HAVE YOU STARTED SUCCESSION PLANNING?

Yes, I have seen a few successors of rural properties who have not had a passion for the land, and succeeded out of a sense of duty (due to expectations, emotional ties to the family heritage, etc).

Fortunately, later in life I have seen some of these have a realisation (often due to a personal crisis) which has led them to quit the farm, and follow their passion.

WHEN IS THE TIME RIGHT?

Let us now look at some biological aspects of succession planning.

I am a biodynamic practitioner, and follow some of the teachings of Rudolph Steiner.

One of his theories is that as human beings, our life progresses in “blocks” of seven years.

Now nine cycles of seven brings us to sixty-three.

If you study numerology, there’s significance in the nines.

Nine is completion. So, nine lots of seven brings us to sixty-three. Add six and three and you have nine. Time, my friends, for completion.

Now between sixty-three and seventy, we are supposed to hand over all that we “do” to someone younger.

The price we pay for not acting on this, is that we can get so set in our ways that no one wants to work with us.

This then drives off younger family members, employees and friends who see no way to advance in the business.

Maybe you haven’t yet come across this age-based / numerology-based idea in your succession planning workshops or readings.

I feel it is a very important “missing link”.

Now before you throw a hiss fit, and start on about how you are still fit, and active, and want to be involved in the business for many years to come, I will throw you a lifeline.

NOT NECESSARILY ALL OR NOTHING

You can begin to hand over the running of the business, the financial, and physical management, while transitioning into a role of mentor, advisor, supporter, and your services, and wisdom will be much appreciated.

I have done this, and can vouch for the effectiveness of the strategy.

So successful has it been for me that I am about to launch into phase two, and transition my new farm (bought at sixty-three) into a new form of ownership, where I become a minor shareholder, and the farming is done by young people who have a passion to farm, however lack the capital to buy land.

AND YOU?

Here are a few questions that might help you to get thinking about your own succession plan.

  • What about sharing your plan?
  • How have you arrived/will you arrive at your succession plan?
  • Will you meet with all stakeholders?
  • Will your successors be having input into the shape/structure of your plan?
  • Who will be your successor/s?
  • Will it be family, a friend, an employee, or other?
  • Are all involved filled with joy about the plan?
  • Do you have any specific questions that you’d like to see answered in this blog?

THE REGENERATION GENERATION

One thing that came to me when on the phone with John Leggett was the concept of next generation and regenerative agriculture. Yes next gen, and regen!

What effect will transition to the next generation of land managers have on the landscape?

I look back on my experience, and the transitions from my grandparents to my parents, to myself, and now onto the new owners of the land.

The transition from my grandparents, in who’s era transport was largely horse drawn vehicles, stock work was on horses, stock transport was droving, timber treatment was with an axe, and labour was cheap.

In my parents’ era there were many changes. Mechanical clearing of timber, chemical usage in agriculture, in the form of insecticides, herbicides, and fertilizers, cars became the mode of transport, & stock movement to market was on trucks.

These, along with many other changes, had their effect on land management. Unfortunately, much of this change was degenerative!

A NEW ERA OF LANDSCAPE MANAGEMENT

Now along comes my era in managing the land. Seeing the degeneration in the landscape, the increased cost of labour, machinery, fuel, electricity, etc., I set out to reduce the need for labour, reduce external inputs to the land, and begin to work with the land (not against it).

Now the landscape is in new ownership, having been sold to a Coal Seam Gas consortium for environmental offsets. The cattle enterprise is with new managers, and part of the agenda of the CSG consortium, is to progressively remove the grazing enterprise.

The property is owned by the CSG Consortium, while it is leased back to myself. The young couple are managing the cattle enterprise for me. The next phase of “succession” here is for me to bow out of the lease in November 2018, & the young couple will then take up the new lease from the CSG Consortium.

This agenda is largely driven by their need to satisfy state and federal regulators, who monitor the environmental offset, and its management.

What has all this to do with succession planning?

AGILE MANAGEMENT AND SUCCESSION PLANNING

In my opinion landscape management and succession planning are very closely connected.

Often people observed my land management techniques and suggested that I place some sort of management covenant on the farm.

I considered these suggestions, and was so grateful that my grandparents had not placed a covenant on the land. I was grateful that my parents had not placed a covenant on the land.

Imagine having a covenant on the land, from generations back, which dictated how to manage the land.

Consider then very carefully what “covenants” are within your succession plan. Is your succession plan sufficiently organic and sufficiently flexible to fully embrace the changes over succeeding generations?

