Salisbury: Rehabilitating the Scalds

Salisbury: Rehabilitating the Scalds

A regenerative agriculture case study from The Marra, north-central NSW.

In the 1980s, portions of Salisbury were fit for one thing and one thing only: landing an aeroplane. Since then, the MacAlpine family has rehabilitated much of this scalded land and developed a number of strategies to make their property ready for both the droughts and flooding rains that this part of the country is prone to.

ABOUT SALISBURY

The Property

The Salisbury property is located on the floodplain and associated relict red duplex terraces of the Marra Creek, to the west of the Macquarie Marshes about 160 km north-west of Warren in north-central New South Wales. The Queensland border is about 160 km further north. Carinda – the nearest town – is about 60 km north-east. Marra Creek runs through the region. It adjoins Salisbury on the property’s western side and potentially flows north into the Barwon River, a tributary of the Darling River.

Salisbury is about 20,000 hectares. The MacAlpines consider that area can support a self-replacing merino flock totalling about 10,000 dry sheep equivalents, typically comprising 5000 breeding ewes (1.5 DSE each) and 2500 ewe lambs, on average in the long term (and allowing for the kangaroos!). The property is subdivided into 22 main paddocks and a few holding yards and transport routes.

Salisbury was previously part of the Womboin Station, which was owned by the Dalgety company. Womboin was subdivided in 1972. The MacAlpine family purchased the Salisbury part in 1977 and added two adjoining blocks soon after. Half of Salisbury is on dark heavy clay soil that is relatively impervious to erosion. This rest is red soil that has a better natural potential for grazing has been degraded by wind and water erosion.

FARM FACTS

Salisbury, The Marra, NSW

ENTERPRISE: Self-replacing merino flock

PROPERTY SIZE: 20,000 hectares

AVERAGE ANNUAL RAINFALL: Approximately 450 mm

ELEVATION: 133 m

MOTIVATION FOR CHANGE

  • Improve the health and condition of the sheep, primarily through improving the health and condition of the pastures

INNOVATIONS

  • Reclaiming scalded red duplex country through “waterponding”
  • Manage total grazing pressure with wildlife-proof fencing
  • Manage sheep numbers via trigger point assessments at key points in the annual cycle
  • Manage water infrastructure
  • Supplementary feeding to assist breeding

KEY RESULTS

  • Approximately a quarter of the property (most of the scalded red country) has been treated with waterponds.
  • Several paddocks have been enclosed with wildlife proof fencing.
  • Sheep numbers are being managed via decisions on numbers to join and disposal to sale or to brother’s property at Grenfell, NSW.
  • Three of the four artesian bores on the property have been capped and piped to tanks – each with two troughs.
  • Supplementary feeding infrastructure established.


THE ECOLOGICAL ASSESSMENT

All functional criteria in are considered to have improved since 1972. For example, since the widespread adoption of regenerative practices in 2009:
• the property is becoming more resilient to drought. A similar conclusion is likely for flood proofing
• soil health and function has gradually improved
• vegetation biodiversity has stayed much the same during the waterponding operations
• pasture status has gradually improved (from zero) in the ponded areas, due to increased ground cover and herb species richness.
The reproductive potential of the plant species and plant community has similarly improved.
More improvement in these values is expected in future, particularly when drought conditions ease. Further rainfall will serve to leach salts from surface layers of the scalds as well as provide an essential input for plant growth.


THE SOCIAL REPORT

The MacAlpine vision for regenerative agriculture developed and evolved over many years of experience to meet perceived needs of the family and their country. Their broad aim is to remain profitable while not degrading (or, where possible, improving) their asset base and its resilience to drought. Their early grazing practices noticeably degraded the country and its resilience, so they were always on the lookout for better ways of managing their stock and country.
Grant made all management decisions in the early days. Will is now joint manager with a focus on the stock. Strategic decisions for Salisbury are made by Grant, Cathy and Will at weekly meetings. Rather than a formal risk management framework, the family makes judgements based on the accumulated wisdom gained from years of experience on the property and the experience of neighbours.


THE BUSINESS CASE

The regenerative farming practices that the MacAlpines have implemented on Salisbury have led to significantly increased production levels when compared to the Average Farm. With increased productivity, the income generated on Salisbury is also significantly higher than that of the Average Farm.


Tour the farm with Will MacAlpine

Ready for drought, ready for rain

Salisbury is typical of Dorothea McKellar’s ‘land of droughts and flooding rains’. There are no permanent watercourses on Salisbury. Water supply is rain and bores that tap the Great Artesian Basin. Average annual rainfall is about 450 mm on the property or 405 mm as measured at the nearest meteorological station, perhaps indicating high local variability. The average and median monthly rainfall sometimes falls in a single day, sometimes causing regional flooding. Conversely, very little rain falls for substantial periods.

Will MacAlpine is clear that for the grazing business to cope, obtaining maximum benefit from rainfall events and minimum damage during dry periods, ‘we must be ready for drought, and we must be ready for rain’. The strategy to achieve that comprises a number of tactics:

  • Increase the area of productive grazing land by rehabilitating scalded land.
  • Cap the artesian bores to control water supply.
  • Control kangaroo grazing pressure.
  • Manage sheep grazing pressure in dry periods by moving sheep to holding pens and hand feeding them, and by deferring joining young ewes.

In practice, these tactics are interlinked or interdependent.

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Rehabilitating the scalds

A scald on Salisbury, still remaining in 2020, showing the hard-packed surface soil and elevated root systems of dead plants, indicating the depth of topsoil lost to wind and water erosion.

Although rehabilitation work was begun on Salisbury in the 1970s by the previous owners, when the MacAlpines took over the property Grant MacAlpine could land his light plane almost anywhere on the property. After seeing promising results on properties nearby, the MacAlpine family continued rehabilitation in the 1980s and 1990s. Works ramped up in 2009 and 2012 when government grants were available.

The methods that have been used successfully for several years on Salisbury involve using a grader to build low ponding banks to hold rainwater to a depth of 10 cm or so. These are circular on flat ground and semi-circular (a ‘horseshoe’ shape) on scald with a mild slope. The opening of the horseshoe is to the up-slope side, so that run-off collects within the banks. Each pond covers about 0.4 hectares. The grader used to construct the banks is also used to disturb the soil surface within the ponds in strategic locations (Thompson 2008). Saltbush seed – some of it collected on the property – is sown over the disturbed surface. Running cattle over the ponded area after the surface had been softened by rain was used to disturb the soil surface in a previous Soils For Life case study of a property near Brewarrina.

The effect of the ponding banks and disturbance is to hold water from the intermittent heavy falls. This then infiltrates – albeit slowly – to leach salts from the surface and provide moisture down the soil profile. The banks and disturbance within them provide a barrier to wind-blown sediments and plant material, which collects and starts to form an organic-rich surface layer. The saltbush seed, together with whatever seed is delivered by wind, sheep and birds, then has somewhere to germinate and moisture to tap in the soil profile. The natural processes of ecological succession have effectively been given a ‘kick-start’ and can take their course. To date, about half of the scalded areas on Salisbury have been treated in this way.

The results can be seen here:

Capping the bores

Four artesian bores that were installed early in the 20th century and have been flowing ever since supplement Salisbury’s intermittent water supply from rainfall. The aggregate potential flow rate is 9 L/second (284 ML/year, or about 114 Olympic swimming pools). However, the volume required to support grazing stock is estimated at around 1 L/second, so the rest (around 250 ML/year) runs away to waste via bore drains. The wasted water supports a kangaroo population far in excess of what would be there naturally, whereas a tank and trough system can be managed to restrict water supply.

Bore drain
One of the four bore drains that together used to carry away around 250 Ml/year of surplus water.

Capping the bores maintained the pressure of the underground artesian aquifer and used only the amount of water needed for stock. A threat by governments to charge for water used in excess of stock requirements focused the MacAlpines’ action. A subsidy from the NSW Government [1] helped too. Following the mandated specifications, each tank supplies two nearby troughs – the second being presumably for backup in case one failed. So far, two of the four bores on Salisbury have been capped.

tanks and troughs
Tank and troughs that have replaced free-flowing artesian bores.

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Managing grazing pressure

This is the biggest concern for the viability of the Salisbury business is a seemingly endless supply of kangaroos willing to move on to the property. Generally, they come from the north and arguably in far higher numbers than would have been possible before graziers started providing water sources.

Managing the kangaroo population requires a massive investment in specifically designed fencing. Fences like that will also exclude wild dogs that be-devil sheep graziers elsewhere and that the MacAlpines expect in the Marra region before long.

The cost of kangaroo-proof fencing is around $4,000/km for materials and the property boundary is about 50 km, so a substantial investment is required. Fortunately, the NSW Government has provided a low-interest loan for this.

Kangaroo proof fence
Kangaroo-proof fence: extra height wire supported by fewer posts; mesh apron to prevent kangaroos pushing under the bottom wire; two electrified mid height wires powered by solar panels.

Sheep grazing pressure is managed in dry periods by moving sheep to holding pens and hand feeding them with grain and straw. This is especially useful for ensuring that ewes chosen for breeding have optimum nutrition.

Further tactics to reduce grazing pressure include:

  • deferring joining young ewes so that their grazing requirements are minimised; and
  • selling older ewes or passing them on to the farm run by Alex MacAlpine at Grenfell, NSW.

Will and Grant MacAlpine make these decisions from time to time [2], taking particular note of animal and pasture health.

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Adapted to a variable climate

In summary, the grazing enterprise at Salisbury is well adapted to the highly variable, semi-arid climate. Amongst their many benefits, the water ponds bring more areas into production and generally improve the appearance of the property. Capping the bore, erecting wildlife-proof fencing and managing stock numbers controls the total grazing pressure and ensures sustainability so that the MacAlpines are ready for drought and ready for rain.


[1] Not as generous as the subsidy in Queensland.

[2] Especially over the summer period when a “feed gap” would develop if rain was inadequate.

