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.

Olsen’s Hallora

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.

Angus cross cattle enjoying healthy pasture.

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.

The Hallora Story

Niels and Marja Olsen with the help of their three sons Shane, Jamie and Shaun have been managing and operating the family farm in Hallora, Gippsland, Victoria since 1985. Previously, the property was used for dairy cattle with Niels making the switch to a herd of breeder cattle in 2008. Over the years Niels has worked a number of off-farm jobs, supplementing farm income. In 2012 Niels with the help of his family designed and patented a machine to improve soil health on his farm, the machine was named the SoilKee Renovator.

Niels Olsen showcasing soil structure and root depth gained from utilising the SoilKee Renovator.
Multi species pasture cropping at the Olsen Family Farm.

Background

Niels grew up on a farm not far from his current property; for many years he lived the life of a typical dairy farmer, milking twice daily 365 days a year. Niels farmed the way he had learnt in his youth, the traditional West Gippsland way: growing pastures in the good seasons of the year to harvest and store later to be fed out during the other seasons. This method of farming was labour and time intensive.

In the 1990’s Niels started and managed an earth moving business whilst keeping the farm running. The earth moving business proved to be quite successful and Niels made the decision to invest some of the profits back into the farm in the form of superphosphate fertiliser. In 1999 upon consultation from a local agronomist Niels purchased and applied a large quantity of super on his farm. The results were fantastic; pastures looked green and grew significantly more than they had the previous year. Niels decided to increase the dosage of super the following year expecting to achieve better pasture growth results. However, the complete opposite occurred; after applying the super the Olsen’s paddocks turned brown and stopped growing whilst his neighbour’s paddocks were green with fresh pasture growth.

This was the catalyst for the Olsen’s to recognise these practices were harming the landscape and seemed unsustainable in the long term. Marja and Niels were horrified at the damage they had inflicted upon their soil. Their response was to seek out guidance and training, they started attending workshops and field days focused on improving soil health. Armed with the knowledge they had gained from the numerous workshops and field days they set about regenerating soil health on their farm.

The Landscape

The property is comprised of 124 hectares split into 28 paddocks, the water supply consisting of dams and an ephemeral creek running through the property. The property sits at an elevation of 135m above sea level with an average annual rainfall of 1000 mm. Prior to land clearing in the late 19th century for agricultural purposes the landscape would have consisted of what is now classified as a damp/ wet sclerophyll forest. Numerous species of eucalyptus and acacia trees would have been present in the landscape, only Messmate (Eucalyptus obliqua) is present today.

The property consists of low slopes and rolling hills with an acidic red ferrosol soil. The pasture species at the time of purchase were mostly rye grasses and clovers with no native grass species present. Signs of ecological health in the soil such as worms were rarely observed prior to 2002. The pH of the soil ranged from 3.7-4.5 across the farm. Prior to the use of the “SoilKee Renovator” landslips and washouts regularly occurred across the property. Since the implementation of the “SoilKee Renovator”, no landslips or washouts have occurred on the property. The soil structure on the farm was improved by sowing deep rooted pasture species such as legumes, improving the structure of the soil which greatly reduced the risk of landslips and washouts.

Indicators of ecological health such as reptiles and frogs were not regularly observed on the farm prior to adoption of some regenerative management techniques, especially soil health, high soil carbon content, cover and hydration. In recent years frog numbers have increased significantly and they are now observed regularly. The dominant snake species on the property used to be the Eastern Brown (Pseudonaja textilis), since the increase in frog numbers Eastern Brown snakes are rarely sighted on the property instead Tiger snakes (Notechis scutatus) have become common. Frogs are the preferred food of Tiger snakes. The increase in frog numbers on the property directly coincided with the ceasing of chemical inputs.

Birds such as Ibis’s were commonly observed in the paddocks eating slugs and cockchafers, since adopting regenerative management techniques Ibis’s are rarely if ever seen on the farm. During a short walk on the property in November 2019 a Soils For Life ecologist observed 22 different species of birds. These species included birds from most of the trophic levels including raptors suggesting that the health of the landscape is in excellent condition.