ANTI-FRAGILITY

Now to throw in another concept that is close to my heart: “anti-fragility”.

I came across a book some years back, titled ANTI FRAGILE, Things that gain from disorder by Nicholas Nassim Taleb.

The idea behind his theme of setting up systems, businesses, etc., to be anti-FRAGILE, is to build in a capacity into whatever we do, so that we can benefit from disorder!

The book struck a cord with me, and I believe that we can apply anti-fragility to almost anything.

Let’s get specific to our regenerative landscape. What “disorders” come from time to time, that we cannot predict?

Drought, flood, fire, market crashes, high interest rates, and more. How can we structure our landscape, our business, in order that we can extract benefit from these events?

On this same thought pattern, how can we make our succession plan more anti-FRAGILE.

In the event of sickness, death, relationship breakdown, what measures are in the succession plan that will see these wild cards, become beneficial events?

I have seen examples of “succession” where the older generation has been “guarantor” to the bank for loans taken out by the succeeding generation.

I have seen a number of not so nice “un-windings of these arrangements. Financial hardship, which has led to banks foreclosing, relationship breakdown in the succeeding generation, which has led for the need of property settlement. Now seeing a daughter/son in law walk way with ½ of the farm can be quite a bitter pill to swallow.

This section is largely written to provoke thought. Obviously, it is quite easy to set up a succession plan with obvious pitfalls, now maybe it is an opportunity to brain storm the hows of succession planning that is “bullet proof”.

Managing landscape for anti-fragility is quite easy, managing succession planning for anti-fragility will be your challenge.

I have had solicitors, accountants suggest testamentary trusts. These I am not in favour of. These to me are like placing a covenant on land, & what I call “management from the grave”.

Think about what could possibly go wrong with your succession plan, now think what changes may be needed to make it more anti-fragile.

My main personal anti-fragility measures are to invest in myself, through on going education, developing new skills, interests, and passions, taking ownership of my health, and fitness, and getting involved more in off-farm activities.


SUCCESSION: FIRST THOUGHTS, IDEAS AND EXPERIENCES

When in conversation with John Leggett in relation to the re-birth of my Soils for Life blog, the topic of SUCCESSION PLANNING came to the fore.

Now, as with many things that I “have a go at”, I am no expert on succession planning, however I suspect that you, as a reader, also are not!

I do however have some multi-generational experiences in this field.

Firstly though, I would like to explore the definition, according to Dr. Google, the wizard, who resides within my smart phone, on which I am writing this story.

ASK GOOGLE

1. A number of people or things of a similar kind following one after the other 

Now I have the experience of alarm bells going off in my head!

“Things of similar kind”. Ah, what ever happened to “diversity”?

“Following one after the other”. This for me has connotations of “mindless” following, with little scope for thought, or innovation. 

2. The action or process of inheriting a title, office, property, etc.

My mind here immediately races to many poor examples of inheritance, which have actually contributed to the “decline of a dynasty”, due largely to lack of a selection criteria!

Let Dr Google continue: The gradual replacement of one type of ecological community by another in the same area, involving a series of orderly changes, especially in the dominant vegetation. Succession is usually initiated by a significant disturbance of an existing community.

Now I am with this definition of succession, and in particular the first sentence. “gradual replacement”, “a series of orderly changes”, “in the dominant vegetation (personalities)”.

Now this is obviously specific to matters organic & vegetative, however, I feel that as families, businesses, farms, there is a real need to treat the process of succession as an organic process.

Sentence two: “usually initiated by significant disturbance”.

This is where I feel we need to alter the organic process, and initiate the succession planning, and actions, before significant disturbance occurs.

Yes, all too often I see succession, or change being initiated by disease, death, hardship, etc.

MY FIRST EXPERIENCE WITH SUCCESSION

Now to get to some of my experiences with succession planning.

I grew up on a family beef cattle operation in Queensland.

My grandfather had migrated from Ireland. My father & uncle were in partnership, through what I call “the golden age” in the Queensland beef cattle industry. Land clearing (the Brigalow Development Scheme), improved pastures, and a change in cattle genetics (British to Bos Indicus).

My uncle had no children, while in our family, we were four boys.

There was no thought of doing other than following in our father’s footsteps.

While still in primary school (I am the youngest son), the succession plan was laid out.

One contributing factor to the dissolution of the partnership between my father and uncle was succession.