References

Cunningham, G.M. 1987. Reclamation of scalded land in western New South Wales. Journal of Soil Conservation New South Wales, Vol. 3, number 2. Soil Conservation Service of NSW, Sydney.

Rhodes, D. 1987. Waterponding banks – design, layout and construction. Journal of Soil Conservation New South Wales, Vol. 3, number 2. Soil Conservation Service of NSW, Sydney.

Herczeg, A.L. and Love, A.J. 2007. Review of Recharge Mechanisms for the Great Artesian Basin. CSIRO Land and Water, Glen Osmond, South Australia.

Thompson, R. 2008. Waterponding: Reclamation technique for scalded duplex soils in western New South Wales rangelands. Ecological Management and Restoration 9: 170-181. doi: 10.1111/j.1442-8903.2008.00415.x

Are you our next case study? If you have a story of change to tell about your regenerative landscape practices we’d love to hear from you! Find out more here.

Garry Kadwell’s Fairhalt

Garry Kadwell’s Fairhalt

A regenerative agriculture case study from Crookwell, NSW.

Garry Kadwell has been managing Rosedale and neighbouring property Fairhalt since the 1970s. His family acquired the first parcels of the properties in 1901. The properties are located on the Great Dividing Range south of Crookwell, New South Wales. Up until 1980 the main enterprise of the Kadwell family was an apple orchard. Under Garry’s management the enterprise of the property has changed to producing seed stock potatoes and fat lambs.

Over the years Garry has worked tirelessly protecting remnant stands of vegetation as well as planting habitat corridors to connect stands of vegetation across the properties. Currently 32% of Fairhalt is protected for conservation. Garry has also created numerous wetlands across the property providing vital habitat for birds and other fauna, such as the platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus).

ABOUT FAIRHALT

FARM FACTS

Fairhalt, Crookwell, NSW

ENTERPRISE: Seed stock potatoes and fat lambs

PROPERTY SIZE: 730 acres

AVERAGE ANNUAL RAINFALL: 813 mm

ELEVATION: 1000 m

MOTIVATION FOR CHANGE

  • An awareness about the environmental health of the property and its values was instilled in Garry during his youth by his father and grandfather, this helped shape the management strategies and regimes that Garry has implemented.

INNOVATIONS

Regenerative landscape and livestock management regimes, including:

  • Increased time between potato crop rotations to allow soil health to repair.
  • Lucerne and grass species cropping post-potato crop to improve soil health. Compost and lime applications to provide soil nutrients and fix pH levels.
  • Utilisation of a “one pass” tilling machine to reduce tilling impact on soil.
  • Habitat corridors planted across the property to link stands of remnant vegetation.
  • Set aside 32% of the property for conservation purposes.
  • Constructed wetlands on the property to provide habitat for birds and other fauna.
  • Rotationally grazing fat lambs to maintain ground cover.

KEY RESULTS

  • Significant increases in production, now one of the largest potato producers in the region. High levels of organic matter and carbon are stored within the soil profile. Conservation works have provided critical habitat for endangered species of flora and fauna.


FARM GALLERY

Garry’s first recollection is of planting trees with his grandfather. In the early 1970s, they planted Yellow Box together, and the elder Kadwell said, ‘Garry, when you look at these trees you will remember me, and we will have made a difference.’

See the difference this attitude has made in our photo essay of Fairhalt.


THE ECOLOGICAL ASSESSMENT

Ecological Assessment

The conservation work Garry Kadwell conducted has provided significant natural capital benefits to Fairhalt. Threatened and vulnerable species of flora and fauna are thriving within the bounds of Fairhalt.


THE BUSINESS CASE

Throughout our analysis, we noted that the regenerative practices Garry has implemented on Fairhalt have led to significantly increased production levels when compared to the Average Farm. With increased productivity, the income generated on Fairhalt is also significantly higher than that of the average Farm. In addition, the increased productivity has allowed Garry to deploy a more diversified production mix – leading to a more sustainable enterprise as a whole.


Garry in his own words

The Fairhalt Story

Garry Kadwell’s family have managed Fairhalt for over 100 years. Garry’s early ancestors conserved remnant stands of vegetation from land clearing across the property. Some of Garry’s earliest memories are of planting trees with his grandfather and being instructed of their value in the landscape. Garry has continued on planting trees and other vegetation throughout Fairhalt. Currently 32% of Fairhalt is protected for conservation purposes.

Garry has significantly increased production levels on the property in the form of seed stock potatoes and fat lambs. The increases in production levels have coincided with improvements to soil health and ecosystem health of the entire property. Garry has achieved this through careful management and understanding of the many layers of the system that comprise Fairhalt.

Background

Growing up on the family property Garry Kadwell realised he did not want to be an orchardist. One of the first management decisions he made after taking control of the family property was to trial a crop of potatoes to assess their viability. The potato trial was a success and Garry quickly adopted potato production as the main enterprise on his property. In the early years of producing potatoes, Garry used synthetic fertilisers to ensure crops were produced each year. His management practices were gradually degrading soil biology. Garry realised this quite early on and started focussing on improving the health of his soil to create a more productive environment.

One of Garry’s earliest memories is of planting eucalyptus trees on the property with his grandfather. His grandfather advised him that he wouldn’t see the benefit of the tree plantings, but Garry would. This is a message that has stuck with Garry his entire life. He has farmed with an attitude of conservation and improvement, aiming to leave the natural state of his property in better shape than before. Garry has also demonstrated vision, the ability to take risks and find innovative solutions to problems.

The first parcel of land Garry purchased as a young man was viewed as an unproductive, run-down block with limited potential. He viewed it as a perfect opportunity to regenerate a parcel of land. In a few short years Garry had turned the block into a highly productive working landscape with areas of revegetation plantings and native forest set aside for conservation purposes.

Habitat corridor planted by the Kadwell’s and an apiarist’s beehives.

Over the years, Garry has adopted techniques to improve soil health and productivity. These include, applying lime to optimise soil pH levels for producing potatoes, applying compost annually, rotations of lucerne and ryegrass after a rotation of potatoes to repair and improve soil health and adopting “one pass” tilling methods to reduce soil disturbance from planting.

Garry’s property is a testament to his family’s vision and courage. Conducting tree plantings during the 1970s and conserving remnant stands of forest is a rarity among farm managers from that era. The words of Garry Kadwell’s grandfather ring true to this day, anyone who visits Fairhalt can pay testament to this statement and see the benefits of tree planting. 

The Landscape

The Kadwell’s properties are located just south of Crookwell, New South Wales. They own two properties, Rosedale and Fairhalt, and lease a third parcel of land close by; a total of 690 hectares. The largest parcel of land by size is Fairhalt. For the purpose of providing an accurate description of the Kadwell’s land management practices, the reports will focus on Fairhalt. Fairhalt is located on top of the Great Dividing Range. Its highest point sits at 1000m above sea level and its average annual rainfall is 813mm.

The four main soil types and their total carbon content found on Fairhalt consist of:

  • red basalt (5.02% Total Carbon) on the undulating slopes
  • grey loam (2.47% Total Carbon) on the flats
  • quartz (3.18% Total Carbon) on the hill tops
  • some sedimentary soils (1.42% Total Carbon) in the gullies and watercourses.

The red basalt and grey loam country are considered to be the most productive land on the property and cropping is conducted exclusively in these soil types.

Vegetation on the property is a mix of remnant forest and conservation plantings conducted by the Kadwell family. The remnant forest is dominated by an overstorey of eucalyptus species such as mountain gum (Eucalyptus dalrympleana), broad-leaved peppermint (Eucalyptus dives), ribbon gum (Eucalyptus viminalis) and exceptionally large specimens of snow gum (Eucalyptus pauciflora). Black gum (Eucalyptus aggregata), which is listed as vulnerable inNSW, is also found on Fairhalt.Mid and understorey species found within the remnant include acacias, bracken, numerous native grasses and native orchids. The remnant forest areas on the property are all fenced and protected from livestock grazing.

Conservation plantings conducted by Garry Kadwell consist of habitat corridors to provide linkages through the landscape. As well as patterns of plantings along the roadside to create a view that the entirety of the property is vegetated. Garry continues to conduct revegetation work across the property when time and resources allow. Greening Australia has helped him select and obtain the correct species of flora to plant in the new revegetation works as well as providing volunteers to aid in planting.

A conservation planting conducted in support of Land For Wildlife.

Since the 1980s Garry has created a number of wetlands on his property. Garry has trained in conservation earthworks and is adept at reading the flow of the landscape to create functioning wetlands. The wetlands act as a filter to clean and purify water flowing through the landscape and the water stored within the wetlands is utilised for irrigating crops. The wetlands provide vital habitat for all matter of fauna, livestock are also excluded from entering the wetland areas.

Surveys of flora and fauna species on the property have been conducted by the Crookwell Flora and Fauna Club in conjunction with Dr McComas Taylor of the ANU. In a survey of birds visiting the wetlands on Fairhalt, 50 species were recorded. Five species of birds that are listed as vulnerable or threatened within NSW were observed. These were:

  • Powerful Owl (Ninox strenua)
  • White-fronted Chat (Epthianura albifrons)
  • Varied Sittella (Daphoenositta chrysoptera),
  • White-bellied Sea-Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster) and
  • Scarlet Robin (Petroica boodang).

Garry’s revegetation and conservation work combined with the wetlands he has created have provided a healthy habitat for many different species.

Production

The main enterprise on Fairhalt is producing seed stock potatoes. Other enterprises include fat lamb production, gourmet potatoes and occasionally lucerne/silage fodder production. Garry applies a minimum 5-year cycle management regime to each parcel of land on the property. Potatoes are not planted more often than one year out of every five. Typically, in the other four years Garry conducts a crop rotation of lucerne for a few years, then pasture grasses for the remaining year. The lucerne, having a deep root system, helps repair the damage done to soil structure by the potato crop. It also returns some nitrogen to the soil. He extends the five year cycle up to 15 years in certain circumstances. That is, a potato crop once every 15 years. Garry has adopted this management regime to ensure his soils are given adequate rest periods after each potato crop. This allows soil structure to repair and avoids nutrient depletion.