Production

From 1985 till 2008 Niels operated the property as a dairy farm with a herd size of around 150, in 2008 Olsens stopped dairying and started a breeder operation and selling steers for slaughter. Initially they kept the same herd of dairy cattle and used them as a breeder herd due to the cost of replacing their herd entirely. In 2018 they replaced the herd of dairy cattle with a herd of angus crosses.  Niels and Marja have utilised rotational grazing on the property from 2003 onwards, prior to 2015 the total yearly grazing time per paddock was eight weeks. This has increased the grazing time since 2015 to 12 weeks of the year due to increases in pasture production gained from sowing multi-species utilising the SoilKee Renovator. Niels has altered his production system from an animal-first perspective to soil first. Olsen’s focus is on improving the health of their soil through methods such as multi species cropping to encourage root growth and nitrogen and carbon intake from the air. Olsens consider fungal activity to be vitally important in improving soil health. They ensure that the soil is never deep ripped which can damage and stop fungal activity from occurring.

Prior to 2012 Niels had a concept in his mind which he thought could be the ideal method of farming for his property. However, he did not have the tools to trial the concept. His idea was that by utilising a machine which lightly disturbed the soil and planted crops concurrently, and twice a year, he could grow enough pasture biomass to feed his cattle year-round without having to cut and store fodder to be fed in the feed gaps of each season. In 2012 this idea came to fruition, Niels had built and designed a machine which he named the “SoilKee Renovator”. The machine consisted of angular blades which “broke” the earth rather than “cutting” it at minimal depth. The machine is utilised after grazing with 15-20% of biomass left from the grazing mulched straight into the soil speeding up the process. Essentially Niels had designed a machine which converted his pasture biomass directly into mulch after grazing. This completely reduced the need for any fertiliser application on the property. 

Since 2012 Niels has not had to supplementary feed his livestock. The method of multi species pasture and cropping combined with the accelerated mulching enabled by the SoilKee Renovator, has significantly improved the health of the soil and the amount of pasture biomass produced each year. Niels has been able to grow 20 tonnes of dry biomass per hectare per year on some of his best paddocks, the less fertile areas of the property achieve 15 tonnes per hectare per year. The pasture growing season is now 9 months of the year. Undesirable pasture species such as kikuyu grass (Pennisetum clandestinum) which used to be present across the property has been out-competed by desirable species planted sowed with the SoilKee machine.  

The Family

The Olsen Farm is an unusual farm in the sense that all three of Niels and Marja’s adult sons still work on the farm and in the family business. A lot of the production of the SoilKee machine is done on farm by the eldest son Shane, who is interested in manufacturing and design improvement. The middle son Jamie manages the farm with his father Niels and does contracting work driving the SoilKee Renovator on other properties. The youngest son Shaun helps in all aspects of the farm and family business. Marja manages the administration side of the farm and the business whilst Niels oversees operations. The sons are happy that they get to keep working on the family farm, Niels and Marja are pleased that their sons continue to play an active role in their lives.

Soil Health and Soil Carbon Sequestration

Commencing in 2016 detailed soil tests were undertaken on Hallora to meet the reporting requirements of the Australian Government’s Emissions Reduction Fund carbon abatement reporting requirements. Results for the 2017 reporting period showed Hallora measured 12.2 t/CO2e/ha and in 2018 this had increased to 13.7 tCO2e/ha. In early 2019 the Soilkee Farm became the first farm in the world (as far as we can ascertain) to be awarded carbon credits for sequestering carbon with their soil.

Increased carbon in the soil has correlated with increases in organic matter, water infiltration and holding capacity. Moisture and organic material were previously measured to reach a depth of 50cm in the soil, currently on some parts of the farm that depth has increased to 650cm. The pH of the soil has also improved from 3.7-4.5 prior to 2003 to currently measure at 5.5-7.9.

Nitrogen nodules on the roots of peas planted in the pasture are numerous and large in size and commonly observed. Worm castings are evident across the property and the soil structure has altered to feel spongey under foot. During autumn the fruit of fungi in the form of mushrooms and toadstools are visible across the paddocks indicating a healthy fungal biota existing beneath the soil.

Conclusion

Over 34 years of management the Olsens have continued learning about their landscape and the importance of the soil underneath it. Niels and family have altered their management practices to focus on building soil health and resilience across the farm to ensure long term viability. The most significant innovation that Niels has implemented on the farm is the use of the SoilKee Renovator, which has improved the health of their soil in conjunction with growing significantly more pasture biomass across the property. Other innovations include monitoring soil, introducing multi-species pasture and switching from dairy to beef.

