Rangeland Living Skin Artwork Competition

Artwork competition for kids in the NSW Rangelands!

Rangeland Living Skin is a new project in the NSW Rangelands linking scientists and farming families.

The expansive wide-open spaces of Australia’s rangelands make up a large part of our continent. ‘Rangeland Living Skin’ is a new project led by NSW Department of Primary Industries and supported by Meat and Livestock Australia, recognising the importance of productivity and resilience in our rangelands. Collaborating with scientists and farming families, the project will focus on soil, plants, animals and people as the living skin of the rangelands.

To celebrate the launch of this project, we are inviting primary school students in the Western LLS Region to enter the Rangelands Living Skin Artwork Competition and create an artwork that represents the work of the project over the next four years. There are some exciting prizes to be won!

To find out what’s involved and how your school can enter, download the form below.

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.

Indigenous grains for culture, nutrition and the environment

Sunset at Winona

New research on Indigenous grains for culture, nutrition and the environment

Over the past decades there has been a growing interest in production of native grasses. 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 University of Sydney.

The Indigenous Grasslands for Grains project from the University of Sydney was a year-long research project into the environmental, economic and cultural viability of growing native grains. The study’s first report, showing very promising results, was recently released.

Find out more about the project and the culinary potential of native grasses here.

Native grains on Gomeroi country

The project studied what is known in the local language as dhunbarbila (meaning lots of edible grain/seed in one place; similar to English ‘grain crop’) on Gomeroi country near Moree and Narrabri in NSW. Guiding the study was Black Duck Foods, a social enterprise and commercial grain production business owned by indigenous food expert Bruce Pascoe on Yuin country near Mallacoota. The project used a multidisciplinary approach to investigate the economic, environmental and social features of the ancient native grain food system of Aboriginal people in the modern world.  After studying 15 native grain crops in conjunction with local Indigenous groups and farmers, researchers found native millet to have the most potential on Gomeroi country with its nutritional value, sustainable growth and ease of processing.

Other species were found to have niche uses. Dhamu (purslane or pigweed) was found to have a potential for export as it has an established market in cultures around the world and is high in omega-3. Wattle, kurrajong, nardoo and quandong were other promising edible species which have been flagged for future research.

The future of native grasses as food

In consultation with Bruce Pascoe, ecologists, social researchers, food scientists and business experts, the project found that improved seed processing and marketing would be the next step towards making the grains commercially available. In consultation with the Local Aboriginal Land Councils from Wee Waa and Narrabri indigenous people expressed the need for:

  • Indigenous community involvement
  • Collaboration between communities
  • Knowledge sharing
  • Economic benefits
  • Links into formal education

Want to learn more? Register for this month’s Native Grains Knowledge Sharing webinar series with Dr Angela Pattison or find the report here.

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.

Soil Health Foundation

With increasing climatic pressures, building resilient, healthy systems is critical. The key to healthy soil and production lies in being able to read and assess your own resources and know that you’re on the track to regeneration. Learn from leading soil health expert Nicole Masters how to read your soil!

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

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.

Conservation and revegetation programs

Sunset at Winona

Conservation and Revegetation Programs for Landholders

Revegetation and conservation activities can have many benefits for landholders. Surprisingly, the benefits aren’t purely ecological. Revegetating a landscape can play an important role in a landholder’s own wellbeing and even lead to improved production outcomes.

There are many programs available to you, so it’s important to choose the right program to suit you and your landscape. We have compiled a list of government, NGO and charity programs both nationally and at a state level to help you find the program you need. Click the tiles to learn more about the programs.

National Programs

Greening Australia is an environmental enterprise that tackles the challenges facing Australia’s unique and diverse landscapes in ways that work for communities, economies and nature. Click the link for the landholder registration form, where you can register your interest and be contacted by Greening Australia.
Landcare Australia is a national not-for profit that works in partnership with multiple environmental care groups. To find a group that can assist in your revegetation project, click below to find the National Landcare Directory where you will find groups by name, suburb, or postcode.
Greenfleet is a not-for-profit organisation that enables landowners to use carbon offset funding to establish biodiverse native forests on their land. As a landholder, Greenfleet will partner with you to revegetate your land at no cost.