Garry has recently purchased a “one pass” tilling implement. Reducing the amount of tillage his soil is subjected to reduces the damage to soil structure and fungal life.

Garry also applies a yearly dosage of 10 cubic metres of compost per hectare. Lime is also applied to regulate pH levels to ensure they stay between 5.0-5.8 (5 tonnes per hectare every 10 years). That practice was started in the early 1970s to provide the optimal pH for producing potatoes.

The seed potatoes Garry produces are sold to major growers throughout Australia. Garry ensures that the potatoes are free from disease by replanting and harvesting each individual potato a number of times over the course of a few years and removing the potatoes which show signs of disease. This ensures that only potatoes which are free from disease reach the market. This also multiplies the number of potatoes Garry can produce without having to purchase more seed stock.

Harvested potatoes are stored in a refrigerated warehouse.

The gourmet potatoes Garry produces are a special variety known for their ability to resist absorbing oil during cooking, which results in a lower fat content. The gourmet potatoes are sold to high end restaurants in Sydney and Canberra at a premium price.

Garry runs around 1800 lambs on the property, the lambs are grazed on lucerne and mixed grass species paddocks. Garry has the ability to cut and bail fodder to be stored and fed out to the lambs when required.

Community Engagement

Garry Kadwell has been an active member of the Crookwell community for many years. He has served in the local Rural Fire Service Brigade, assisted the local public school in gaining equipment and volunteered with the local aged care facility.

During the millennium drought Garry recognised that the community was doing it tough and many people were facing mental health issues. He organised an event called “Looking after your mate” which was aimed at bringing the community together and giving people a space to share what was happening in their lives. The event was a huge success with many organisations supporting it and large numbers of the community attending. Some of the feedback received after the event highlighted that the event had changed lives.

Conclusion

Garry Kadwell has achieved significant results in improving the health of his soil and landscape as well as improving production results.Garry has managed to extend the minimum five-year rotation between potato crops out to 15 years, whilst maintaining profitability. This has resulted in significant environmental benefits to the property by reducing crop stress. Yearly applications of compost have seen the carbon levels within Garry’s soils rise up to 5%. Currently 32% of Fairhalt is protected for conservation purposes. The conservation land provides critical habitat for numerous native species of birds and mammals. Garry has developed a business model which is financially viable and employs a number of locals whilst protecting and conserving the land. This is a considerable achievement. Garry’s innovative approach to farming has led to him running one of the most successful potato production businesses in the Crookwell region.

Are you our next case study? If you have a story of change to tell about your regenerative landscape practices we’d love to hear from you! Find out more here.

Balala Station

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Richard Daugherty and Sarah Burrows set out to find a property that provided the lifestyle and outdoor experiences they so desired. With a young family they chose to move from South Africa and settle in the New England district of northern NSW. Having done their research they settled on Balala Station which just happened to be up for sale for only the second time since establishment.

Whilst drought has been a setback, this determined couple are forging ahead setting the property up for a time when rains return. New business ventures and further plans keep these two firmly planted on the ground.

FARM FACTS

Balala Station, Balala NSW

ENTERPRISE: Merino sheep and Angus cattle breeding

PROPERTY SIZE: 1250 ha

AVERAGE ANNUAL RAINFALL: 760 mm

ELEVATION: 860 – 1000 m

MOTIVATION FOR CHANGE

  • Richard’s background in South Africa observing wild animals on their annual migration and learning about holistic grazing practices that mimic these natural processes influenced the choice to implement regenerative agriculture and matched Sarah’s commitment to healthy, ethical food production systems.

INNOVATIONS

Regenerative landscape and livestock management regimes, including:

  • Increase paddock numbers to facilitate rotational grazing
  • Water infrastructure including dams and water reticulation points
  • Soil testing to identify key nutrient deficiencies
  • Restoration of biodiversity through tree thinning
  • Conservation work with the Bells turtle and Regent honeyeater Projects
  • Fence out riparian zones

KEY RESULTS

  • Complimentary sheep and cattle grazing on a rotational plan.
  • Natural capital enhancement leading to improved biodiversity and drought resilience.
  • Connections through the University of New England on sustainability and land management issues.
Balala Station – Picturesque rural setting where colonial history blends with modern agriculture
Angus cattle wandering among vegetation on the flats
Fallen trees strategically placed to catch organic matter and slow water sheeting across the ground

Narrative

From a regenerative perspective Balala Station may have been a blank canvas which makes the work undertaken and the transition story more intriguing. With minimal farming experience and a desire  to learn from others, relationships with the broader community have blossomed and so too has the family.


Ecological

From the formative years of Australian agriculture, this once vast station stocked 44,000 sheep. There we no dams and few paddocks. Over a century of set stocking had exacted a toll on the landscape. The turn around and potential thereafter looks promising.


Economic

Education, training, goal setting, trading strategies, infrastructure, cashflow, productivity and on and on it goes…

A farmers lot is never easy, taking the time to plan your approach and not go in boots ‘n all is an effective strategy.


Social

Intent on farming, the political landscape in South Africa was judged too risky, alternatively Australia looked promising. Richard and Sarah settled on a property in the New England area, it had “good bones” but there was work to be done…

THE QUIRK FARM STORY

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A fish kill in 1987/88, caused by leaching from acid sulphate soils, and a divided community set the scene for Robert Quirk’s journey as a cane farmer turned “accidental, but willing, scientist”.

He’s since developed, and implemented, a set of regenerative practices that are recognised as best management for cane farming. Robert uses a holistic approach, combining engineering and agronomic solutions, to drainage, soil health and nutrient management.

FARM FACTS

The Quirk Farm, Stotts Creek NSW

ENTERPRISE: Sugarcane (100 ha), Cattle grazing (17 ha)

PROPERTY SIZE: 117 hectares

AVERAGE ANNUAL RAINFALL: 1801 mm

ELEVATION: 0.5 m

MOTIVATION FOR CHANGE

  • Prevent release of sulphuric acid from farm into the Tweed River and reduce waterlogged soil impact on sugar cane productivity.

INNOVATIONS

  • Laser levelling and automatic pumping system to stop flooding
  • Leaving cane trash to decompose after harvest
  • Applied urea to cane trash to assist in decomposition
  • Applied lime
  • Introduced mounding/raised beds to grow sugar cane
  • Utilised a ‘bed renovator’ machine to prepare for planting
  • Introduced winter cover crops into the crop rotation

KEY RESULTS

  • Significant reduction in input costs.
  • Increased soil organic carbon levels from 1% up to 8.8%.
  • Improved pH from 1.8 to 5.6.
  • Increased number of harvests (ratoons) from 4 -6 years.
  • Understand causes and mitigate sulphuric acid from releasing into waterways impacting aquatic life.

INTRODUCTION

Robert Quirk implemented innovations such as laser levelling his cane fields and mounding the cane rows to ensure that water drained correctly off his property and didn’t mobilise the acid sulphates in the soil.

During this time Robert Quirk became aware of the danger of climate change, this caused Robert Quirk to alter his management practices in an attempt to build carbon in his soil and reduce inputs. Robert Quirk reduced the amount of fertilisers, insecticides and pesticides used on the property as well as leaving the cane trash to lie on the field post-harvest. Robert Quirk also introduced other innovations such as an automatic pumping system to remove flood water from the cane fields and a bed renovator machine to prepare the cane fields.

Robert Quirk found that through his innovations soil organic carbon levels increased from 1% in the 1960’s to currently 8.8% on different points of the property. The pH of the property also increased from 1.8 in the 1980’s to currently stand at 5.6. Robert Quirk’s innovations have greatly improved the health of his soil whilst managing to control the threat of the acid sulphates underneath his cane fields.

THE QUIRK FARM STORY

The practices Robert Quirk has implemented on his property have led the way for sugar cane farming around the world.

ECOLOGICAL HEALTH

In 1987 Robert Quirk set out on a path to improve the ecological health of his property and the nearby waterways.

ECONOMIC HEALTH

Robert Quirk has significantly reduced the cost of his inputs whilst maintaining good production levels.

HEALTH AND WELLBEING

Robert Quirk has gained immense satisfaction through reinventing himself and his management strategies.


THE ROTHESAY TRANSITION STORY

Maddy Coleman grew up in the city, and her love of horses introduced her to agriculture. Years of experience working in diverse farming practice and ongoing training and education followed. Maddy has made changes to their initial Rothesay business model, proving that flexibility, formal and applied education and conversations with mentors are key factors in managing ongoing drought conditions.

Management changes on Rothesay include preserving ground cover using a different stocking model and fencing to allow rehabilitation of creeks and gullies. Maddy shares her experience in managing Rothesay using regenerative farming practices in this transition case study.

Maddy Pursehouse, Rothesay, Blackville NSW

Maddy and Malcolm Coleman (her father) purchased Rothesay in 2016. They added the adjoining Springfield block two years later and now the combined Rothesay property comprises 1,629 hectares. While Malcolm visits to help occasionally, Maddy makes all the day-to-day decisions about managing the farm.

Rothesay is located on the foothills and lower slopes of the Liverpool Ranges, in the catchment of the Mooki River. Omaleah Creek and Black Creek run through and join on the property. The creeks only flow intermittently, so water for stock is obtained from bores. The long-term average annual rainfall as recorded at Blackville (2 km south of the farm) is 691 mm, with summer dominant rainfall pattern.

The landscape

The main soil type is deep cracking clay (vertisols) derived from basalt (figure 3). This soil type is well-structured and intrinsically fertile and can be highly productive given enough water. Maddy arranged soil testing to be done soon after she took over Rothesay. This showed an abundance of phosphorus and magnesium but insufficient nitrogen, sulphur, calcium, zinc and boron. A fertilisation program incorporating a trial to test different mineral and/or biological approaches to addressing the deficiencies was recommended, but it is too soon to tell the results.