The improvements the Olsen family have made to the property are an outstanding example of land holders implementing and practicing innovative regenerative management techniques particularly focused on nurturing soil health. The Olsen’s have achieved:

  • Soil microbiology enhancements
  • Soil hydration improvements
  • Improvements in carrying capacity of land
  • No low season feed inputs
  • Air penetration of soils
  • Biodiversity
  • Family wellbeing
  • Carbon sequestration in the soils
  • Australian Carbon Credit Units which can be traded.

Narrative summary

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 summary

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 summary

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 summary

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.

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 COLLINGWOOD STORY

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!

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.

John Kane

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

John Kane, his wife Jenny and their three children, Andrew, Christopher and Melissa took up an offer from two elderly uncles to manage their farming enterprise, Collingwood, near Coleraine in western Victoria in 1996. The family moved onto the property, but John also undertook work from the local council while he found his feet in managing the farm.

The Landscape

The property consisted of two main blocks comprising a complex set of titles left over from the World War 1 Soldier Settlement Scheme. One block, Evestons, is 102Ha and the other, Collingwood, is 140 Ha. There were thirteen paddocks that were set stocked with sheep and cattle. Some fences were run down and dams and watering points did not match the paddock subdivisions, a must if rotational grazing was to be introduced.

There were three paddocks totalling 36 ha under hay when John took over the property. He increased that to four paddocks totalling 48 ha as part of his feeding out strategy.

Kanes Creek runs through the property and poor land management in the 1930-40s led to the formation of a 12 metre deep erosion gully. In the 1960’s, as part of Soil Conservation Service work, the creek was fenced-off and partially revegetated. Its intermittent flow carried water and soil nutrients off the property to the Glenelg River and out to sea. The creek bed was a haven for rabbits and foxes and home to a considerable number of snakes which prey on the proliferation of frogs which share the habitat.

In 1996, the enterprise carried 12 DSE set stocked on pastures heavily infested with Cape Weed and lesser infestations of Onion Weed, Rush, Wild Geranium and Dandelion. About one third of the stock was sheep and two thirds cattle. Poor quality grazing combined with poor cattle genetics and underweight calves being dropped at inopportune times of the year.

Planning and Implementing Change

Initially, John opted to improve the cattle genetics. He soon realised that he had the wrong strategy. Even with top quality bulls, poor pasture was leading to poor returns from cows grazing sub-standard pastures and dropping underweight calves.  Above and beyond soil test results, poor quality pasture indicated poor nutrient density and nutrient deficient soils. John decided to improve the soil as a first priority.

In 2000, at some risk to the economic viability of the enterprise, John decided to streamline his workload by selling off his sheep and concentrating on breeding Black Angus cattle. The strategy has paid off, but he now has two fully function shearing sheds to maintain in case of a future decision to bring back sheep.

Today John’s annual production cycle is geared to producing consistent numbers of high grade weaner steers (calves) that are sold locally. John’s cattle are finished on farms in NSW and Queensland.

Soils and Soil Fertility

John first conducted his soil tests in 1996 to establish a baseline. Initial tests and associated observation and research highlighted an average pH of 4, an imbalance of the Calcium (Ca) and Magnesium (Mg) ratio, soil compaction, indications of over-use of superphosphate, poor soil hydrology and considerable bare ground after broad leafed annuals died off. Since that time subsequent soil tests have been used to inform progress and to adjust management regimes to improve soil condition. John dispensed with the services of the agronomist and took over the fertiliser program himself. He opted for a program of mineral fertilisers and foliates. He introduced Bubas bison dung beetles, in addition to extant native varieties for greater aeration, water penetration and nutrient sequestration of the soils.

In the early years John used a soil aerator to break through the hard pan that had established historically through ploughing with a mouldboard plough. Soil compaction is a thing of the past.

The fertiliser program includes regular applications of lime and recent soil testing indicates an average pH of 6. Organic matter content has increased significantly. Water infiltration has increased considerably due to physical soil aeration, dung beetle activity and rotationally resting paddocks that are dominated by deep rooted perennials such as cocksfoot and phalaris. Periodically, John renovates the pasture to increase diversity of species by direct drilling of clovers and ryegrass.

Vegetation and Ground Cover

When John took over management of the farm in 1996, the pastures were run down, they were weed infested and fertilised with superphosphate.

John’s new fertiliser program has dramatically changed that situation. John describes himself as a biological farmer with a strong focus on soil function (refer to the annual production cycle below). As a result, his pastures have high nutrient mixed species of high density pastures with very little weed burden.