Explore programs by your state:

Queensland

Land For Wildlife is an organisation in South East Qld who support landholders manage or revegetate bushland. Learn more about the process of becoming a member and a part of the program below.
Landholders can play a vital role in protecting Queensland’s biodiversity by establishing a nature refuge on their property. Learn more about landholder programs like NatureAssist and the Nature Refuge Landholder Grant using the link below.
The Queensland Government’s $500 million Land Restoration Fund aims to expand carbon farming in the state by supporting land-sector projects that deliver additional environmental, social and economic co-benefits.

New South Wales

The Land for Wildlife Scheme is a program for landholders to conserve special features on their properties without signing a legal agreement. If you want to learn more about conserving your property without signing a legal agreement, click below.
The BCT’s Conservation Management Program is aimed at encouraging and supporting private landholders to participate in conservation. Some restrictions apply. Click the link below for more details.
Wildlife refuge agreements are an entry-level option for landholders who wish to protect the biodiversity on their property but do not wish to enter into a permanent agreement.


Victoria

Land for Wildlife is a state government program supporting landholders or managers who provide habitat for native wildlife on their land. Landholder participation is free. For assistance and advice click below.
Trust for Nature, through statutory powers, plays a unique role in protecting the diverse range of native plants, animals and habitats on private land in perpetuity. it plays a key role in biodiversity conservation in Victoria. Click below for information about conservation covenants.


Tasmania

The Private Land Conservation Program works with landowners to sustainably manage and conserve natural values (e.g. native flora and fauna, natural wetlands, geoconservation​ areas) on private land.
The Tasmanian Conservation Trust works to preserve Tasmania’s biodiversity, natural values, built and cultural heritage. A big part of their daily work is helping Tasmanian farmers protect the places they love.
The Tasmanian Land Conservancy works alongside committed landholders across Tasmania to identify, protect and manage important areas on their own properties through the establishment of conservation agreements.

South Australia

Trees For Life revegetates and protects bushland and farmland. With local knowledge, they raise awareness about native plants and animals. To learn about their tree scheme and how you can be involved, click below.
The Revitalising Private Conservation in South Australia program allows the State Government to work in partnership with private landholders to conserve native vegetation and deliver practical outcomes. Click below for the guidelines for applicants.

Western Australia

The National Trust of Australia (WA)’s conservation covenant program has been assisting private landholders in the protection of natural values on their properties for more than 35 years. Learn more about how you can be involved in their covenant program.
The WA Landcare network is a network of all organisations contributing to landcare efforts in Western Australia. To find your local group or to learn more about their initiatives, click below.
The Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions offers landowners the opportunity to use conservation covenants to protect the nature conservation values of their properties.

Northern Territory

Territory Conservation Agreements support land managers in protecting areas of conservation importance on their properties. TCAs are a 10-year voluntary agreements with the landholder.
Landcare NT is the Northern Territory’s peak body for community Landcare groups. They help community Landcare groups develop ideas, knowledge, resources and resilience to improve the long-term health of the environment. Click below to find your nearest landcare group.

Australian Capital Territory

The Conservation Council ACT region has a variety of members including landcare groups, catchment management authorities and recreational clubs. Click here to learn more about conservation in the ACT and how you can get involved.
Landcare in the ACT Region works with landholders taking steps to sustainably manage their farms and reach stewardship goals, to learn more about their programs click above.


Know about any other conservation or revegetation programs for your state and want to share? Contact us

Why revegetation is important in agricultural landscapes

Why revegetation is important in agricultural landscapes

Without vegetation, life would be impossible. Vegetation plays a critical role in supporting life on the planet by providing habitat and food, producing oxygen and absorbing carbon dioxide. It also moves water from the soil to the atmosphere through the process of transpiration and ensures rainfall is absorbed into the soil where it falls.

Why think about revegetation?

Extensive clearing of vegetation to create cities and towns for human habitation (and agricultural land to feed them) occurs worldwide. This ultimately results in species extinctions. The effects of vegetation clearing are particularly evident in south-east Australia where it is estimated that only 5% of the ecological community of White Box-Yellow Box-Blakely’s Red Gum Woodland remains from its pre 1788 state. A decline in native fauna species, such as the Superb Parrot, is an example of the ramifications of a decrease in vegetation in this area. Significant erosion damage has also occurred in agricultural landscapes within Australia, partly due to vegetation clearing.