Deep cracking clay soils found on Rothesay

Native vegetation on the cracking clay soils of the Liverpool Plains region is mainly native grass with a range of small forb and herb species. The main grasses include Plains Grass (Austrostipa aristiglumis), Queensland Bluegrass (Dichanthium sericeum), Red Grass (Bothriochloa macra) and Wallaby grass (Austrodanthonia sp.). It also contains scattered and patchy shrubs and trees, including  Myall (Acacia pendula), Rough-barked Apple (Angophora floribunda), Fuzzy Box (Eucalyptus conica), Bimble Box (E. populnea) and Yellow Box (E. melliodora). Rothesay, which stretches from the plains onto the lower slopes, also hosts Wallaby grass (Austrodanthonia spp.), Red grass (Bothriochloa macra), Lobed Blue Grass (Bothriochloa Biloba), River She-oak (Casuarina cunninghamiana), which proliferates along some reaches of the creeks, Kurrajong (Brachychiton populneus), White Box (E. albens) and Cypress Pine (Callitris spp.).

Water management

The Blackville Floodplain Management Plan (2003) recognised that land management practices in upstream areas of the Mooki River catchment have increased erosion, and that ‘downstream landholders have not been able to pass on the additional flow or sediment…’.The ‘additional flow’ evidently exacerbated flooding and waterlogging, and became an issue for cropping on the plains. The plan prescribed various ‘solutions’ for the Upper Catchment Zone, in which Rothesay and Springfield are located. These solutions included:

  • maintaining 70% ground cover on slopes up to 75% and 80% ground cover on steeper slopes;
  • using a stocking strategy to take account of ‘climatic variability’ (i.e., high rainfall periods versus drought)
  • avoiding overstocking by using rotational grazing,
  • preventing concentration of run-off using ‘appropriate limited’ earthworks to stabilise gully heads, and
  • to promote overland flow

These practices seem eminently sensible and desirable. Individual landholders were nominated as being responsible to implement them. To what extent those landholders took up the challenge is unclear, but Maddy is endeavouring to do that today on Rothesay.  As such she is initiating a ‘catchment rehydration’ approach to make the most of all the rain that falls and to reduce erosion.

She has made a start in three ways.

  1. Firstly, by increasing the number of paddocks to 68 (more paddock subdivision is planned) grazing pressure can be managed better to maintain ground cover. Subdividing paddocks can be done more cost-effectively by installing a trough at the intersections, so that one new trough can water up to four paddocks.
  2. Controlling grazing pressure in riparian areas has allowed River She-oak to regenerate within the creek system. The build-up of vegetation can already be seen to be holding back the intermittent flows that would otherwise be racing downstream, eroding the creek banks and carrying away soil and nutrients. As well as reducing erosion, slowing the flow increases infiltration and groundwater recharge.
  3. Early in 2019 shallow level contour banks were built running out of a gully.  In a flood, the level contour bank picks up water and runs it along the contour until it is dispersed at a ridge where a spill way has been created.  The aim is to use the flood water which would have ended up in Omaleah Creek to instead be diverted to rehydrate paddocks on the property.

This contour bank is perhaps the first of many such drainage control interventions. The work was designed and implemented with advice from Peter and Stuart Andrews and regional catchment authorities including Local Land Services and Landcare.

Grazing management

When Maddy took over Rothesay the business focus was breeding Angus cattle. Based on the good seasonal conditions at the time, she invested in breeding stock. As dry conditions quickly set in, maintaining a breeding herd and trade steers became a challenge.

One cow and calf per four hectares is the expected carrying capacity for the region. While that might be a useful ‘rule of thumb’ over the long term, year-to-year stock management requires a far more nuanced approach to adjust for rainfall variability from year to year. Using the tools of observation and pasture budgeting, Maddy has found the Maia Grazing software pasture management system very useful.  She feels it enables a more detailed analysis of grazing stock management than the traditional paper grazing chart. There are many software systems available and can be found, for example at Trethewey (2018).

Rotating livestock through grazing cells allows Maddy to increase the stocking density and animal impact by moving larger mob sizes over short time periods. Her feed budget calculates the time period a mob should stay in any one paddock, calibrating this pasture management system through observation has proven successful.

The objective is to maintain adequate ground cover by moving stock on once fifty percent of the available grass is consumed.  This allows plants to recover more quickly, keeps the roots in active growth phase and provides for longer recovery periods.

By March 2017 Maddy had started to destock and over the course of the next year, she sold all her trade steers. As the dry spell progressed, Maddy’s feed budget was telling her that the breeding cattle needed to be sold. Short-term pain for long-term gain. Selling the herd, even at a loss, ensured that the paddocks were not over-grazed and would therefore recover sooner after rain. The cost of hand feeding was avoided and instead of increasing her overdraft on feed bills, she had the money from the sold stock available for re-stocking when the time was right.

By December 2018, there was enough growth in the paddocks to enable Maddy to start trading.  She managed to trade cattle from December 2018 to September 2019.  With a combination of careful feed budgeting, the use of the forecasting tool in Maia Grazing and KLR Marketing Spreadsheets, skinny cows were purchased to fatten and sell on short trades. Although at significantly reduced numbers, Maddy was still generating cashflow – and this during the worst drought in history!

However, from mid-September 2019, once again Rothesay is completely destocked.  Leaving sufficient ground cover has been the key and of particular importance to the farm management.  It protects the soil, reduces erosion and improves the micro climate at ground level.

From Maddy’s observations, having plants with roots already established is fundamental to paddock recovery. They are sitting there waiting for the rain and even if there is a small shower, they just start to green up and grow, unlike seeds that must germinate and take time to be established as occurs in bare paddocks.

“I have seen it repeatedly in this dry period where we get a shower, and a seed will germinate, only to die because we don’t get the follow up rain it needs. It has been a continuous trend throughout the last few years”.

Keeping ground cover has been fundamental and the reason Maddy has been able to make trades for the past eight months.  An added advantage is that by turning off water to troughs when the cattle have moved on, you remove the attraction for Kangaroos and minimize grazing pressure.

With sound advice and using grazing tools Maddy is turning over cattle every couple of months. She is using both commercially available tools and her own observations to determine how much feed is available at a moment in time and hence how many cattle can be run and for how long. Using marketing tools, she knows the profit margin before purchasing cattle to ensure a profitable trade.

During the current dry period, Maddy makes sure she has enough feed available in the paddocks to finish a trade before cattle are purchased. It is too risky to purchase cattle with the “hope” it is going to rain to grow feed to finish a trade.  To take the hope and risk out of her trades, Maddy matches her stocking rate to carrying capacity – in effect the number of mouths to the available grass.

While it is early in the story, indications are that Maddy Pursehouse is showing the way to considerably improve the resilience of her farm business. She is keeping an open mind about grazing strategies and adapting them to seasonal circumstances, and she is keen to learn about new approaches or practices and willingly consults on possible options.

Are you the next soils for life case study? Find how what the process involves here.

THE ILLAWONG STORY

The Illawong Story

A regenerative agriculture case study from the NSW Riverina.

Bryan Ward’s property, Illawong, comprises 160 hectares and carries up to 140 beef cattle at any one time. While this is a relatively small property, it is perhaps typical of thousands of farms producing beef in Australia.

ABOUT ILLAWONG

FARM FACTS

Bowna, NSW

ENTERPRISE: Grass-fed cattle finishing

PROPERTY SIZE: 160 hectares

AVERAGE ANNUAL RAINFALL: 650 mm

ELEVATION: 205 m

MOTIVATION FOR CHANGE

  • Turning two paddocks of neglected hill country into a profitable, pasture rich operation

INNOVATIONS

  • Contour ripping; direct drilling of eucalypts, acacias and understory species in fenced off remnant vegetation patches
  • Rehydrating the landscape
  • Removal of rabbits
  • Establishment of perennial pasture

KEY RESULTS

  • Illawong cattle now consistently achieve amongst the highest level of compliance, earning Bryan an award from Meat and Livestock Australia for being one of the Top 100 producers in New South Wales.


VIDEO: THE ILLAWONG STORY IN LESS THAN A MINUTE

Bryan’s achievements over 24 years of managing Illawong provide valuable lessons for producers seeking to maintain production while also regenerating and improving the condition of the land. Watch a 1-minute summary of Bryan’s key practices and achievements.


VIDEO: THE ILLAWONG FIELD DAY


ILLAWONG: THE ECOLOGICAL JOURNEY

Contour ripping

The sheep, rabbits and kangaroos had left little groundcover across Illawong. When the drought set in around 2000, Bryan feared that massive soil erosion would ensue when the rain returned. He was keen to contour-rip so that when rain eventually came it would penetrate, rather than run off, be wasted and exacerbate the gully erosion. That work
was assisted by a drought relief program subsidy available at the time from the Commonwealth Government through the Natural Heritage Trust. Today the contour ripping is indistinguishable, but the dams constantly have water because the rain that falls infiltrates and seeps in to the dams from the water table.

Revegetation

Adding to the soil and water conservation work, Bryan fenced off remnant trees in patches up and down the gullies to prevent further stock disturbance and to enable regrowth to stabilise gully erosion. These patches also protect livestock from wind, rain and heat. Adding to the mosaic of woody vegetation, Bryan used a direct seeding method to
revegetate the rocky ridges with a range of eucalypts, acacias and other understorey species. After about 10 years, these are becoming self-regenerating. In all, about 30% of the property is now fenced off from grazing and is revegetated with woody species. In Bryan’s words: ‘the wind used to whistle across the hill, the animals are far more
comfortable and warm now’.

A further benefit of the revegetation that Bryan has undertaken is a resurgence in native fauna; he says: ‘When I came here, you couldn’t find goannas, echidnas, etc. … plus all the little birds … they have come back!’

Rehydrating the landscape

Expert hydrologists will advise that increasing catchment cover of perennial woody vegetation as Bryan has done increases ‘evapotranspiration’, that is, plant water use, and therefore leaves less water to flow downstream.