My father was “into” handing over the farm, while my uncle was not this way inclined.

Dad “re-passioned” (the new terminology for retirement) at sixty years of age, when he & Mum moved to a small farm at Maleny.

At this time three of my brothers were already on their portions of the family landholding, while I was working & travelling.

I leased my portion of the farm back to my father, mother, & one of my brothers, who as part of the succession plan, had remained in partnership with our parents.

My parents were very clear about their succession plan, and it was very clear to us four boys.

This took place decades before succession planning had become a “mainstream” agenda item.

I am not familiar with how my grandparents structured their succession plan, or even if they had one. The one thing that I was aware of though, is that the two sons inherited the farm, while the four daughters did not.

BACK TO THE ECOLOGICAL ANALOGY

Another extract from my Google searching on succession planning, again is specific to ecological communities, and I quote, “Unidirectional change in the composition of an ecosystem as the available competing organisms, and especially the plants respond to, and modify the environment.”

Yes, with a few word substitutions, this could well be used in relation to farm succession planning!

Some of the words that appeal to me are “UNIDIRECTIONAL” and “COMPOSITION OF AN ECOSYSTEM (BUSINESS)”. “AVAILABLE COMPETING ORGANISMS” and “RESPOND TO AND MODIFY”.

Ah the makings of a truly organic succession plan!

MY NEXT SUCCESSION EXPERIENCE

Now to my own succession planning experience with our beef cattle property in Central Queensland, “Dukes Plain”.

I had three children, a leasehold property, land values that were well above production return capability, insufficient enterprise size for three families, and the children had interests other than beef cattle and land management.

Stage one: Accept that I am not immortal.

Stage two: Accept that whomever succeeds me will “do it differently”.

Stage three: Engage a facilitator, and have a family meeting to discuss options.

Stage four: Begin to action the outcomes of the family meeting. This involves selling the farm, and re-structuring assets so that division/distribution is relatively easy.

Stage five: Launch sales initiative for the farm, while I go through the process of sorting out my healthy, and unhealthy, attachments to this tract of land that has been in the family for ninety years.

Stage six: Continue to operate the farm as if I am going to be here for ever!!! At this moment, I am by many, considered to be totally crazy! Why continue as if I am going to be here for ever?

I began by acting as if the property would be sold immediately. Stopped any new development initiatives, had no future plan for stock or land, no goals to work toward, etc.

I soon realised that the property/business was “falling to bits before my eyes!”.

I quickly understood the need for a future plan, and acting on this plan. (Acting as if I was going to be here forever!).

Ten years on, a sale of the property was effected!!!

AH, EMOTIONAL TIES

By now I had fully, well I thought I had, digested the emotional connections with the landscape, and the business.

I was well aware that operating the farm was getting in the road of what I really wanted to be doing.

An opportunity to lease back came with the sale, and a five-year lease was negotiated.

The property is now managed by a young couple, and we have entered into a partnership agreement. Yes, they have some “skin in the game!”

My realisation from leasing back, is that it was an action which indicated I still had not fully released the farm. Ah emotional ties!!!

IF I WERE TO DO IT AGAIN, WHAT??

I would do nothing differently. A great opportunity has come from “my remaining emotional tie”, and that has been the creation of an opportunity for a young couple to step forward into an agricultural enterprise, which fits with their future goals, and visions.

For me it has provided the opportunity to deal with my final emotional ties to this land, and I am in a position to happily exit the enterprise, while my partners can continue. Ah what a sweet transition! End of “channelling”!


ENABLING LANDSCAPE REHYDRATION AND REGENERATION

Transforming drains into chains of ponds on Kumbartcho.

As I write Shan is “across the ditch” in NZ visiting an ex-WWOOFer who is working on an Angus stud cattle operation in the south island. I’m home absolutely enjoying “farm” life. My participation in the Community gardens in Kilkivan continues, as do new projects on Kumbartcho.

REHYDRATION

We have begun our Peter Andrews/Natural Sequence Farming-style landscape rehydration project.

Stuart Andrews kindly took a day out of his family seaside holiday to come ‘consulting’ for us. Thanks so much Stuart!

Now we have followed the plan (mostly), with some added personal flair.

It may be best to do the work at end of the wet season, but our timing a little out as the wet began almost on cue with the commencement of earth works!!!

So we have had live testing of the works so far.

