Olsen’s Hallora

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Niels and Marja Olsen with the help of their three sons Shaun, Jamie and Shane through careful management and the invention of the “SoilKee Renovator” have developed a property in Hallora, West Gippsland which produces healthy pasture year round. In 2019 the family were recognised for their exploits in sequestering soil carbon by being the first farm in Australia to be awarded carbon credits for doing so.


The Olsen family is focused on improving the health of their land to its maximum capacity, they are willing to share this journey with many land holders visiting their property each year to gain insight into how the Olsen’s have achieved spectacular soil and pasture improvements.

FARM FACTS

Olsen Family Farm, Hallora VIC

ENTERPRISE: Angus cross cattle breeding

PROPERTY SIZE: 124 ha

AVERAGE ANNUAL RAINFALL: 1000 mm

ELEVATION: 135 m

MOTIVATION FOR CHANGE

  • The over application of superphosphate fertilisers over the course of two years and the subsequent damage caused to their soil was the catalyst for Niels and Marja Olsen to reassess their farming strategy. Realising that healthy soil produces healthy food was a major factor in influencing their journey in becoming regenerate land managers.

INNOVATIONS

Regenerative landscape and livestock management regimes, including:

  • Increase paddock numbers to facilitate rotational grazing
  • Multi species pasture cropping
  • Carbon and nitrogen soil sequestration
  • Pasture growth improved to negate biannual “feed gaps”
  • Utilisation of the “SoilKee Renovator Machine”

KEY RESULTS

  • Significant improvements in soil health measures such as moisture content, biological activity and soil carbon levels. Pasture growth has increased significantly with up to 20 tonnes of dry biomass per hectare grown each year. Observations of biodiversity have increased on the farm with the number of birds, frogs and other reptiles seen greatly increasing. Landslips and washouts have stopped occurring.
Niels Olsen showcasing soil structure and root depth gained from utilising the SoilKee Renovator.
Multi species pasture cropping at the Olsen Family Farm.
Angus cross cattle enjoying healthy pasture.

Narrative

The Olsen’s started viewing and managing their property as a system and as a result the ecology of the farm has improved dramatically, so too have the social benefits as the family that works together, stays together.


Ecological

The ecology of the Olsen Family Farm speaks for itself, the soil is thriving, full of worms and root systems packed with nitrogen nodules and soil carbon levels are excellent and still rising. Above the ground a diverse range of birds and frogs are now regularly seen in the grassy paddocks.


Economic

Despite the publicity about the Olsen Family Farm being the first in Australia to acquire ACCU’s under the federal governments Emissions Reduction Fund, the fact remains an integrated approach to regenerative agriculture pays off. Increasing natural capital and the resultant ecosystem service benefits provides greater productivity and landscape resilience, the ACCU’s are the cream on top!


Social

The entire family works together on managing the property and their associated business ventures. Being able to work on the family farm into adulthood provides each of the three sons a great deal of job satisfaction. Needless to say Niels and Marja are pleased to have all three of their sons around.

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 COLLINGWOOD STORY

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Taking over the family farm can be challenging in itself, leaving a secure job in the public service, a young family and relatives watching over a farm that extends back generations, now that’s a challenge.

Through self education, independent thinking and the support of immediate family, John was able to turn Collingwood around to be the thriving black Angus cattle breeding property that it is today. A focus on soil through an integrated approach to managing physical, chemical and biological processes has seen Collingwood get the balance between soils, water, plants and animals just right.

FARM FACTS

Collingwood Farm, Coleraine VIC

ENTERPRISE: Cattle breeding

PROPERTY SIZE: 242 hectares

AVERAGE ANNUAL RAINFALL: 620 mm

ELEVATION: 90-100 m

MOTIVATION FOR CHANGE

  • Opportunity to embrace biological farming to regenerate run down enterprise with potential for improved profit and farm landscape improvement.