The importance of woody vegetation within the Australian landscape was recognised at a Government level in 1989 with the formation of Landcare Australia. With the assistance of Landcare, many Australian land owners undertook tree plantings on their properties. The image of a few lonely paddock trees, however, is still a common sight across much of south-east Australia.

This raises the question, ‘what happens when those trees die’? The species which are reliant on tree hollows only found within mature trees may disappear from the landscape. The ramifications of past land clearing will continue to be felt as long as inaction occurs today.

Revegetation in action

Fairhalt is a property that straddles the Great Dividing Range just south of Crookwell. Fairhalt is owned and managed by Garry Kadwell, a regenerative potato and lamb farmer who has featured as a Soils For Life case study. A major component of Garry Kadwell’s regenerative land management is his approach to native vegetation on Fairhalt. During his youth Garry was taught by his grandfather and father to value vegetation and grew up planting trees alongside them with an eye for the future. Over the years Garry has fenced off areas of remnant vegetation from livestock and allowed natural revegetation to occur unimpeded by livestock grazing. Garry has also planted habitat corridors across Fairhalt to link the areas of remnant vegetation and allow fauna to move through the landscape. Currently 30% of Fairhalt is covered in native vegetation reserved for conservation purposes.

Figure 1. Revegetation habitat corridor on Fairhalt

Revegetation at Illawong

Bryan Ward has transformed his property Illawong, located in the hills north of Albury, from a highly deforested landscape into a mosaic landscape covered with patches of native vegetation. When Bryan was conducting the revegetation work on Illawong he specifically targeted problem areas of the property such as hill tops, eroded areas, gullies above dams and around lone paddock trees. By doing so, Bryan has repaired much of the past erosion damage and ensured minimal erosion can occur into the future.

Direct seeding methods were used to conduct revegetation work on the property. Bryan reserved specific conservation areas by fencing them off from livestock. He used a rock hopper machine to navigate the steep rocky country and spread seeds within them.

Figure 2. Revegetation mosaic on Illawong

The benefits of revegetation

The benefits of the revegetation projects on Fairhalt and Illawong are not limited to the landscape. Garry Kadwell and Bryan Ward both gain an immense amount of satisfaction from the revegetation work that they have completed on their properties. The feeling that they are leaving the landscape in a better state than what they found it is a legacy which can be handed on to the next generation.

The benefits of conducting revegetation projects are not limited to environmental and social factors. On farm productivity can also be influenced by revegetation projects. Revegetation in the form of shelter belts for livestock have been found to halve lambing mortality rates in areas with cold, wet and windy weather conditions. In hot conditions, trees also provide shelter for livestock which can reduce stock losses caused by heat stress. (Heat stress has also been found to reduce fertility rates in cattle and sheep).

Productivity benefits of revegetation are not just relevant to livestock enterprises. Vegetation windbreaks have been found to improve crop productivity by up to 25%. However, if a crop is planted in close proximity to vegetation it will have a negative effect on the growth of the crop.

How to start the revegetation process

The first step of conducting a revegetation project is to map the property with enterprise and landscape features to identify suitable areas for vegetation. Following this, an appropriate method of revegetation must be selected. Regional organisations, such as Greening Australia, Landcare Australia and state government agencies such as Local Land Services NSW provide revegetation information including the correct species to plant and where to purchase seeds and seedlings. These organisations may also provide funding assistance. For example, the Whole of Paddock Rehabilitation project offered by Greening Australia pays land owners to conduct revegetation projects in degraded treeless paddocks.

Methods of revegetation

Methods utilised to conduct revegetation projects include

  • direct seeding,
  • tube stock planting
  • natural regeneration.

Typically tube stock plantings are the most expensive followed by direct seeding and natural regeneration respectively. Seek expert local advice when deciding which method of revegetation to undertake.

Prior to direct seeding or tube stock planting the ground is often prepared by ripping along contour lines to create disturbance in the soil and a place for the seeds or seedlings to grow. Read about how this was done at Illawong. Tree guards are often used when planting tube stock to offer protection from grazing and the elements whilst the plant matures.