The big successes have been:

  • Work on our 1960’s vintage “contour” banks (drains actually). This is a process of turning drains into chain of ponds. Rather than getting the water drained off the farm asap, we are now beginning to hold the water to let it slowly work through the soil.
  • We are getting a glimpse of how we can spread the water over the farm from gullies to effectively ‘irrigate’ substantial areas of pasture.

We have purchased a laser level (after the contractor we engaged said he did levels by eye!). Now we can take accurate levels and be confident that we are “on the right level!”

Slowing the flow of water and capturing and holding it in the landscape helps rehydrate the soil.

RAIN, RAIN, RAIN.

After sticking our necks out and purchasing a goodly number of yearling heifers for both Kumbartcho and Dukes Plain (while the market was floundering), we watched as our Stock Days per hectare per 100 mm of rain began a meteoric rise!!! Things have changed with 11 mm at Dukes Plain for November, and 89 mm at Kumbartcho, and now for December 76 mm at Dukes and 90 mm at Kumbartcho.

A green xmas is assured.

After a hot dry spring we are surely enjoying the current humidity (free saunas).

REVEGETATION

Our planted trees are doing well, as is our Monto Vetiver grass.

We planted the Vetiver in June in an eroded gully, and it is now catching sediment and top soil – from the property next door.

Vegetation in erosion gullies slows the flow of water and captures sediment.

Earlier planted trees which succumbed to drought or frost have been replaced just prior to the December rains, so will be off to a good start.

Young trees planted earlier in the  year are beginning to become established.

Our most recent ‘tree’ strategy is to purchase a full (60 metre) roll of reinforcement mesh, and from this we will make tree guards to protect naturally regenerating eucalypt seedlings in the paddocks from stock browsing them. This effectively will allow us to get seedlings above browse height, and then we can move the guards on to new sites. We see this as a cheap way to ensure successful natural regeneration of trees in the landscape.
 
Other news is that we have had our second release of bio control insects for Cats Claw creeper on Wide bay Creek. Gympie Landcare has a bug breeding facility.

REGENERATION

The weather conditions seem to be getting more extreme (super cell storms, droughts, floods), which all really highlight the need for a change nationally to change land management to regenerative practices.

It is fine to ‘mouth off’ about the resources industries and their mines, however unfortunately still many of our agricultural/pastoral industries are also highly extractive, and contributing to the weather extremes in a very big way.

To ensure that we continue to regenerate and build the health of the natural resource base, rather than mine it, our fifth spraying of Biodynamic soil activator over the whole property was completed, and the sixth has now begun. With the rain we are anticipating an absolute “explosion” in our soil health, and pastures.


MANAGING SOIL, WATER AND PHOTOSYNTHESIS

Kumbartcho pasture into its second year of drought.

Top of our list when we went ‘shopping’ for a new farm, was water.

In times of drought it becomes really apparent that water is the single most limiting factor in our agricultural enterprises/gardens. Here we have a flowing creek, with water allocation, and a bore which is adequate for irrigation purposes (un-regulated).

Now it is well and good to have all this water, however the cost of pumping it has largely become prohibitive for many agricultural enterprises.

How then are we addressing this issue of water??

Our pasture and soil management is focused on having soils in best possible condition and pastures are managed for perenniality and diversity.

Soil in good condition has the capacity to hold more water, as well as an increased infiltration rate when rains come.

Some Facts!

  • One hundred kilograms of soil with 4 to 5 % organic matter will hold two hundred litres of water. With 1.5 to 2% organic matter it will hold only forty five litres!!!
  • Trials in the Kimberly showed that on similar soil types, water infiltration rates on bare ground were 25 mm per hour, on litter cover 45 mm per hour, and on perennial grass 175 mm per hour. On applying “simulated rainfall” a second time on the same sites the bare ground infiltration rate went down to 12 mm per hour, litter cover down to 30 mm per hour, while the perennial grass site infiltration rate increased to a massive 300 mm per hour!!!

It is not rocket science then that if we manage our soils, and pastures we can make much more effective use of what rainfall we get.

An important fact then, that is emerging out of all this, is to do with PHOTOSYNTHESIS.

In this day of “global warming/climate change”, as farmers/gardeners, we have a huge FREE resource, which along with sunshine, air, and water, we can HARVEST.

That free resource is CARBON DIOXIDE, and the way to ‘capture’ it is through photosynthesis.

If our soils have high organic matter, and have healthy diverse pastures, then we can capture, and store more of the available rainfall. It is this stored moisture that keeps our plants growing when it is not raining. The longer we can keep plants green, and growing, then the more (through photosynthesis) we are able to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

To quote Alan Lauder from Carbon Grazing, “water, and fertility follow CARBON. Photosynthesis puts carbon into our soils!”