According to the Commonwealth Government’s “National Water Policy”, this can be a problem in catchments such as the Murray River and its tributaries, where water used by trees in the upper catchments does not wind up in Lake Hume and other water storages, to be delivered to irrigators downstream in the Murray-Darling Basin. The flip side of
that argument is that, while a larger proportion of rainfall might be used by evapotranspiration, less is evaporated from the soil surface and a larger proportion can infiltrate and seep through the soil profile to the water table without causing soil erosion. From there it can recharge dams on farms and enter streams lower in the catchment, but by then it has a much reduced silt load. Soils For Life describes this process as ‘rehydrating the landscape’, and it is a recurring feature of Soils For Life case studies. Stream flow lower in the catchment might be lower in some cases, but it is probably more constant and water quality is likely to be higher.

The rabbit problem has now largely been fixed, using ripping followed by baiting with Pindone as required. Having ready access to water, kangaroos are prolific and numbers must be controlled regularly to prevent over-grazing. The only practical way to do this remains to engage professional shooters to remove a proportion of the population each
year.

Weeds, and therefore herbicide use, are considerably reduced. With 100% ground cover of vigorous pasture 100% of the time, weeds get little chance to establish.

Contour ripping on Illawong


ILLAWONG: PRODUCTION OUTCOMES

Initially, Bryan ran 1500 super-fine merino wethers producing 15–19 micron wool, until drought and falling wool prices forced him to change. The easing of the ‘millennium drought’ in the mid 2000s gave him the impetus to apply lime to overcome acid soils and to sow improved pastures. Perennial pasture species, predominantly phalaris and clover,
were established on approximately 80% of the grazing area. Together with spraying and grazing with sheep, this eliminated the Patterson’s Curse and other weeds, and paved the way to phase out sheep and introduce beef cattle.

The remaining unimproved pastures comprise kangaroo, wallaby and red grasses. Beef production began with agisted stock before the business turned to the current pasture-based steer finishing enterprise. There are now seven dams, up from two in 1994, and these are the only sources of water on the property.

Rotational grazing

Over a ten-year period, the fencing was re-designed using electric fences so that rotational grazing could be introduced, rotating the stock around seven paddocks, leaving the pasture height at least 100 mm (1500 kg dry matter per hectare). Cattle spend 5 to 7 days in each paddock at a time, fewer in the unimproved pasture paddocks, at a stocking rate of 36 DSE/ha. This ensures that the cattle receive sufficient nutrition and provides time for pastures to recover. The native pasture species paddocks are grazed for a shorter time when animals are moved between the higher quality paddocks. This enables Bryan to better match animal feed requirements to feed availability and the nutritional needs of particular groups of animals.

Bryan plans to reticulate groundwater from bores to troughs so that the paddocks can be further sub-divided. As well as improving flexibility for rotational grazing, a major benefit of troughs would be that disturbance of the dams could be reduced so that the water would be less silty. This has benefits for animal health, and therefore their rate of weight gain. Bryan has observed that cattle go for the cleaner water and, once troughs are installed, he does not believe he would have to fence off the dams to exclude cattle.

Cattle production

Bryan buys Angus trade steers, selecting from producers whose stock he has found suitable for finishing on pasture. Three different genetic lines typically make up the annual herd. These arrive in spring at an average live weight of around 370 to 400 kg and leave by the following winter at around 630 kg live weight. The number of steers bought each year depends on seasonal conditions, so ensuring that the pasture available at the time can sustain the grazing pressure. With no dependence on maintaining breeding stock, this means there is never any pressure to overgraze in dry seasons. The timing of moving stock onto and off the property can also be adjusted to allow both for seasonal conditions and for cattle market conditions.

The finished cattle are sold into JBS Australia’s pasture-fed Food Assurance program. That requires demonstrating compliance with specifications including grass-fed only, fat colour, meat colour and fat depth, and incurring penalties or receiving lower prices for animals that do not meet specifications. Illawong cattle now consistently achieve amongst the highest level of compliance, earning Bryan an award from Meat and Livestock Australia for being one of the Top 100 producers in New South Wales and state finalist in the “Excellence in Eating Quality Awards”. This is attributable primarily to ensuring good animal nutrition, which depends on the pasture, and on managing the
temperament of the animals to minimise their stress levels.

Bryan regularly takes samples of his pastures to be analysed for feed quality in order to understand what the animals are eating and to assess whether it is sufficient for their needs. Nine-month-old steers at an average live weight of 370 kg require pasture with a metabolisable energy (ME) of at least 12 MJ per kg of dry matter and a minimum crude
protein content (CP) of at least 12% of dry matter to maintain their weight. To increase their weight at a rate of 1 kg/day or better requires ME of at least 9.9 MJ per kg dry matter and CP of 18.8% or more. Pasture foliage testing shows levels of protein and metabolisable energy from improved pastures across the year range from 8.3–11.1 MJME/kg dry matter, and a little less on native pastures. Lime and single superphosphate are applied regularly to
maintain these levels, as determined by soil tests. The lime maintains soil pH at levels that ensure nutrient availability and microbial activity are sustained and the superphosphate replaces phosphorus that is exported with the cattle.

Cattle temperament is important for the Farm Assurance quality program because muscle glycogen is depleted when the animals are stressed. This increases pH, which affects meat quality, making it dark and less tender. Frequent handling means the cattle are used to human presence and alleviates that problem. Bryan finds that frequent moving in accordance with the rotational grazing system, monthly weighing to monitor weight gain and to check for health issues and an occasional stroll through the paddock all contribute to getting them used to human presence, so that they maintain a calm temperament. This practice ensures that they are not mixed with unfamiliar cattle on trucks, which avoids stirring them up and increasing stress levels, and is a specific requirement of the Farm Assurance program.

Bryan buys Angus trade steers, selecting from producers whose stock he has found suitable for finishing on pasture. Three different genetic lines typically make up the annual herd. These arrive in spring at an average live weight of around 370 to 400 kg and leave by the following winter at around 630 kg live weight. The number of steers bought each year depends on seasonal conditions, ensuring that the pasture available at the time can sustain the grazing pressure.

Bryan has variable costs of $119/ha, considerably lower than the regional average of $181. This can be attributed in part to his reliance on pastures. Feed supplements are not needed and animal health costs are minimal. Compliance with the quality assurance program ensures that prices received are at the high end of the range, which adds substantially to the total gross margin received.


The Illawong Story

Bryan came to southern New South Wales from Victoria in 1965, having been appointed manager of Woomargama Station, a large merino sheep and cattle property about 40 kilometres north-east of Albury. After 29 years in that job, by 1994, it was time to take on a new challenge where he could try innovative ways of farming he had read about while a farm manager, but had been unable to implement. Finally he could call “a piece of dirt my own, be a one man band who could shout out orders in the morning, and alone proceed to obey them!”

To fulfil that ambition, Bryan found two paddocks of neglected hill country, a small part of a large sheep grazing property called Table Top Station located at Bowna, about 10 km north of Lake Hume and 20 km north-east of Albury. In late 1994, these run-down paddocks, comprising undulating slopes with clay loam soils rising to rocky granitic soils on steep slopes, became Illawong.

After decades of set stocking on annual pastures, Patterson’s curse, rabbits and gully erosion were prevalent on Illawong and the remaining woody vegetation comprised remnant red box, yellow box, red stringybark, Blakely’s red gum and long-leaf box trees. Average annual rainfall in the area is a respectable 650 mm, but that is little use if it falls
on bare impenetrable soil and most of it rushes down the gullies, taking topsoil with it. Carrying capacity was a low 1.5 DSE. This was the condition of the property when Bryan acquired it. Just to add to the challenge, 1996 was around the beginning of the ‘millennium drought’ which saw 10 years of severely below average rainfall across southern Australia.

Over 24 years of changing from sheep to cattle, introducing rotational grazing, establishing perennial pastures and improving stock shelter, productivity has increased from 1.5 DSE to 12–14 DSE. Cattle growth rates of over 2 kg live weight per day have been recorded in winter. Most importantly, the business can adjust to seasonal conditions so that pastures do not suffer from over-grazing in dry periods and there is no loss of soil capital.

The practices adopted by Bryan at Illawong are not ground breaking [no pun intended] or revolutionary. It is simply common sense land management based on self-evident principles. Nor is it complicated or particularly expensive to implement … but it is surprising how uncommon, common sense can be and how avoidable obstacles prevent people from changing habits ingrained after decades and generations.


MULLOON CREEK CATCHMENT

20 FARMERS AND ONE CREEK = A UNIQUE COLLABORATIVE PROJECT ON THE SOUTHERN TABLELANDS

This is the story about a creek

Mulloon Creek is not just any creek. It runs for around 50 kilometres through a beautiful valley in the Southern Tablelands, near Bungendore, New South Wales. It drains an area of around 400 square kilometres in a north- south aligned sub-catchment of the Upper Shoalhaven River.

There’s history there, too. Mulloon Creek followed an original Cobb and Co highway between Goulburn and Cooma.

FARM FACTS

Mulloon Creek Catchment, NSW

ENTERPRISE: Grazing, cropping

CATCHMENT SIZE: 23,000 hectares

AVERAGE ANNUAL RAINFALL: 600-800 mm

ELEVATION: 692-1260 m

MOTIVATION FOR CHANGE

  • Rehydrating the Mulloon Creek Catchment

INNOVATIONS

  • Construction of “leaky weirs” to slow down and re-distribute water

KEY RESULTS

  • Higher productivity and hydration proved at the Home Farm pilot, with monitoring and benchmarking along the Catchment

INTRODUCTION

This Soils For Life case study, undertaken in collaboration with The Mulloon Institute, examines a unique, long term and broad project.

With the guidance and co-ordination undertaken by the Institute, 20 landholders are working collaboratively to rehydrate the Creek and their agricultural landscapes. It’s presented an opportunity for those land managers to develop a baseline assessment of vegetation condition on different land types.

The Institute was founded by a remarkable man, Tony Coote AM, who bought several farms along Mulloon Creek and began applying regenerative practices, some of them designed by Peter Andrews.