INNOVATIONS

  • Fencing of stock water and improved fencing along creek line
  • Stock medication (supplements added to water troughs)
  • Stock mineral supplement powders
  • Effective weed management
  • Consistently high levels of ground cover all year round
  • Improved extent of tree and shrub cover along the creek

KEY RESULTS

  • Significant reduction in input costs
  • High level of consistency of cattle breeding
  • Rotational grazing of high quality pastures
  • Cash flow all year round
  • High level of personal satisfaction in outcomes achieved

INTRODUCTION

History of the Kane family runs deep in Coleraine, Western Victoria. Since 1878 four generations have farmed this area. John and family made a tree change in 1996 to take over the farm from his uncles and thus began a journey of transformation.

ECOLOGICAL HEALTH

Over a century of conventional farming practices had caused deep erosion gullies and a hardpan 200 mm below the soil surface. Through perseverance, education and a little ingenuity the ecological assessment for this farm leaves no doubt about the improvements and ongoing resilience of Collingwood.

ECONOMIC HEALTH

Collingwood is productive and profitable, but it wasn’t always like that. Through an investment in soil health and the smart acquisition of some second hand machinery, the returns from this farm and the potential for future capital gain look promising.

HEALTH AND WELLBEING

The potential of Collingwood was evident but you had to look beyond the weeds and erosion gullies. A cursory look back then would never have foreseen what is evident today. If John had his time again, what would he change? “Nothing”


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

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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.

FARM FACTS

Rothesay, Blackville NSW

ENTERPRISE: Cattle trading

PROPERTY SIZE: 1,620 hectares

AVERAGE ANNUAL RAINFALL: 691 mm

ELEVATION: 426 m

MOTIVATION FOR CHANGE

  • Drought

INNOVATIONS

  • Regenerative agriculture
  • Maintaining a high level of ground cover
  • Optimising soil hydrology
  • Feed budgeting
  • Conservative stocking rates
  • Rotational grazing

KEY RESULTS

  • Delivering cash flow in drought

INTRODUCTION

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.

Deep cracking clay soils found on Rothesay

Paddock sub-division

Subdividing paddocks cost-effectively; one new trough can water up to four or more paddocks depending how paddocks are set up. Electric tapes are used to separate paddocks as required. Turning off water to the trough when the cattle have been moved on removes the attraction for kangaroos, and therefore helps reduce grazing pressure.

Carefully planned grazing enables paddocks adjoining creek lines to be rested long enough for tree regeneration to become established. The build-up of vegetation then retards storm flows, prevents erosion and leads to increased infiltration of run-off into the water table.

Shallow level channels carry water from the gully and allow it to disperse across the paddocks where it can infiltrate, rehydrating the soil.

Ground cover on Rothesay after two drought years. Maintaining ground cover during a drought ensures that topsoil is protected and rain that falls is able to penetrate, meaning pastures will grow back rapidly.

THE ROTHESAY STORY

While it is early in the story, indications are that Maddy Coleman is showing the way to considerably improve the resilience of her farm business.

HEALTH AND WELLBEING

Looking back, Maddy recognises that she made mistakes, but also knows they were learning experiences.


THE GLENELG STORY

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PERMANENT PASTURE IN A SEMI-ARID LAND

This is a common story in the history of Queensland farming, but it’s an inspirational story too. It’s a story of persistence, resourcefulness and resilience, self-sufficiency, acute observation of nature, the adoption of practical and cost-effective innovations and resilience to droughts and floods due to the property’s conservative grazing system.

Soils For Life has chosen Glenelg as a case study because it presents strong arguments for conservative stocking, comprehensive ground cover, soil hydrology and available water, thus preserving soil and biodiversity. The result is a profitable and productive enterprise. Our study took place when Glenelg had been in drought for 6 years.