If we continue to keep grazing animals, while compromising our pastures need for rest, we are “giving up” the possibility of harvesting effectively the FREE RESOURCES. It is these free resources, which have the capacity to maintain our RESOURCE BASE – the farm.

By learning to effectively ‘harvest’ we can reduce the impact of drought, flood, and fire.

On Kumbartcho pastures are actively managed to retain green growth even in drought conditions.

RE-ASSESSING FARM WEAK LINKS

Well here we are at end August 2014, tomorrow is first day of spring. August has delivered us 52 mm of rain, which gives us great soil moisture to begin spring.

Shan Joyce spraying Biodynamic soil activator

The farm has had three sprays of Biodynamic soil activator, so is well ‘primed’ to burst into life/growth as the weather warms.

Now is a good time to re-assess what are the ‘weak links’ of this farm.

Having attended to the farm’s acute need for rest (destocked 13/01/2014 till 16/06/2014), and to the farm’s need to achieve a biologically active soil (three applications of Biodynamic preparations).  The outstanding ‘weak link’ was stock water infrastructure.

STOCK WATER INFRASTRUCTURE

Final paddock trough water supply is in place

On Friday 29 August we installed our final water trough. Paddocks are now set up for subdivision with no need for further water infrastructure. With a total of 14 stock water troughs, two tanks and 5.3 km of polypipe, we now have a deluxe stock water system.

If you’re wondering what the investment requirement was – the total cost of the system was $32,098.68.

We already had seven of the troughs and the two tanks, so they are not included in the cost. The trenching component for the pipe was $3580, including man and machine hire. There are no other labour costs included, as the work was performed by me, friends, and students from two Steiner School Year 9 classes during their ‘Farm Camp’ visit. Total time spent was six days with three people, and eight days with students and myself.

Stock are now into their last paddock, having begun their rotation on 16 June.

GRAZING MANAGEMENT

This then leads us to the next ‘weak link’, which is associated with many things, however to keep it brief paddock subdivision has moved to the top of the priorities list.

Now that we have water in place, better use of stock densities will be facilitated by both permanent, and temporary electric fences.

Biodynamic soil activator and grazing management has helped encourage soil biological activity

Stock densities will facilitate a speeding up of improvement of quality and diversity of pastures, knock down of unused pasture to improve litter and soil organic matter.

More paddocks will make utilisation of pasture more effective, and achieving adequate rest much easier.

Smaller paddocks will allow for more targeted treatment of ‘undesirable’ species such as Giant Rats Tail (GRT) grass. Our focus with the GRT is to basically treat the soil. Through the use of Biodynamic preparations, and grazing management we hope to shift the nutrient status of the soil to where it no longer ‘needs’ to grow GRT. Perennial, productive, palatable species will become healthy, and out-compete the GRT. The ‘spaces’ for GRT seedling recruitment will be largely reduced.

At this stage we have begun to install lead out electric wires, and subdivided one paddock with single wire permanent electric fence. Seven paddocks to go!

LANDSCAPE HYDROLOGY

Next on the ‘weak link’ list is water (no not stock water), and how the water moves in the landscape.

Rocks and scrap material from around the property have been used to construct a leaky weir
Willow cutting planted to stabilise river banks are already beginning to shoot

We plan to put in place a plan for landscape rehydration.

This will involve the use of Peter Andrews’ techniques to improve the hydrology of the farm, and maximize the effect of rainfall, and ground water.

We hope to begin this planning process in September 2014.

In the meantime, tree plantings have already started on the waterways, and one leaky weir is in place built from scraps of concrete, rocks, bricks, and tyres.

Electric fencing will also include one last section of waterway that is not fenced to better manage stock access and minimise disturbance.

Another series of ‘weak links’ well on the way to being addressed.


MONITORING FARM ACTIONS AND RESULTS

Image courtesy of The Australian Women’s Weekly

THE IMPORTANCE OF MONITORING

I cannot stress enough the value of monitoring as a tool to be used in all facets of farming.

Here at Kumbartcho we started our monitoring program right from the beginning. On our former property Dukes Plain we did not start the monitoring till 1995, some 12 years after we took up the management.

Vegetation growth on Dukes Plain

There, within 6 months of beginning, we had saved our selves in the order of $40 per hectare, which we would have spent on re-clearing timber regrowth.