Natural regeneration is more likely to occur in areas which have been recently excluded from heavy livestock grazing and where mature plants are present in the landscape.

Thinking for the future

Revegetation is a process that requires time, patience and a forward-thinking mindset. Though its benefits may not be observed for many years, current generations must adopt this mindset and act to rectify the land clearing of the past.

Find a revegetation program to suit your property using our state by state index.

How to grow soil organic matter

How to build soil organic matter: Lessons from three different Australian landscapes

Mark Parsons

Most of the soils across Australia contain only a small proportion of organic matter. So it’s not surprising that many farmers think about building up the organic matter in their soil as a cost-effective way to boost productivity as well as reduce input costs. But there isn’t simply a one-size-fits-all way to do it. As these three examples from our case study properties show, methods for building soil organic carbon are as diverse as the landscapes these properties inhabit.

At Clover Estate on the sandy soils of south-east South Australia, the strategy was to inoculate the soil with fungi, bacteria and biologically-derived fertilisers to provide a substrate for microorganisms. Dealing with low and variable rainfall in the wheat belt of Western Australia, the Prospect Pastoral Company used direct sowing of compost-coated grain seed to encourage root growth to contribute to organic matter in the soil. On the Liverpool plains of NSW, Inveraray Downs took an integrated approach using livestock, compost-based fertiliser and crop rotation to achieve their goals. In all cases, as we outline below, the results speak for themselves.

What is soil organic matter?

We frequently hear about ‘building soil carbon content’. That phrase a bit misleading (unless we are actually talking about burying coal or charcoal!) What most people mean when they say this is ‘building soil organic matter’. This used to be commonly referred to as humus – but humus is only one of four components comprising soil organic matter. Carbon is merely one of the many constituents of soil organic matter, where it is inextricably bound up in all sorts of complicated organic molecules.

Organic matter is practically always present in soil. Proportions range from very little (for example, less than 0.5% in a bleached sand soil) to nearly 100% in the peatiest of peats. Peat is decayed plant material that accumulates in bogs where decomposition of the organic matter is inhibited by wet and cold conditions. Australia has plenty of sandy soils, most notably in southern South Australia and in south-western Western Australia. However, we also have vast areas of soils in between these extremes (1% to 4% organic matter is common) that could benefit from higher proportion.

Organic matter contains essential plant nutrients that become available to plants through the action of biochemical processes. These nutrients become available to plants as the organic matter decomposes. Organic matter also holds moisture, which therefore increases soil moisture holding capacity, especially on sandy soils.

What builds soil organic matter?

Wherever plants grow, roots die and decompose in the soil. Plant leaves and stems also die and fall to the ground, where they may be incorporated into the soil by the combined action of fungi, bacteria, insects, other invertebrates (such as worms), and by vertebrate animals that burrow or dig into the soil.

Native marsupials (like potaroos, bettongs and bandicoots) that dig for fungi, roots, tubers and invertebrates both cultivate the soil and help incorporate organic matter. However, most of these marsupials need dense ground cover vegetation as habitat. The lack of that on some farms, as well as predation by cats and foxes, means these marsupials may no longer occur on most farmland.

Manure can be another source of soil organic matter. In the absence of marsupials, dung beetles that help manure infiltrate the soil by burying it provide an important service to agriculture.

Lessons from Clover Estate, South Australia

The Clover Estate farm in south-east South Australia is located on a land system comprising low, wide sand ridges that developed along the coast as sea levels rose and fell over the past several million years. The deep sandy soil has low natural fertility and organic matter. Water supply is good because there is an aquifer not far below that carries ground water from the east. They found they could add enough fertiliser, irrigate, and pasture productivity was good. But such a solution wasn’t cost-effective in the long-run. Building up soil organic matter was seen as the way to reduce dependence on chemical inputs and to improve animal health at the same time.

They inoculated the soil with plant residue-digesting fungi and bacteria together with biologically derived high-carbon fertilisers to provide a substrate for the microorganisms. Over a period of about 10 years these stimulants increased the measured soil organic carbon content from around 2% to 3%. That might not sound like much, but the combined effects were dramatic: pasture vigour and production improved to the extent that stock output increased by 33%. At the same time, chemical weed control was eliminated and irrigation requirement was reduced from 7–8 Ml/hectare/year to 5–6 Ml/hectare/year, so that input costs were significantly lower.