Tony Coote. Photo: Canberra Region Joint Organisation/Adam Mcgrath

Tony was well-known in the farming community for his work in agriculture, as well as founding Mulloon Creek Natural Farms and The Mulloon Institute. He started a small water project before founding the Institute in 2011, expanding into what is now a 23,000-hectare site with 50 kilometres of creek. The goal has been to reverse the damage done to the landscape and the water by numerous erosion gullies – still far too common sights on farms across the country.

The work he was renowned for was “banking” water, by restoring creeks to pre-European states and slowing flow, allowing farmers to store water in the landscape itself and draw it when needed. By using this technique, which started in a 2006 project, Mr Coote was able to boost agricultural productivity. His institute’s research has been recognised by the United Nations.

The Chair of The Mulloon Institute is Gary Nairn AO.

Farmers are naturally independent souls in their thinking and actions. But a pilot carried out by The Mulloon Institute 13 years ago served to prove the viability – and profitability – of slowing down the Creek. The instream interventions, i.e. leaky weirs, were installed along Mulloon Creek at the Home Farm then, but most of the substantive instream interventions along the Creek commenced after 2016.

The results of this unique project will be monitored and benchmarked by The Institute. Landholders are reporting a better flow of water, and higher quality water. The Institute will collect data over time on the impact of the slower water flows on their pastures.

A comprehensive assessment of the vegetation condition of the Mulloon Creek Catchment and the Mulloon Community Landscape Rehydration Project is available for download here.

The job of coordinating up to 20 landholders and work on14 farms has fallen to Peter Hazell, Project Coordinator at The Mulloon Institute.

Upstream from the “plug” at Peter’s Pond, Sue and Ulli Tuisk need the creek for their household and their Angus cattle. During the Millenium Drought and the fierce drought of 2018, the creek almost dried up.

The Tuisks, who own historic “Palerang” decided to install a slightly different type of weir – in the form of a “V”. As an engineer, Ulli understands the mechanics…

A very recently completed ecological assessment provides early indications of some positive results at Palerang.  Richard Thackway, of VAST Transformations, Canberra, prepared the report, Assessment of vegetation condition – Mulloon Catchment and Mulloon Community Landscape Rehydration Project, for The Mulloon Institute in January 2019.

One of the first landowners to come on board with Tony Coote’s vision was Gerry Carroll, of “Mulloon Farm”.

He and his Manager, Andrew Robinson, have seen outstanding results from slowing down the Creek, and building up surrounding pasture.

Next door, John West at “West View” has seen a remarkable transformation on his part of the Creek, in a very short time.

In 12 weeks, and with five interventions, John’s seeing fish and birds for the first time in decades, as well as clean water good enough for a dip.

RESULTS AT JANUARY 2019

Peter’s Pond, Mullon Creek Home Farm
Monitoring station, Peter’s Pond
“Palerang”, below V-shaped weir
The leaky weir at Mulloon Farm
John West at one of the leaky weirs at “West View”
Mulloon Creek at “West View”

THE BROWNLOW HILL STORY

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HISTORY REMADE ON BROWNLOW HILL ESTATE

This is the story of an historic farm which almost failed. It’s a story which goes back 200 years, when the pasture at Brownlow Hill, just near Camden, supplied Sydney with milk.

A number of crises, including the deregulation of the dairy industry in the 1990’s and the threat of Coal Seam Gas exploration, forced Edgar and Lynne Downes to drastically review how they farmed.

This case study tracks the ecological, production and social changes on the property over the entire period.

FARM FACTS

Camden, NSW

ENTERPRISE: Dairying, beef cattle, lucerne cropping, Bio Banking

PROPERTY SIZE: 1,215 hectares

AVERAGE ANNUAL RAINFALL: 715 mm

ELEVATION: 87 m

MOTIVATION FOR CHANGE

  • Deregulation of the dairy industry; possibility of Coal Seam Gas extraction; urban encroachment

INNOVATIONS

  • Natural Sequence Farming; organic fertlisers for pastures including poultry manure, horse manure, sawdust, straw and urine on lucerne paddocks; pilot farm for Bio Banking; organic practices

KEY RESULTS

  • Increased sustainable revenue from lucerne, beef, dairy, Bio Banking, and entertainment venue, and reduced costs due to cessation of all chemical use and regenerative practices

INTRODUCTION

Brownlow Hill is one of Australia’s most significant early agricultural and settlement sites, providing opportunities for research into change and development over more than 200 years. It was the first dairy farm to serve the fledgling settlement of Sydney. Current ownership and occupation stems back almost 160 years. The whole property has been heritage listed and will never be developed for housing.

An early view of the cow pastures (Engraving by Arthur Willmore, National Library of Australia)

Soils For Life visited Brownlow Hill Estate several times during 2018, just as the widespread drought which affected New South Wales and Queensland tightened its grip. However, the river flats and alluvial woodland on the lower sections of the farm were proving resilient, as a result of the intensive integration of stable waste and organic fertlisers applied over 12 years.

From 1985 onwards, Edgar started to use poultry manure instead of synthetic fertilisers and also installed sub-surface drip irrigation. He reduced the cropping intensity and turned more land over to lucerne, both for the dairy herd and for sale as hay.

The deregulation of the milk market was a turning point. Edgar’s land also became subject to a Coal Seam Gas Exploration Licence, and the city of Sydney was encroaching.

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.

In a major development, the New South Wales Office of Environment and Heritage introduced BioBanking and Brownlow Hill became the pilot for this program. The rarity of remnant Cumberland Plain Woodland and the need for developers and the Government to offset destruction of this threatened ecological community has meant that Edgar’s least productive agricultural land has become his most valuable asset.

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 heifers and cows are naturally mated and his crops are resistant to mites, aphids and other pests. There is no salinity evident in either the river water or the soil, and his cows don’t bloat, even when consuming wet lucerne, clover or summer forage. With these regenerative practices, Edgar is able to sustainably farm Brownlow Hill and continue his family tradition.

THE BROWNLOW HILL STORY

Brownlow Hill is one of Australia’s most significant early agricultural and settlement sites, providing opportunities for research into change and development over more than 200 years.

Watercolour by Conrad Martens, 1836 National Library of Australia

ECOLOGICAL HEALTH

This ecological assessment commences in 1973 when Edgar Downes returned to Brownlow Hill to run the property. Two examples of regenerative landscape management are found, corresponding to two very different land types; river flats and shale hills.

ECONOMIC HEALTH

Dairy has been the mainstay of Brownlow Hill for over 100 years. There have been five dairies on the farm, and three still operate today.

PRODUCTIVITY

Brownlow Hill’s production systems are based on two main land types found on the property – river flats characterised by deep alluvial soils and shale hills on the upper and lower slopes.

HEALTH AND WELLBEING

The current owners of Brownlow Hill, Edgar and Lynne Downes, are the fifth generation to call Brownlow Hill home. Their sense of responsibility and attachment to this property is strong. 


THE JILLAMATONG STORY

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This is the story of Jillamatong, a grazing property in the New South Wales Southern Tablelands with a history going back to 1951. In 1985, Martin Royds – the third-generation family member to manage Jillamatong – took over the running of the property. And he was forced to make big changes.

FARM FACTS

Southern Tablelands (near Braidwood NSW)

ENTERPRISE: Prime lamb, cattle, garlic, truffles, yabbies

PROPERTY SIZE: 457 hectares

AVERAGE ANNUAL RAINFALL: 655 mm

ELEVATION: 650-750 m

MOTIVATION FOR CHANGE

  • Reducing input costs and increasing productivity (230% over 9 years)

INNOVATIONS

  • Holistic management techniques
  • restored eroded areas
  • vastly improved water quality through development of chain of ponds
  • improved soil nutrients and soil carbon
  • sustained high levels of reproductive potential of pastures
  • the maintenance of consistently high levels of ground cover in summer and in winter.

KEY RESULTS

  • significant reduction in costs
  • 230% profit between 2005 and 2014
  • satisfaction across all levels

INTRODUCTION

A snapshot of Jillamatong’s history is relevant to the condition in which Martin inherited his land. From 1951 until 1985, when Martin began to take a more active role in the management of the Royds holdings, the property was stocked and rather degraded.

His grandfather had subdivided it into 12 paddocks and arranged for some applications of superphosphate to encourage the growth of seeded rye grass. There was no cropping – Jillamatong was only running sheep and cattle.

ECOLOGICAL HEALTH

Martin Royds has instituted whole of farm changes, and these reports detail the striking results.

They include minimising the effects of climate – not just climate change, but droughts and wildfire. Martin’s regenerative practices also prevent erosion; restored eroded areas; maintained ecological health; the productive capacity of the farm and vastly improved water quality.

Ecological changes also include: soil nutrients and soil carbon; sustained high levels of reproductive potential of pastures and the maintenance of consistently high levels of ground cover in summer and in winter.

ECONOMIC HEALTH

This report presents the outputs of a 10-year financial analysis of Jillamatong. It contains selected financial indicators, which are compared to industry benchmarks incorporating 146 farms across South Eastern Australia. The benchmarking provides long term averages across a range of financial and production criteria.

Among other outstanding results, it shows a significant reduction in costs, including supplementary feed costs for cattle at less than 10% of the average, and over 26% less than the highest cost of supplementary feeding. Estimated costs and profit per DSE also show a remarkable 230% profit between 2005 and 2014.

This report examines the EBITs (Earnings before interest and Tax) of Jillamatong over the 10 years between 2005 and 2014, and shows consistent profits, from just under $300,000 to an average of just over $120,000.

PRODUCTIVITY HEALTH

This report uses a number of productivity indicators and reveals that Martin Royd’s regenerative agriculture processes have reduced his costs incrementally. From a high of $1.90 per DSE in 2004/05, the indicators show that animal health expenses and pasture costs have gradually reduced, with allowance for dry years. Supplementary feed costs across the whole 10-year period are zero per DSE.