Yes, within 6 months we were able to demonstrate from our grazing chart records that our timbered country was out yielding our re-cleared, re-pastured land. We have now been able to demonstrate with 20 years of yield data, that our re-cleared country has such a miniscule increase in yield, that it would take 98 years to re-coup the cost of clearing!

NUTRIENT AVAILABILITY

Here at Kumbartcho we took soil and water samples when we inspected the property.

We established what elements are low in availability.

What actions then have we taken as a result of these soil tests?

Action one was to begin to apply the biodynamic preparations (Biodynamic Soil Activator) within hours of settlement.

In the first 48 hours we had sprayed along all boundary and internal fence lines with soil activator.

We began to plant trees (with soil activator under the planting sites).

We brought these trees from our former property Dukes Plain, deliberately to carry the biodynamic impulse, which was well established in the soils there.

The property has now had three applications of Biodynamic Soil Activator, the first fence line application and two full property applications. The last two applications have been timed for autumn and winter, deliberately to “prime” the soils for spring.

During winter the “forces” from the cosmos are streaming into the earth, so any soil amendments we apply in the autumn/winter period will be “pulled” into the soil, and accumulate there, ready to “burst” into life in spring /summer.

PASTURE STATUS & YIELD

Our next monitoring action was to establish fixed-point photo sites in all paddocks (18 in all).

We now have February, end March, and end June photos from these sites.

Fixed point monitoring photos for two paddocks. Top to bottom: February, March and end June 2014.

The property was rested (livestock removed) for five and a half months to allow pastures to fully recover from grazing. Livestock were re-introduced on 16 June.

Our third monitoring tool is to keep records of paddock yields.

INFORMED DECISION MAKING

Our next soil samples will be taken 12 months into our management of the property. The results of a combination of rest, biodynamic preparations and grazing management will then be revealed by what changes there are in nutrient availability.

The soil sampling will also be done in tandem with plant tissue testing. This will reveal what nutrients the plants are taking up, and what are lacking.

No tissue test was done with first soil samples due to lack of tissue to sample!

We do our soil tests through the Environmental Analysis Labrarotory at Southern Cross University in Lismore.

Available nutrients, total nutrients, and tissue samples are done in order that we can better work out how effective our soil amendments have been, and what additional amendments we may need to make.

Without ongoing monitoring it is difficult to gauge the effectiveness of our farming actions, so monitor, monitor, monitor.

We are fully committed to our monitoring program as it gives us a “baseline” from which we can then measure the effectiveness of our various actions.


BUILDING FARM AND COMMUNITY

Image courtesy of The Australian Women’s Weekly

This update on starting our new farm at Kumbartcho, Kilkivan will be focused on our community involvement.

A large part of our community involvement goes back now some eight years.

When at Dukes Plain, Theodore, we started a “partnership” with Samford Valley Steiner School (SVSS). They have been bringing their Year Nine class out to Dukes Plain for “farm camp” each year during winter. Initially the camp was for one week, however more recently it has grown to three weeks.

The history of our association goes back to my spotting an advertisement in the Biodynamic Agriculture Australia News Leaf. SVSS were seeking a farm in south east Queensland. I stretched the definition of “south east”, and we volunteered, and in the absence of a better offer, were chosen.

I had a friend who worked at SVSS as a gardener. Rob was familiar with the Dukes Plain landscape, and recommended the area as having great potential, despite the distance that they would have to travel to come to this “south east corner” farm!

Well here we are in 2014, having sold Dukes Plain, and deeming running the farm camps there any more far too difficult (the new owners are a corporate and even I have needed “induction” to be on the site).

We offered SVSS the opportunity to come to the new farm at Kilkivan (yes, we are now in the south east corner).

Fortunately we have an old farm house to accommodate groups, and being just three hours from Brisbane, a much shorter journey for the groups.

The association has also included Noosa Pengari Steiner School, and their Year Nine class.

We view these associations as a valuable community service, which gives urban students the opportunity to experience first-hand farm life and work.

Part of our obligation is to have a “mountain” of tasks for the students to complete. Believe me, one can get much work done/many projects completed with a workforce of up to as many as twenty-eight students!