Most paddocks comprise improved pasture including phalaris, clover and rye. One paddock is set aside and managed as native pasture including Kangaroo Grass, Wallaby Grass and Weeping Grass.

John’s uncles had begun a program of tree planting (Red Gum and Blackwood) and had, with the assistance of the Soil Conservation Service, planted some 7,000 trees. John and Jenny continued this program and planted a further 10,000 trees and shrubs of a variety of species.

Weed Management

In the early years, annual weeds and seasonal bare ground favoured outbreaks of the red legged earth mite and the Lucerne Flea. While weeds are much less of a problem today, John addresses the annual weeds with a targeted program of spraying with a broad leaf herbicide mixed with fulvic acid. John advises that “It is important to spray in Autumn when plants are small – the clover at two leaf stage – to gain maximum effect using low spraying rates”.   

The hay paddocks are sprayed annually with foliar sprays, trace elements, biologic agents and kelp. This spraying program encourages the growth of the pasture grasses and tends to effectively control the annual weeds through competition.

Water

When John first came to the property, the watering infrastructure consisted only of a number of dams.  Kane Creek was fenced off from grazing and was not used as a source of reticulated water.  Only half the paddocks had water and the fenced dams did not coincide with the number of paddocks which made John’s intention of introducing rotational grazing somewhat problematic.

John has established a system of troughs in each paddock. Potable water is pumped from the dams by solar power to storage tanks on the high ground, holding 80,000 litres and 120,000 litres, respectively. This allows all troughs to be gravity fed.  John achieved this through the purchase of a “Ditch Witch” machine to trench piped water 650 mm under the ground.

Water Medication

John’s water infrastructure hosts his program of water medication.  Trace elements and food supplements are fed into the drinking water by vacuum pumps that are worked by water pressure. The pumps require a 2 metre head of water to operate and on average they are situated some 200m below the water storage tanks.  The medication is fed into the stock watering system 3 to 4 times a year. When the water medication is operating, this program ensures that each animal gets the required amount of trace elements and food supplements.

Production

John has a highly disciplined approach to farm management with his task organisation and time management of a very high order. This approach is essential as Collingwood is a one-person operation. An example of the Collingwood production management program is at Annex A to this report.

Cattle Production: The days of a stocking rate of 12 DSE faded into memory. In the really good seasons of 2000 to 2010, the stocking rate peaked at 18 DSE. John has reduced that to a modest 15DSE as a conservative hedge in case of a down turn in stock prices or seasonal conditions.

High Impact Hay Production: There were three paddocks totalling 36ha under hay when John came to the property. He has increased that by four more paddocks totalling 48ha as part of his feeding out strategy. John pays great attention to the fertility of the soil in the hay paddocks and to the nutrient density of the phalaris, clover and rye that comprises the makeup of the hay cut in October each year.  The resulting hay production of some 600 large round bales is fundamental to John’s animal nutrition and soil biology strategy. All of the hay produced on the property is retained on the property as part of this strategy.

John feeds out daily from mid-February to the end of July, covering the crucial calving period from March to April. The dung reflects the soil fertility of the hay paddocks and the nutrient density of the hay, and is transferred into the grazing paddock soil by the dung beetles, notably the imported Bubas Bison.  This is a flying variety that scents andflies to new dung pats, therefore expediting the burial of dung across the paddocks. This cycle is critical to John’s biological farming.

Pest Management

 Over the years, the burgeoning rabbit problem has been tackled by local landholders using at different times, Sodium fluoroacetate (“1080”) impregnated carrots, Myxomatosis and Calici Virus. These operations have reduced the rabbits to negligible numbers and the foxes that also inhabit the creek bed keep them that way. There are no other pests affecting the management of the property.

Outcomes and End State

John Kane has worked both hard and smart for 22 years and Jenny was part of that effort for 18 of those years. John started with little knowledge and little standing as a farmer in the eyes, not only of his uncles, but also many of his peers. He sought knowledge through training courses, field days and practiced what he learned innovating on the farm.

John can now look across pastures and vegetation that represent his goal of 100% ground cover 100% of the time. He can see healthy, unstressed cattle in good condition grazing on pastures of high nutrient density. This ideal situation has eventuated from his initial adoption of a fertility-first strategy for his soils all those years ago.

Ecological summary

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 summary

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”

Do you want to know more about the regenerative agriculture practices of Australian farmers? View our case studies sorted by state or sector.

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 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

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”