FARM FACTS

Glenelg, Mungallala QLD

ENTERPRISE: Sheep, cattle grazing

PROPERTY SIZE: 4,000 hectares

AVERAGE ANNUAL RAINFALL: 504 mm

ELEVATION: 432 m

MOTIVATION FOR CHANGE

  • Need to reduce grazing pressure and improve pasture

INNOVATIONS

  • Introduction of Buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris)
  • An exclusion fence
  • Commitment to permanent pasture cover

KEY RESULTS

  • Management of kangaroos and wild dogs
  • Dramatically improved and sustainable pasture
  • Restored soil
  • No supplementary feeding for stock during drought
  • Reduction in desertification

INTRODUCTION

This is hard country – prone to desertification – but the Chambers family saw that it could be profitable with some major changes, including the introduction of Buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris), an exclusion fence and a commitment to permanent pasture cover.

Glenelg is near Mungallala, in a semi-arid part of Australia with pastoral activities being the dominant land use. Most rain falls in the summer months. The main pre-1750 (pre-European) vegetation types were Poplar Box, False Sandalwood, Wilga and various acacias, notably Mulga, Bendee and Bowyakka. The property carries sheep and cattle, with kangaroos contributing to total grazing pressure.

In line with State Government extension advice at the time, large areas of Glenelg were cleared by pulling a chain between two bulldozers from 1978 to 1981, and again in 1989, to control regrowth and promote pasture growth. These practices helped make the property a viable grazing operation and can be compared with many other properties in similar landscapes in Queensland and New South Wales where “woody weeds” rendered much of the landscape only suitable for goats.

During the 1980s, poisoning by Pimelea (probably P. trichostachya – Flaxweed, Spiked Riceflower) led to the loss of cattle. The maintenance of good ground cover was found to control the problem. In the late 1980s, Buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris) became well established over much of the property. This is in line with existing pastoral practice across large areas of northern and arid Australia.

Between 2014 and 2017, the Chambers constructed an exclusion/predator proof fence around the property. Kangaroos were herded off the property before sealing the fence and the remaining population was controlled and maintained at a sustainable level. This has resulted in a dramatic reduction in total grazing pressure and improved maintenance of pasture cover. The parts of the fence across Mungallala Creek are hinged, such that the fence lies flat in floods and can be easily restored to vertical afterwards.

This is a story of persistence and resourcefulness of the Chambers family (Harry and later Graham and Jan) over five decades on Glenelg station, Mungallala. The property exhibits remarkable resilience to the current drought – even posting a profit in adverse circumstances.

THE GLENELG STORY

In line with State Government extension advice at the time, large areas of Glenelg were cleared by pulling a chain between two bulldozers from 1978 to 1981, and again in 1989, to control regrowth and promote pasture growth.

ECOLOGICAL HEALTH

This ecological assessment commences in 1970, when Harry Chambers purchased the first parcel of Glenelg.

ECONOMIC HEALTH

The Chambers’ deliberate decision to maintain a consistent level of productivity through conservative stocking rates has translated into improved profitability despite poor seasonal conditions.

HEALTH AND WELLBEING

For Jan and Graham Chambers, 2019 is looking good, with the expectation of a bumper profit in this tax year.  


THE ILLAWONG STORY

TURNING “DISASTER” INTO DELIGHT AT ILLAWONG

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. There’s a trend to smaller holdings, many operated by people with little farming background.

But 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 here.

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.

INTRODUCTION

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. 1996 was around the beginning of the ‘millennium drought’, which saw 10 years of severely below average rainfall across southern Australia.

When the drought set in, 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.

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.

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.

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 ILLAWONG STORY

The practices adopted by Bryan at Illawong are not ground breaking or revolutionary. It is simply common sense land management based on self-evident principles.

ECOLOGICAL HEALTH

In 1995, Bryan developed a farm plan for Illawong by matching the establishment and development of pasture types to land capability classes.

ECONOMIC HEALTH

Bryan has achieved the same level of productivity and efficiency on Illawong as other farming enterprises, with significantly larger footprints.

HEALTH AND WELLBEING

Bryan has transformed Illawong with great satisfaction and, the result he says is, “the pinnacle of total improvement of landscape, and restoration to its original state”. 


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.