Clover estate organic matter
The results of 15 years of organic-based treatments at Clover Estate are evident in the much darker colour, resulting from higher organic matter content down to 600mm where it used to be devoid of biological activity (right), which means that nutrient and water holding capacity are far higher. Compared with the typical condition of the original infertile sand is indicated by the profile under the patch of remnant native vegetation on the southern edge of the property, where no treatments have been applied (left).

Building organic matter in poor, sandy soil

Similar methods have been applied in the wheat belt of Western Australia by the Prospect Pastoral Company farm at Wyalkatchem, 160 km north east of Perth. Producing wheat here, on the poor, sandy soils that are prevalent, depends entirely on low and highly variable rainfall. Critical to crop production, soil moisture holding capacity is even more important here than in southern South Australia where irrigation is available. Soil organic matter can play an important role in this.

This case study practices direct sowing of grain seed to minimise soil disturbance, which helps maintain ground cover, helps with weed control and avoids loss of soil organic matter. The grain seed is coated with a compost extract that is found to encourage root growth and leads to a healthier and more productive plant. Soil organic matter is also increased by the vigorous root growth. Once grain is harvested, crop stubble is grazed by sheep bred on the property and adapted to maximise nutrient extraction from roughage. Dung and stubble trampled into the ground also leads to increased soil organic matter.

The extensive root growth at Prospect Pastoral Company farm is a sign of a healthy nutrient system.

Integrated approaches on Inveraray Downs

Building soil organic matter has also proved valuable in the quite different landscape on the deep clay soils of the Liverpool plains, north-eastern New South Wales. Soils For Life case study property Inveraray Downs is a grain production property, growing crops such as wheat, sorghum, corn, sunflower and barley. Since the ‘green revolution’ of the mid 20th century, the introduction of higher-yielding varieties of these sorts of grains was associated with considerably increased use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. By the later years of the 20th century, productivity was declining and the cost of those inputs was becoming prohibitive on Inverary Downs.

Maintaining productivity while breaking the dependence on those inputs required an integrated approach to building soil organic matter comprising:

  • changing crop rotation practices to include cattle, green manure crops and longer fallow periods that gave time for soil micro-organisms to break down the green manure crops and crop residues

  • using compost-based fertilisers produced on the property from organic wastes obtained from places such as feedlots, chicken farms and stables

  • using cattle to break down stubble, which was previously burned, so that the organic matter is incorporated into the soil.
A penetrometer test shows deep, friable soil on Inveraray Downs

For further reading, we suggest the Soil organic matter- what does it mean for you? article published by the Grains Research & Development Corporation


How do you build soil organic matter on your property? We’d love to hear what you are doing to improve the soil organic matter in your part of Australia. You can let us know here or continue reading more inspiring stories from our other case studies in regenerative agriculture.

Regenerative Agriculture Podcasts and Webinars

Regenerative agriculture podcasts and webinars

Tune in to Regenerative Agriculture

Have you been able to keep track of all the regenerative agriculture podcasts that have sprung up in the last few months? There’s been so many good ones it has been hard to keep up! So we’ve collected them all in one place. Covering topics from sustainable farms to Indigenous fire management you are bound to find something that’s just right for you.

Webinar Series: Soil Health

The National Landcare Facilitator partnered with Soils for Life to deliver a series of webinars to help drive a national conversation around soil health. The webinar series shares information and ideas from leading figures, scientists and some of our case study farmers who have implemented landscape management changes. See the recordings below:

Podcast: The Regen Narration

the regennarration podcast regenerative agriculture

The RegenNarration features conversations with high profile and grass-roots leaders everywhere who are enabling the regeneration of life on this planet. They’re sharing their stories, and changing the stories – the stories we live by. And the systems we create in their mould. Hosted by Anthony James, award-winning facilitator and educator, widely published writer, Warm Data Lab Host, and Honorary Research Associate at the University of Western Australia.