The indicators graphically explain some of the lower cost structures in the business. The grazing approach taken by Jillamatong has led to low pasture costs and the capacity to budget feed ahead, and adjust animal numbers accordingly.

HEALTH AND WELLBEING

There’s more to farming than profit and loss statements. This report presents the management team’s averaged response to questions completed on the social aspects of the business, using the On-Track Farm Family Business Indicators and questions from the Regional Wellbeing Survey.

In other words, it tells us how the people on the farm feel about their business, and how satisfied they are with the way they’re running their operations.

The results show satisfaction across all levels, with the highest scores related to the ability to try new things on the farm, the ability to be flexible, have clear expectations and social acceptance.

DRONE FOOTAGE OF JILLAMATONG


‘BOKHARA PLAINS’ – REACHING THE REAL POTENTIAL OF THE NSW RANGELANDS

REGENERATIVE AGRICULTURE CASE STUDY

REACHING THE REAL POTENTIAL OF THE NSW RANGELANDS

Graham and Cathy Finlayson have used stock to convert claypans to pastures, significantly improving their carrying capacity, while diversifying into cattle trading and tourism to drought-proof their property, Bokhara Plains.

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FARM FACTS | INTRODUCTION | PROPERTY BACKGROUND | CHANGING PRACTICES | SOIL MANAGEMENT | WATER MANAGEMENT | VEGETATION MANAGEMENT | PRODUCTION | OUTCOMES

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FARM FACTS

35 km north of Brewarrina, NSW North West

ENTERPRISE:  Cattle, tourism. Beef cattle agistment and trading; accommodation and event venue

PROPERTY SIZE: 7200 hectares

AVERAGE ANNUAL RAINFALL: 380 mm

ELEVATION: 115 m

MOTIVATION FOR CHANGE

  • Identifying the potential to improve the landscape and production

INNOVATIONS

  • Using stock to break up claypan
  • Holistic Management techniques to regenerate the rangeland
  • Stock trading to balance stocking rate with pasture availability
  • Diversifying into tourism
  • Innovations commenced: 2001

KEY RESULTS

  • Carrying capacity almost doubled to over 100 DSE days per hectare per 100mm rainfall
  • Revegetation of claypan landscape
  • Strong, positive community relationships

INTRODUCTION

Disturbed surface and early claypan regeneration.

When Graham and Cathy acquired Bokhara Plains in 1999 they accepted that the property was run down. Ground tanks were bogging sheep every summer, they needed to cut scrub for fodder to keep sheep alive and large areas of the property were claypans. But they felt that things should be better than they were.

Graham and Cathy turned this belief into action after identifying potential in the claypans from observing new plant growth where the surface had been disturbed. Stock were eventually used to break up the claypans, allowing water to penetrate and seeds to germinate. Combined with Holistic Management techniques, the claypans are now being reverted to productive, pastured rangelands with an increasing carrying capacity. Further diversifying into cattle trading and tourism to ensure that they remain viable regardless of the rainfall, Graham and Cathy are well on the way to reaching the real potential of the NSW rangelands, and are providing a shining light for others to follow.

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SEEING THE POTENTIAL

Bokhara Plains is located on the Goodooga road some 35km north of Brewarrina, NSW. The property has frontage on the Bokhara and Birrie Rivers, tributaries of the Barwon River and is part of the Murray Darling Basin and the Western Catchment Management Authority.

The property was traditionally farmed for wool production based on the sparse seasonal pasture growing on the flood plains of the two rivers.

When Cathy and Graham took over the property in 1999, about 50% of the area was claypan or otherwise bare ground. The claypans added nothing to the feed potential of the property. Even in good seasons, the land had struggled to maintain one of the lowest stocking rates in the district.

Graham realised that merinos were not profitable in this environment, and set stocking without matching numbers to carrying capacity was exacerbating ecological problems in the landscape. He explains, “We were almost totally reliant on my wife and I both working off farm to make ends meet. Continually running into dry periods and wishing / praying for rain was having a terrible emotional effect on my mental attitude, and a feeling of helplessness seemed to prevail”.

“I had read Allan Savory’s book on Holistic Management and realised that we could change the way we did things. One of two things drives fundamental change – pleasure or pain – and for me it was pain!”

Potential in the landscape was identified after the former owners carried out work on some of the claypans. A 400mm high bund was graded to form large shallow ponds. The theory of this method was that the water would soften the clay seal and allow seed to germinate.

The impact of ponding on the claypans was minimal but Graham noticed that there was significant growth on the edges of the claypans where the surface had been disturbed.

Graham states, “In 2001 the place was pretty well degraded and the whole ecological system had broken down. I felt that if we could restore the health of the rangeland that it could withstand drought… low rain in a healthy system could still be productive. It seemed to me that rangeland science was about understanding how the rangeland currently works, not about trying to change or improve it”.

Graham chose to build on the former owner’s ponding operations, initially by using their small Ferguson tractor to mimic the use of a larger grader, and then later using a mouldboard plough to break up the hard capped surface. At this point, he did not have the numbers of cattle that he needed to create the disturbance necessary, and recognised that using a small tractor, although relatively economical, was not nearly as efficient or effective as using cattle. Particularly someone else’s cattle.

Graham eventually identified that regeneration of the claypans and planned rotational grazing could allow the property to develop into productive rangeland with prolific native grasses and herbage suitable for cattle grazing. Agisting cattle allowed Graham to increase his numbers, which he then used to break up the surface of the claypans.

The results were significant, with earlier colonisers like copper burr (Sclerolaena spp.) responding quickly to the changed conditions, followed in due course by a variety of native grasses spreading over the bare surface.

Left: Grass seeds in disturbed claypan. Right: Regeneration of early coloniser, copper burr.

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REALISING THE POTENTIAL

In achieving the potential they envisaged on Bokhara Plains Graham recognised that claypans were not a natural formation and could be restored to rangeland. Combined with Holistic Management principles, Graham determined that rangelands would respond positively to managed grazing practices, using livestock as partners.

After reading Allan Savory’s book, Graham undertook a RCS Grazing for Profit course followed by four years in the Executive Link program. “We also became inaugural participants in a program called Enterprise Based Conservation (EBC) through which we accessed some financial help to undertake a significant water and fencing project for much better control of grazing management.” This pilot program was run by WEST2000 Plus and included a five-year conservation agreement on land placed under voluntary conservation management.

Graham and Cathy also undertook major changes in their livestock enterprises, moving from sheep breeding to trading, then to agistment sheep to agistment cattle and now also cattle trading. They specialised in the larger herbivores from 2007 when they recognised that cattle were giving much better ecological and management benefits.

Graham follows three guiding principles for Bokhara Plains:

  • Match the stocking rate with the carrying capacity of the land.
  • Plants need adequate recovery.
  • Monitor what is going on across the property, make plans, then manage against these plans.

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INFRASTRUCTURE CHANGES

Pasture recovery before returning with livestock is paramount…

Graham and Cathy planned their infrastructure around their grazing strategies. The fencing forms a number of ‘wagon wheels’ with a watering point at the hub, producing a number of ‘cells’. For additional fencing to match stocking rates to carrying capacity, they rely on electric fencing supplied from an inverter connected to mains supply at the house.

Fencing was initially based on the original infrastructure but Graham has modified the layout to reflect his requirement that stock should preferably not travel more than 1.5km to access water. On Bokhara Plains fencing cost about $400 a kilometre for material and labour. Graham points out that the cost can be recovered in a year with increased production from the planned rotational grazing and Holistic Management strategies. Much of the labour for fencing was on-farm, comprising Graham, Cathy and their daughter, Harriett.

STOCKING

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Graham discussing his stock trading chart

Graham and Cathy plan their grazing on availability of pasture at any one time. Graham explains, “Agistment is the basis of our operations and we trade against the variation of available pasture. Pasture recovery before returning with livestock is paramount, along with creating the ‘beneficial impact’ described previously. We monitor pasture availability and plan and manage against that”.

The agistment runs at $/head/week basis for 6-12 months. Stock trading is used to balance the agistment with pasture availability. Stomach and skin parasites are not an issue in the region and stock are not drenched or treated for lice.

In their stock trading operations, Graham and Cathy use strategies developed by Bud Williams in the USA, and now taught by KLR Marketing in Australia. These are based on keeping the three inventories of price, available pasture and stock holding in balance. Using a ‘sell-buy’ process rather than a ‘buy-sell’ process, in the balanced inventory context, they can decide on selling and re-stocking options.

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Increased pasture availability has enabled a significant increase in stocking rates

Graham and Cathy use a 12 month rolling rainfall figure to calculate the stocking rate per hectare by month and annually per 100mm of rain. Using this method, they can reduce stock accordingly when conditions deteriorate and do not have to purchase feed. While they have de-stocked in earlier times, they are confident that they will not have to do so again.

Using these methods, stocking rates have increased exponentially on Bokhara Plains. Graham and Cathy have been measuring their stocking rate or DSE* days per hectare per 100mm of rain since 2002, and have seen their benchmark capacity lift from 56 DSE days per hectare to over 100.

Standing at a watering point where six paddock fences join, Graham points to a 60 hectare paddock with 1100 cattle spread throughout the tall grass, “That paddock would typically only carry about four head year round in a set-stocked operation”.

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WATER MANAGEMENT

Plan as if there will be no rain, then adjust when it does arrive!

Graham acknowledges, “Water supply is the limiting factor for our grazing enterprise”.

Previously, Bokhara Plains had a very poor water cycle, with substantial runoff from the bare eroding soils. Livestock water was all supplied through open ground tanks, and the two river systems that transect Bokhara Plains, had a long history of set stocking.

Graham’s current sources are the two rivers and access to a bore. The rivers do not always flow, but when it is at high flow he stores water from the Bokhara River in a dam. Both rivers have now been fenced off to allow for strategic grazing. The old ground tanks have been blocked off or fenced in, and 35km of poly pipe has been laid to nine poly tanks and troughs. Water from the dam is pumped to stock watering points. The header tanks at the water points gravity feed to the troughs.