We do a variety of farm tasks, which may include:

  • making and application of Biodynamic preparations,
  • fencing,
  • installation and repair of water infrastructure,
  • bush walking,
  • cleaning out cattle grids,
  • construction of leaky weirs (drawn from Peter Andrews’ Natural Sequence Farming),
  • planting of trees,
  • planting of Vetiver grass in waterways/drainage lines,
  • treating noxious weeds,
  • cutting and collecting fire wood,
  • managing compost toilets (carbon:nitrogen ratio!),
  • management of their own hot water resource (donkey with wood fire),
  • furniture making,
  • sculpting, etcetera…
The students get to learn some “life skills” while on camp. One of the many is to learn about Low Stress Stock handling. This methodology (the principles of) can be applied to many aspects of life, from our interaction with other humans to encounters with wild animals while driving.

An appreciation of where food comes from and how it is produced is a big learning for many students (suddenly the piece of meat on a Styrofoam tray under glad wrap has a different meaning!).

Now that the camp is over a three week period, the students get to break through some challenging personal issues. The first week can be challenging (“I want to go home”), the second week is when some order comes into the group, and the third week is the time when many shift to “I don’t want to go home” mode.

For us and the farm the great things are:

  • the great energy of youth which has a big impact on the farm environment,
  • we get lots of work done (while having fun),
  • I get to practiced my memory skills (remembering up to 28 names!),
  • having the association with the schools brings (for a brief period) a community on to the farm and we share food preparation, meals, conversation, and music.

Among the achievements for the students, is that they gain a bigger appreciation of the comforts of home, and their parents! We look forward to continuing this association into the future.

Our other community involvements at this stage are doing a presentation for a local farmers group at a field day, applying the Biodynamic preparations to two neighbouring properties (done by the Samford Valley students by hand), sharing freely knowledge on use of the Biodynamic preparations, and giving Biodynamic soil activator to local people to get them started.

I hope eventually to get involved with the local community garden (all trees and lawn at this stage), and markets (weekly).

RESTOCKING AFTER RESTORING A DEGRADED LANDSCAPE

Image courtesy of The Australian Women’s Weekly

Well here we are at Kumbartcho, and we have hit “P” mode, where P is for production.

We have had the property in ‘lock up’ mode since the 13th of January this year. Yes, no stock till pastures had fully recovered from previous (over) grazing, and under resting.

Rain throughout this resting period has been:

  • 4.5mm in January
  • 42mm in February
  • 158.5mm in March
  • 17mm in April
  • 37.5mm in May
  • 7mm in June.

The February rains started the growth processes, however with 40mm falling on the 17th of February and then no further significant rainfall untill the 25th of March, recovery in pastures were quite insignificant.

However, March rain from the 25th to 31st of 146.5mm gave the land a good soaking over a week, and with continued warm weather, pastures were afforded the opportunity to fully recover.

With two biodynamic soil activator applications and adequate rest, much has been achieved.

Pastures have had the opportunity to ‘max out’ to feed soil biology. (Most likely for the first time since settlement in the 1840’s!!!)

MAKING HAY

We have cut hay. Our very first hay production enterprise.

So, why and what of the hay enterprise???

  • We have a neighbour who has full hay making plant who offered to cut hay for us, so we are able to do this enterprise without the need to purchase equipment. (The only tractor is a con-tractor!)
  • This is also a ‘share’ arrangement, so no need for the exchange of money.
  • The paddocks we are cutting hay from are areas that frost in winter, so the longer-term plan is to harvest (make hay) from abundant summer growth, and then “pasture crop” a winter annual. The winter annual will both add organic matter to the soil, and be used for grazing.
  • The farm has a huge hay shed, so lots of storage facility not being used. We can now use this infrastructure to store summer forage for later resale, there already being a demand for hay I doubt that much of the harvest will go into storage this season.
  • None of the hay will be used on our farm as we have “kicked the hay habit”.

INTRODUCING LIVESTOCK

On the 16th of June we purchased sixty-eight (261 kg) heifers from Gympie sale yards.

The timing of the introduction of livestock has been largely determined by WATER.

Yes, we now have a great, reticulated water system to three-quarters of the 141 hectare farm. Seven new troughs, a header tank, new submersible electric pump in the irrigation bore and four kilometers of 63 mm poly pipe (see this post).

image of cow at water trough

The system is deliberately quite over-engineered to allow for future ‘mob’ grazing, for improvement of soil and pasture condition.

Five paddocks currently have water and paddock size varies between 4.5 hectares and 16.8 hectares.

Troughs have been strategically placed to:

  • allow for future sub-division of paddocks.
  • provide “top of hill” watering for nutrient distribution (as per Peter Andrews’ Natural Sequence Farming).