Podcast: Regenerative Agriculture

podcast regenerative agriculture

Hosted by John Kempf, Founder of Advancing Eco Agriculture, this podcasts helps professional growers improve there regen practices while increasing crop quality, yield and profit. John and his guests describe why most growers have crop challenges, and how to resolve them. You will find straightforward, actionable information about growing that can be implemented right away to increase crop quality, yields, pest resistance, and climate resilience — to regenerate soil health, and most importantly, increase farm profitability.

Podcast: The Regenerative Journey with Charlie Arnott

Charlie Arnott podcast regenerative agriculture

The Regenerative Journey podcast is a must for anyone who is curious about regenerative agriculture and the wide ranging and significant benefits of its adoption and practice, not just for farming communities but also for anyone who eats food and cares for the planet!

Webinars: RegenWA

RegenWA podcast regenerative agriculture

RegenWA has an impressive library of webinars they have hosted covering a variety of topics in regenerative agriculture. From the operation of a regen farm, carbon 101 and informative conference material, these webinars are useful and important resource for anyone wanting to learn more about regenerative agriculture.

Podcast: Groundcover

Ground Cover podcast regenerative agriculture

Welcome to Ground Cover. A podcast created for farmers, by farmers. Ground Cover is a uniquely Australian podcast series exploring real life stories of land managers who have undertaken the transition from conventional farming to regenerative agriculture. In this series, we share unique and honest conversations about the challenges and opportunities of regenerative agriculture, so you can make informed decisions about how to best manage your land. Proudly brought to you by The Regenerative Agriculture Alliance and Southern Cross University.

Podcast: Sustainable Farms

Sustainable Farms is a project by the Australian National University (ANU). ANU has researched and collected data from over 300 farmers engaged in sustainable farming from north-east Victoria to south-east Queensland. It is one of the largest, long-term studies of its kind in the world and now translates these findings to help all farmers better manage the balance between agricultural production and long-term sustainability, and be more profitable along the way. Learn more about they work they do through their podcast series, joining host Gordon Taylor as he interviews project staff and external experts for regular insights into the latest research.

Podcast: The Big Shift for Small Farms

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

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

Podcast: Married to the land

A podcast talking with the everyday rural and remote women, how these women got to where they are today (their life journey). Getting to know the people in your community and what brought them to living on the land. Listening to these stories will hopefully connect anyone living remotely and to know that everyone has a story to share.

Webinar: Farming Together

The Starting Farm Co-operatives Program, known as Farming Together, helps farmers establish collaborative business models and co-ops that address economic and environmental challenges. The Learning Together webinar series will help you learn how collaborative business solutions can help address some of today’s key challenges. This will include different solutions, the various forms and structures they can take, pro tips for success and what to avoid.

Webinar: Crops and myzocorrial fungi

Soil Wealth webinar podcast regenerative agriculture

Dr Kelvin Montagu summarises the potential role of cover crops in managing mycorrhizal fungi in vegetable production.

The webinar covers:

– Why mycorrhizal fungi
– Do Australian vegetable crops have mycorrhizal fungi – a survey of 50 vegetable crops
– Levels of mycorrhizae in vegetable growing soil
– Trials adding inoculant to cover crops

Webinar: Smelling soils

SoilCRC webinar podcast regenerative agriculture

As part of the Soil CRC’s research program, a team at the University of Tasmania is working with Soils for Life and other grower groups to develop a simple, affordable and easy to use device which will monitor the activity of soil microbial communities. This device, popularly referred to as an eNose (or electronic nose), can detect many different compounds at the same time. It will measure something similar to an “aroma fingerprint”, and provide useful and useable information to farmers to help them monitor their soil. We held a workshop earlier this year to find out what farmer’s need, join us on the 25th of August for a webinar and Q&A with Soil CRC Project Leader Dr Shane Powell Dr Robert Hardy from the University of Tasmania to find out more.

Nutrition Farming Podcast

This podcast series is designed for food producers seeking to increase the nutrient density, flavour and medicinal value of their produce. You will discover multiple strategies to increase profitability, productivity and sustainability, in a wonderful win/win scenario. Nutrition Farming will help you reclaim your passion for the most important of all professions.