Graham structures his grazing plan around water availability and understands how much water is required on a daily basis per 1000 head of cattle. He works on his principle of, “Plan as if there will be no rain, then adjust when it does arrive!”

The waterpoints are the ‘hub’ for multiple paddocks in the wagon-wheel design. They are high-use areas when accessible (left), but the pasture can recover after rest (right)

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SOIL

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Improving the soil has enabled increased ground cover and nutrient cycling – visibly different to remnant claypan

The soils across Bokhara Plains, which have not yet been subject to soil testing, are varied. The country off the Bokhara and Birrie rivers comprises typical black soils, with lighter Mitchell grass (Astrebla spp.), Neverfail (Eragrostis setifolia), Queensland bluegrass (Dichanthium sericium) and bladder saltbush (Atriplex vesicaria) country interspersed with scalded claypans in between the rivers.

Claypans are a dense, compact, slowly permeable layer in the subsoil with a much higher clay content than the overlying material. The subsoil claypan layer becomes exposed when original topsoil is lost or degraded, exhibiting very different physical properties and behaviour. Claypans are usually hard when dry, and plastic and sticky when wet. They limit or slow the downward movement of water through the soil.

The techniques applied by Graham however, have enabled the bare ground to be converted to productive rangeland. The vastly increased ground cover has demonstrably increased overall soil biological activity, particularly the visible beneficial decomposing fungal activity in the soil, which regenerates healthy topsoils. Reducing paddock size and the successful grazing strategies are pointing towards potentially even higher stocking rates and therefore towards greater soil fertility as animals spread more dung and seed.

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VEGETATION MANAGEMENT

At acquisition, the Bokhara Plains was a dustbowl. Approximately 50% of the total land area was bare ground, and aerial photographs showed huge areas of claypan. However, there were reasonable patches of Mitchell grass and bladder saltbush in places. Besides providing some basic stock feed, this existing vegetation provided a seed bank.

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Vegetation diversity and coverage has significantly increased

The WEST2000 Plus Project on EBC, that predated the intervention of the CMA, was aimed at increasing ground cover. The project paid on percentage of ground cover achieved. Graham and Cathy had a personal target of 70%, although the EBC target was 40% which is recognised as a critical threshold point to stop wind and water erosion, and was measured in the most likely month for being dry – October. Graham and Cathy noticed that the areas of high-impact grazing recovered better and they could see that, over time, stocking rates could be increased. They amended their own target to “100% ground cover 100% of the time”, and although difficult to achieve, Graham believes it should be every land managers goal whatever the environment. It had become obvious to Graham and Cathy that grazing strategies had to be part of their vegetation management and enterprise-based conservation.

The planned rotational grazing practices have given young trees and shrubs respite from literally being ‘nipped in the bud’. Independent monitoring from the beginning of the EBC Project has shown a steady increase in the number of native trees, increased ground cover and the presence of perennial grasses.

They also noticed that the best gains came from improving good land and not necessarily from regenerating claypan. They therefore concentrated their efforts on the good land first.

Weeds were not previously a significant concern on Bokhara Plains, and now, besides small and decreasing outbreaks of Bathurst Burr (Xanthium spinosum), which they deal with by hand, there are no appreciable weed and pest issues on the property

DIVERSIFYING

Graham and Cathy are admirers of the Joel Salatin approach of many synergistic enterprises stemming from the one farm. Aligned with this approach they have a willingness to diversify with complementary enterprises. One such enterprise has seen the development of a tourism venture ‘Bokhara Hutz’, which they have grown over the last ten years into a reliable source of income, particularly through the four separate occasions when they have totally de-stocked the property.

This successful 30 person capacity farm stay business also provides a venue for local events, such as weddings and parties. Plans for the future include generating more farm produce, to be less reliant on off farm purchases.

Cathy notes, “Our diversification into tourism has allowed us to reach toward our goal of drought proofing our business”.

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A SHINING LIGHT, ON THE FARM…

The infrastructure design and layout, the ready availability of water to stock, the rested and fresh pastures and the careful management of all farm operations combine for exemplary Holistic Management practices. This is a far cry from when Graham and Cathy took over six dusty paddocks and a flock of struggling sheep in 1999.

Graham summarises, “This has so far been a ten year learning process, which we expect to continue for some time yet. Installing infrastructure, etc., was implemented with some financial help through the EBC project involvement, however much of our innovation has been off the back of work done by many friends, colleagues and other people I’ve met while learning and studying all over the world [Nuffield Scholarship 2008], due to their desire and preparedness to share their own experiences”.

Our potential to improve our ecological resource, particularly in the semi-arid areas, is far greater than conventional rangeland science understands or accepts

Through intensive cattle grazing using agistment and trading to give flexibility in numbers, Graham and Cathy have revegetated and rejuvenated a much degraded landscape. “We have taken Bokhara Plains from a six paddock extensive layout with poor water security, to a 100 plus paddock planned cell system with fully reticulated and controlled water system. We have also diversified into tourism / accommodation, and have hosted many farming tour groups in our facility, Bokhara Hutz.”

Graham and Cathy’s original goal was to develop their property to be able to run around twice the original estimated 56 DSE days per hectares per 100mm of rainfall. They now see that the potential is much greater, perhaps up to three to four times that DSE rate, whilst continuing to build positive environmental outcomes. These increases are possible, due to the resilience in their pastures through increased diversity of their ground cover and improvements in soil health brought about by their grazing management. Their profitability is now based on a sell/buy approach, where the ups and downs of the markets are smoothed out. And to provide further surety, a careful balance between agistment operations and a trading herd is maintained.

Graham points out that the “economics stack up” – the potential for increased production on the property is better than investing in more property.

“Often people in the area believe that expanding their land holding is the only way to survive in the light country of the region”, states Graham. “A quick cost benefit analysis suggests that this is not the case at all. Enterprises of our size can prosper. At a rate of around $12 per acre to establish water points and fencing will allow intensive grazing approaches to be established, with immediate improvement in the quality of pastures, percentage of ground cover and health of the stock. These improvements come with no additional overheads, unlike purchasing additional land at upwards of $100 an acre and the associated taxes and other costs.”

He continues, “And, it’s all about flexibility. You can’t manage without people and animals. Smaller places are the answer, not more land. We should make the most of what rain we get and develop the land we have. We always plan for no rain. If there is a rain event, then we re-plan”.

However, Graham laments, “Our potential to improve our ecological resource, particularly in the semi-arid areas is far greater than conventional rangeland science understands or accepts”. Reliance on science leading the way, with a lack of supporting policies and unreasonable bias against livestock, provides some of the greatest impediments to wider adoption of the sort of practices that are employed at Bokhara Plains. Indeed, Bokhara Plains is a shining light, in stark contrast to others seen around the landscape when driving through the west of NSW. For the Brewarrina area, a stocking rate of 4 head of cattle (24 DSE) to 60 hectares is considered suitable. That Graham can have 1100 head in that same area for two days might be considered by some to be ridiculous and not sustainable.

Graham points out that it is important to manage equity and debt levels against cash flow to ensure potential to increase carrying capacity and the possibility of increasing the margins from stock trading. In addition, in the context of all the activities, it is necessary to watch for ‘staff burn out’ and to employ additional labour at the right time.

For Graham and Cathy, reduced overheads through increased productivity and the use of contractors for specialised operations has contributed to more satisfying outcomes and better use of family time.

Graham’s practices are regenerative and enable a much greater stocking rate

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…AND IN THE COMMUNITY

Graham and Cathy note, “Since we first had a change in thinking back in 2001 we have endeavoured to be able to help others achieve the same. Our view is that we want to live in a more profitable farming environment, with more neighbours not less, and in a community that is not struggling or welfare reliant”.

Graham is an active mentor to others in developing their enterprises to more sustainable grazing and enjoys the opportunity to encourage others through both mentoring and education programs.

Many people who attend various training courses that educate people on the possibilities of changing what they do, still find it difficult to take the first step when they return to the farm. Support needs to be provided to people to help them on their way. This fact has been recognised by the Western CMA who has ‘hired’ successful grazing course graduates to mentor locals to assist them in their transition.

…we want to live in a more profitable farming environment, with more neighbours, not less, and in a community that is not struggling…

Many people who attend various training courses that educate people on the possibilities of changing what they do, still find it difficult to take the first step when they return to the farm. Support needs to be provided to people to help them on their way. This fact has been recognised by the Western CMA who has ‘hired’ successful grazing course graduates to mentor locals to assist them in their transition.

Graham is considered a role model for other farmers in the wider region wishing to consolidate their formal grazing management training, through his Western CMA sponsored mentoring of four farming business. This activity includes on-farm visits and teleconferencing to help his clients focus on outcomes, not issues.

Graham’s training was based on the RCS Grazing for Profit course and this program allows for expansion of this support through a well developed extension program.

Graham and Cathy now enjoy many social benefits from the enterprise. Bokhara Plains has hosted ‘Keep In Touch’ days for graduates of earlier grazing management courses, and field days (including hosting his mentors – Allan Savory and Terry McCosker at different times). On these days around 150 people, many of them young farmers, eager to learn and talk about a wide range of challenges both on farm and more strategically are able to share experiences.

Cathy remarks that one of the clear positive community aspects of their lives now is the opportunity to sit down at dinner most nights with a wonderful and varied group of people from all walks of life.

Graham was adjudged the NSW Young Farmer of the Year in 2005, relatively early in the transformation of Bokhara Plains, and has gone on to be recognised with Carbon Cocky and CMA awards.

Graham and Cathy have been involved in the P & F at a local school, the Rural Financial Council, and in the local Show and Rodeo committee. They also host an annual visit to Bokhara Plains by the Warringah school group as part of a sister city relationship with Brewarrina.

The Bokhara Hutz accommodation package has also delivered welcome benefits for the family. Cathy and Graham both enjoy the opportunity to interact with their visitors and interested farming groups coming to visit the property. “It provides another opportunity to show people what we have done over the years and to learn from those around the table.”


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

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