The latest case study undertaken by Soils For Life tracks the regeneration of the Brownlow Hill Estate near Sydney through 200 years of farming – and a brush with disaster. Edgar Downes is the fifth generation to farm Brownlow Hill.
Situated near Camden on the outskirts of the city, it is one of Australia’s most significant early agricultural and settlement sites. Originally named “Cowpastures”, it was the first dairy farm to serve the fledgling settlement of Sydney. Current ownership and occupation stems back almost 160 years.
The case study tracks the ecological, production and social changes on the property over the entire period.
Since 1985, Edgar has gradually transformed the soils, pasture and protected stands of Cumberland Plain Woodland into a property which requires no chemical or non-organic inputs for his dairy and beef cattle and his thriving lucerne paddocks. However, the family came close to walking away following the deregulation of the dairy market, the prospect of coal seam gas exploration on the property, and the encroachment of urban development just over their hills.
The turning point came when Edgar entered a Bio Banking pilot program which involved protecting the Cumberland woodland. The sale of BioBanking credits has guaranteed the future of Brownlow Hill. All of the 1215 hectares are heritage listed and will never be developed for housing. Edgar adopted Natural Sequence Farming methods and started spreading a mixture of horse manure, sawdust, straw and urine on his paddocks. This was provided by a recycling business for free.
Edgar’s changed management practices have meant that he no longer uses chemicals. He rotates his crops and renovates his pastures as needed and his cattle don’t require drenching or inoculations. His dairy cows share the land with a growing beef herd, the 8 cuts of lucerne a year from 330 hectares are in great demand, and the stable waste has dramatically improved the soil.
The Soils For Life case study delves deeply into the history, productivity, social and ecological transformation of a unique and historic settlement.