Podcast: Aboriginal Fire Management

Victor Steffensen is an Indigenous writer, filmmaker, musician and consultant applying traditional knowledge values in a contemporary context, through workshops and artistic projects. He is a descendant of the Tagalaka people through his mother’s connections from the Gulf Country of north Queensland . On the Pip Permaculture Magazine podcast, listen to an interview with Victor on how he became the face of indigenous fire management over the 2019/20 bushfire season and his thoughts on burning regimes of the future.

Agtech- Regen Ag Series

AgTech have released a new podcast series on regenerative agriculture. The podcasts mission is to connect the agtech and agriculture communities by digging in to the “so what” of agtech. They profile innovators working at the intersection of agriculture and technology. The podcast explores the implications of increased venture funding for agtech startups, and talk to farmers about what’s really adding value (or not) on farm.

The Business of Biodiversity

A podcast about threatened species and what farmers, business and NGOs are doing to protect them. The podcast speaks scientists, conservationists and farmers sharing their experiences and knowledge around threatened species conservation. We’ll explore how plants and animals deliver significant ecosystem services on farm and why biodiversity is simply good for business.

Climatic Collective

The Climactic Collective is a podcast network of shows engaged with the climate crisis, and other pressing social issues. The network now numbers more than ten shows, with more in development – and we welcome new members.

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

Can African lovegrass be beaten? Three strategies that are working

Can African lovegrass be beaten? Three strategies that are working

African lovegrass (Eragrostis curvula) is one of the major scourges of pastoral agriculture in New South Wales and is a declared noxious weed in most states of Australia. It has negligible nutritional value for grazing animals and can suppress growth of more nutritious pasture species by blocking access to sunlight, soil moisture and nutrients. It can go unseen at first because it looks like other tussock grasses until seed is set, but can easily spread to dominate the pasture.

While lovegrass is a strong, persistent competitor once established, it is a weak competitor while becoming so (Firn 2009). It is therefore more likely to become a problem in degraded pastures, where there is insufficient competition to retard it. The good news is that once established, it develops a strong and deep root system and is therefore drought tolerant and can add valuable organic matter to the soil.

The examples below, from two past Soils For Life case studies as well as a new look at the practices at Coolringdon in southern New South Wales, provide some insights into how this weed has been dealt with in three different contexts.

Shannon Vale

Located in the New South Wales Northern Tablelands, Soils For Life case study property Shannon Vale shows how this scourge was controlled by an integrated strategy of fastidious attention to soil nutrition together with carefully planned pasture and stock management. Stock management on Shannon Vale posed particular logistical issues because the main stock product is pedigreed bulls. These animals need extra space or they become irritable, so using grazing pressure to control weeds (ie rotational grazing) is problematic.

Photo: Mulching on Shannon Vale

Conventional fertiliser and herbicide application and pasture re-sowing practices had led to a situation at Shannon Vale where costs were increasing while productivity could not be sustained. Seeing that the weeds, particularly African lovegrass, were winning led to the realisation that the practices that had been used were steadily degrading soil structure and fertility. Advice was obtained on pasture nutrient and compost production. Old practices were abandoned and replaced with ones based on organic fertilisers, preventing soil disturbance and regularly mulching the lovegrass before it set seed. Within 10 years, the soil organic carbon content and available phosphorus had increased markedly and lovegrass was no longer a problem.

Coolringdon

The team at Coolringdon, a merino wool property west of Cooma NSW, have also been working out how to deal with African lovegrass. A team from Soils For Life visited Coolringdon in July 2019 to understand their approach.

Coolringdon is historically significant in the context of the early settlement of the Monaro region. Stewart Ryrie, one of NSW’s pastoral pioneers, established it in 1829. From 1854, it was the centre of William Bradley’s vast Monaro holdings and was subsequently owned by John and Betty Casey. Having no dependents, the Caseys established and bequeathed the property to the John and Betty Casey Research Trust. The profits from Coolringdon support the University of Sydney to conduct research and education relevant to agricultural industries in the Monaro region on the property. Management policies since 1999 have been determined on behalf of the John and Betty Casey Research Trust by a committee of trustees as well as the farm manager.