We have five remaining paddocks, and five holding paddocks in which to implement new water reticulation or perform existing system upgrades.

Paddock graze periods will be determined both by what will maximise animal performance and provide adequate rest for pastures to recover.

Paddocks will be treated post grazing with biodynamic soil activator, as well as being spot sprayed for Giant Rats Tail grass.

Stock are ‘inducted’ using Low Stress Stock Handling methods, which in this instance was done largely by a group of year nine students from Samford Valley Steiner School. The seventeen students were given an introduction to Low Stress methods over a four day period, concluding with doing individual working of stock in yards, and ear tagging of cattle.

I’ll talk more about our relationship with this school in the next post…


RECHARGE: TAKING A BREAK FROM THE FARM

Image courtesy of The Australian Women’s Weekly

Well folks this chapter in the story may seem to be quite ‘unconnected’ to our new farm, however in my view it is ‘connected’ very much.

On the 13th of May, I set out on a journey to Adelaide, SA to ride (bicycle) with a friend (Michael) from Angaston (Barossa Valley) to Blinman (just north of Wilpeena Pound) in the Flinders Ranges.

We were then to return to Port Augusta, and catch a bus back to Adelaide, flying home on May 23rd.

Why this ‘journey’ is so closely connected to our farming operation, is primarily due to the need for us all to ‘take a break’ from our work place!

In Covey speak, it’s ‘sharpening the saw’.

I am now back at Kumbartcho, refreshed and with new enthusiasm for the job.

Let me then relate some of our experiences:

My cycling buddy hails from WA, we met some 6 years back on an epic ride from Port Augusta, SA to Karumba, Qld.

Since then we have shared many rides, and both clearly recognise the need to ‘escape’ the ‘noise’ of day to day work/life.

Back then to this recent journey. A friend (Wayne) in the Barossa lent us his ute to get from Adelaide airport to Angaston. Wayne had flown out the morning we arrived.

Michael and I stayed just outside Angaston with Brian and Sally on their farm. This to be our last night of ‘comfort’ in a warm house and with home cooked meals.

On May 14th we set out, provisioning up in Nuriootpa. I then had a back tyre blow out, and learned very fast that 26 inch bike tyres are a scarce commodity in Nuriootpa! Soon one was found in Toy World and we were on our way again. I now travel with no spare tube, as tubes with ‘French valves’ were non-existent in Nurioopta.

Our first day from then was uneventful (though tough).

We made Robertstown, where we camped.

Day 2 we had Burra as our lunch destination. The head winds just got worse as we went, and some seven and one half hours later we arrived, physically and psychologically destroyed!

We had covered 44 kilometres!

Let me digress to some ‘farm’ experiences over these 2 days so far.

The Barossa around Angaston is very ‘mono-cultural’, with the diversity being a rose bush at the end of each row of vines. The roses are used as an early warning of fungal disease. The native bush in this area is typical of much of our rural agricultural landscapes. Remnant trees are largely old and dying, with little or no regeneration.

As we proceeded, the landscape progressively got clearer and clearer. It appeared that ‘zero till’, had given way to ‘strategic tilling’ and stubble burning.

My view of these landscapes is that if we had set out to kill of soil life, drain of as much water as possible, and increase surface evaporation, then we have been really successful!

Back then to ‘the journey’. Michael and I chose in Burra to ‘head south’. That is to ‘go with the wind’. This for me was a real metaphor for application to farming/life/work.

In our plan to ride to Blinman, we had become very ‘destination’ focused. Two tough days forced us to ‘step back’ from our goal and re-access.

We are now on the Mawson Trail from Burra to Clare, and have a wonderful day cycling (cross winds), and the landscape begins to give way to more diversity.

Yes we were ‘sniffing’ chemicals, as some farmers (on the far horizon) sprayed out their fields. It is no mystery why there is so much disease in our communities, when agricultural practices like this are not only allowed, but also encouraged!!!

We are beginning to see the odd farm, where trees have been re-planted (shelter belts).

We are seeing more retention of remnants (thanks to Don Dunstan all those years back banning clearing).

In our travels we saw one property (a vineyard), where there was a real attempt at re-instating trees on the farm. The whole farm had rows of trees strategically planted right throughout.

In conclusion:

South Australia has the most amazing network of biking, hiking, riding trails. Well done SA!

And I’m back at Kumbartcho grateful for the opportunity to ‘take a break’.

Till next time farewell, and enjoy your break from work!