Cropping

Colin Seis, a Soils For Life Case Study, developed pasture cropping on his property, Winona. In collaboration with SmartSoil, a self-paced 9 module course on Pasture Cropping has been developed to teach the tools and methods to pasture crop profitably. The course will help farmers to grow grass, crops and livestock while regenerating their perennial grassland system.

Southern Blue Regenerative

Southern Blue Regenerative develops and grows regenerative regional businesses and offers regenerative farmers and holistic management courses. From short courses and workshops to advanced training programs, Southern Blue Regenerative delivers a range of regenerative farming ideas and concepts, looking in-depth and the what how and why. They aim to broaden your knowledge and create networks to help you on your journey.

Holistic Management Training

Inside Out Management has developed an eight-day course on Holistic Management, covering topics from holistic grazing planning, holistic financial planning and holistic land planning. The course also includes Allan Savory’s book “Holistic Management- a New Framework for Making Decisions” and financial and grazing planning resources.

Soil Hydration Practicum

Regenerative Landscapes Australia has developed a 3 day hands on practicum to learn strategies to increase soil hydration, build soil fertility and ground cover and increase rainfall utilisation. The workshop looks at the best regenerative practices to help increase the amount of water retained in the soil while reading the landscape to see problems and not just treat symptoms.

Soil Land Food

Soil Land Food is an independent agriculture consultancy that runs hands on workshops and courses to build regenerative understanding, skills and decision making for farmers. The courses range from regenerative and organic farming, composting, biofertilisers, grazing, property planning and land management.

The Mulloon Institute   

The Mulloon Institute is a leading research, education and advocacy organisation committed to building resilient rural and regional communities by supporting the long-term, sustainable growth of Australian agriculture. They often hold short courses and workshops.

Charlie Arnott Biodynamics

Charlie Arnott is a successful farmer from Borrowa who uses biodynamic principles to maintain pasture and animal health. Charlie often holds workshops and once graduated you can become a part of the closed alumni facebook page, allowing you to continue to learn and grow your networks.

Have you been part of a great regenerative agriculture course? Contact us and let us know which one!

Articles for Landholders

Articles for Landholders

Four key economic measures used in our case studies 02 Dec 2020 / economic, productivity, profitability There are four key measures we use to assess business performance in our economic reports. Learn More.
Sunset at Winona Indigenous grains for culture, nutrition and the environment 12 Nov 2020 / bruce pascoe, indigenous land management, NAIDOC, native foods, native grains, native grasses, research, university of Sydney In collaboration with local Indigenous groups, farmers and researchers, the most extensive study of indigenous grains from paddock-to-plate has just been completed by the…
Where can I study regenerative agriculture? 03 Nov 2020 There are now a variety of courses that explore regenerative agriculture practices and principles. From university education to professional development, we have compiled a…
Protected: What is pasture cropping? 22 Oct 2020 / colin sies, native grasses, Pasture Cropping, winona Pasture cropping is an important innovation at Colin Seis' property Winona. Read more about the benefits and advantages
Soils in Schools 20 Oct 2020 / education We believe it is important for all children to be aware of the importance of healthy soil,
Sunset at Winona Conservation and revegetation programs 23 Sep 2020 / conservation, programs, regenag Revegetation and conservation activities can have many benefits for landholders.
Why revegetation is important in agricultural landscapes 23 Sep 2020 / education, regenag, revegetation Without vegetation, life would be impossible. Vegetation plays a critical role in supporting life on the planet by providing habitat and food, producing oxygen…
How to grow soil organic matter 20 Aug 2020 / Australian soils, cvtest, REGENERATIVE AGRICULTURE, soil organic matter, soil science, Soils Methods for building soil organic carbon are as diverse as the landscapes these properties inhabit.
Regenerative Agriculture Podcasts and Webinars 23 Jul 2020 / podcasts Covering topics from sustainable farms to Indigenous fire management you are bound to find something that’s just right for you.
Can African lovegrass be beaten? Three strategies that are working 21 Jul 2020 Careful management tailored to the production system and landscape can minimise or avoid the problems that African lovegrass causes.
Birds: Why and how to measure them on your property 25 Jun 2020 / biodiversity, bird survey, birds, cvtest Results of repeated bird surveys, like repeated soil tests, can provide land managers with valuable information on how their land management is performing over…
The 10 things our ecologists look at when conducting field visits on farms 21 May 2020 / cvtest Our team have ten criteria to represent the regenerative and productive capacity of each major land type on a farm.
What is a Weed? 11 Mar 2020 / cvtest Weeds are one of the major problems affecting Australia's natural ecosystems and agricultural vegetation.
Birds, Biodiversity and Agricultural Land 03 Nov 2019 Biodiversity is a term used to refer to the amount of living organisms found in any given area. Higher numbers of living organisms (types…

Winona gallery

Explore Winona

Hear Col Seis describe his property as you view the gallery below. Read more detail about the property in the Case Study.

Soils in Schools

Soils in Schools

We believe it is important for all children to be aware of the importance of healthy soil, to have a better understanding of natural systems and to know where food comes from. We also believe in equipping the next generation to flourish in the knowledge and understanding of the natural environment, especially the soil that is so much more than the dirt under out feet.

Resources for teachers

Although our case studies provide outstanding examples of farmers and land managers are working regeneratively, Soils For Life does not publish resources specifically for the primary or high school classroom. Instead, we’ve collected a list of the teaching resources prepared by the outstanding educators working in this area.

Story books for younger kids

‘Nema and the Xenos: A Story of Soil Cycles’ is an engaging, interesting and beautifully illustrated book from Scale Free Network and CSIRO Publishing. 

In Exploring Soils: A Hidden World Underground, James discovers that soil is not just dirt for digging in. He explores how plants and animals live in soil, how soils are formed, how they differ, and the ways that soil is essential in our lives.

Outdoor and garden education

The Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation provides educational resources, professional development, support and inspiration for educators to deliver pleasurable food education to children in Australia.

Seed Harvest Spoon use community garden development as a catalyst to educate communities in growing local, seasonal and organic food, generating healthy ecosystems and promoting local biodiversity.

The 24 Carrot Gardens project establishes gardens in schools and communities where children learn to grow, cook and eat healthy produce. Their gardens are located in fifteen Tasmanian schools and communities.

Teaching resources for all ages

The Farmer’s Footprint has shared playful activities, lessons, garden art and educational resources for future farmers. The hub teaches land stewardship to children and plants the seed of regenerative language. These resources can be used in the classroom or at home.

The Soil Story: The road to regenerative agriculture teaching resources adhere to the curriculum’s outcome and objectives for Science, Geography, History, Agricultural Technology and Technology Mandatory Key Learning Areas. The unit can be taught as it stands, or has the capacity to employ supplementary pedagogical styles such as, ‘project-based learning’ as it allows real world connections to be made and contexts explored right throughout the unit.

Soils in Schools: Soil Science Australia has developed a range of teacher guides and educational resources to educate school children on the relevance and importance of soils and to encourage a wider interest in our soil resources.

Primezone provides teachers with a single-point of access to a range of primary industries education resources. 

Scootle is a national repository that provides Australian schools with more than 20,000 digital resources aligned to the Australian curriculum.

Junior Landcare have made it easy and fun for you to get the children in your life involved in environmental sustainability activities at school, at home or in your community.

Phenomenom looks at the entire classroom through the lens of food. It is a free digital toolkit for teachers including an online library of videos and audio resources that act as springboards for curriculum-aligned PDF lesson plans in every subject area.

Teaching older students? Discover how our case studies of regenerative agriculture can benefit your classroom.