There are several challenges at Coolringdon:

  • The main farm income is from wool so a large breeding flock of merino sheep must be maintained.
  • While native vegetation regulations now prevent native pastures from being replaced with improved pastures, half of the pastures are improved pastures (sown to phalaris, clovers, etc.). There are also substantial areas of native pastures (Poa species, Stipa, etc.). The native pastures tend to be sparser than the improved, which poses a challenge to maintaining adequate ground cover. The improved pasture species are notably more vigorous than the native pasture species so that with careful rotational grazing ground cover can be maintained to minimise the ability of lovegrass to invade.
  • There are substantial areas of rocky ridges and hilltops on Coolringdon, many with original forest or woodland cover, where lovegrass can go unseen until it is too late to spray to prevent seed sources from developing. Together with sources on other farmland and road reserves in the area, this means that it is not practical to totally eliminate incursions.

The NSW Department of Primary Industries advises that healthy pastures are the best long-term defence against African lovegrass. Thin, bare patches and pastures with less than 70% ground cover are at more risk of invasion. The strategy adopted at Coolringdon is to minimise the opportunity for lovegrass to take hold. This strategy comprises a number of elements, the first two of which reflect the DPI NSW advice:

  • Sub-dividing paddocks according to soil type, vegetation and other landscape features to increase the number of paddocks/reduce paddock size to enable more precise control of grazing. Native pastures are separated so that they can be de-stocked when necessary to maintain ground cover. There are now 80 paddocks compared with 30 in 1999.
  • Using small ‘sacrificial’ paddocks – simplified feedlots – where sheep are fed with grain when pasture cover is in danger of getting over-grazed (see photo). The sheep are moved into these when, due to inadequate rain, regrowth has not caught up towards the end of the grazing cycle. While groundcover is sacrificed in these paddocks, weed incursion is easily managed with herbicides because these paddocks are small.
  • Supplementing grass feeding with lucerne, which can be grown on a few of the lower-lying paddocks.
  • Fertilising improved pastures to sustain vigour and productivity.
  • In 2020, several projects are ongoing studying the both ground cover and African lovegrass control.
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Photo: sacrificial paddock. Recycled cliplock roofing is used as double-sided troughs for grain feeding. Grain is poured in evenly along the length from a feed truck or trailer that straddles the troughs.
Photo: sacrificial paddock. Recycled cliplock roofing is used as double-sided troughs for grain feeding. Grain is poured in evenly along the length from a feed truck or trailer that straddles the troughs.

Lana

Also on the NSW northern tablelands, Lana illustrates an alternative approach to dealing with lovegrass. Along with Shannon Vale, Lana was one of the first Soils For Life case studies. As at Shannon Vale, traditional agricultural management was found to be running the property into the ground. The solution implemented since the 1990s started with adopting time-controlled rotational grazing. Many kilometres of fencing reduced paddock sizes from 100 – 120 hectares to 10 – 15 hectares so that grazing pressure could be managed precisely.

African lovegrass is prevalent at Lana, but isn’t found to be the problem it is at Coolringdon and elsewhere. Indeed, on this property lovegrass has an advantage over the other (mainly native) pasture species because it can produce some fibre even in the driest of dry spells.

Photo: Lana winter landscape, 2011

That fibre might not be as nutritious for grazing animals as preferred pasture species but it does provide some grazing potential when the animals diet is supplemented by by-pass protein (a protein source that resists degradation in the cow’s rumen so that it passes into the lower gastrointestinal tract, and can therefore provide essential amino acids to the cow).

The key at Lana is that carefully managed rotational grazing using a ‘leader and follower’ system (in which cattle are rotated followed soon after by sheep) ensures that the lovegrass is eaten down to a minimum, is suppressed and does not take over the pasture. Trying to eliminate it with herbicide, as has been tried at Lana in the past, was found to create a worse problem because sprayed areas tended to remain barren for too long.

Conclusion

So, can African lovegrass actually be beaten? Reflecting on the above examples, an answer to that question is: maybe, but if not, at least it is possible to learn how to live with it. It might be a scourge and practically impossible to eliminate, but careful management tailored to the production system and landscape can minimise or avoid the problems that African lovegrass causes. What might work for you?

References

Firn, J. 2009. African lovegrass in Australia: a valuable pasture species or embarrassing invader?

Tropical Grasslands 43: 86-97.

Read more about the innovative strategies and regenerative agriculture solutions being implemented on Soils For Life case study farms here.