THE BROWNLOW HILL STORY

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HISTORY REMADE ON BROWNLOW HILL ESTATE

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

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

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

FARM FACTS

Camden, NSW

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

PROPERTY SIZE: 1,215 hectares

AVERAGE ANNUAL RAINFALL: 715 mm

ELEVATION: 87 m

MOTIVATION FOR CHANGE

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

INNOVATIONS

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

KEY RESULTS

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

INTRODUCTION

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

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

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

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

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

Edgar adopted Natural Sequence Farming methods and started spreading a mixture of horse manure, sawdust, straw and urine on his paddocks. This was provided by a recycling business for free.

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

Edgar’s changed management practices have meant that he no longer uses chemicals. He rotates his crops and renovates his pastures as needed and his cattle don’t require drenching or inoculations. His heifers and cows are naturally mated and his crops are resistant to mites, aphids and other pests. There is no salinity evident in either the river water or the soil, and his cows don’t bloat, even when consuming wet lucerne, clover or summer forage. With these regenerative practices, Edgar is able to sustainably farm Brownlow Hill and continue his family tradition.

THE BROWNLOW HILL STORY

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

Watercolour by Conrad Martens, 1836 National Library of Australia

ECOLOGICAL HEALTH

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

ECONOMIC HEALTH

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

PRODUCTIVITY

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

HEALTH AND WELLBEING

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


THE FFL WINLATON STORY

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THE FFL WINLATON STORY

“We have a genuine drive to protect and restore Australian landscapes by marrying production, ecological and social outputs.”

FFL (Future Farming Landscapes) at Winlaton is an investment model – the brainchild of Kilter Rural founders. It involved turning agriculture into a mainstream investment for institutions and professional investors. The company, Kilter Rural, is succeeding where many have failed.

FARM FACTS

Winlaton, Victoria

ENTERPRISE: Merino ewes; ecological estate; irrigated cotton; tomatoes; lucerne; lamb; Queen Garnet plumb;

PROPERTY SIZE: 8,900 hectares

AVERAGE ANNUAL RAINFALL: 310 mm

ELEVATION: 70 m

MOTIVATION FOR CHANGE

  • Recognition of the intrinsic agricultural potential of the floodplain soils and under capitalised farms, plus valuable water entitlements

INNOVATIONS

  • Ecological estate’ has been progressively fenced, protected and restored;
  • Rotational grazing on the native forage for a flock of 3,000 merino ewes;
  • Heavy infusion with composts and organic matter

KEY RESULTS

  • Returns in excess of 8% on capital invested per year, through blending three income sources – agricultural produce, interacting with the water market and through available eco-market

INTRODUCTION

In the early 2000s, Kilter Rural had convinced VicSuper to commit more than $200 million into a “greenfields” farm investment. From 2007 onwards it selected 35 farms and had completed the bulk of these acquisitions by 2012. The vendors were tired of decades of dwindling production, falling milk prices and the Millennium Drought.

The Kilter Rural founders were trained in natural resource management (NRM) with a passion for the environment. Lake Boga is located near five RAMSAR Wetlands – the Barmah Forest, the Kerang Wetlands, the Gunbower Forest, the Hattah-Kulkyne Lakes and, just across the border, the NSW Central Murray State Forests. In essence it is an ecological hotspot of international significance, making it ideal as a focus for environmental regeneration.

Decades of leaky flood irrigation had adversely affected the landscape’s ecological function. There was a need to make the best land productive, while, at the same time, attending to soil and biodiversity imperatives to ensure a sustained commercial enterprise.

The least promising land – with poor, long-depleted soils – was to become habitat for vulnerable wildlife with the regrowth of chenopod (saltbush and bluebush) and woodland communities.

This ‘ecological estate’ has been progressively fenced, protected and restored, and there are around 4000 hectares of native vegetation

The most arable land has been heavily infused with composts and organic matter. Sub-surface watering, centre pivots and levelled paddocks for gravity irrigation have been installed on the most productive areas – currently 3,150 hectares. Another 1,000 hectares are being readied for future irrigation.

THE FFL WINLATON STORY

“Nothing we do in that landscape, we do for free; key soil assets have to make money or contribute to creating long-term value,” CEO Cullen Gunn told the SFL team. He believes there is a great deal of irrigation land in the Murray-Darling Basin which is underutilised or undercapitalised, and could be dealt with in a much more sustainable way. “We are about delivering profit, with impact, that’s what we have been doing for 10 years”. Cullen adds “We have a genuine drive to protect and restore Australian landscapes by marrying production, ecological and social outputs.”

ECOLOGICAL HEALTH

The FFL Winlaton property development model was based on renewal of an area of agricultural and social decline by investing expertise, time and capital to restore the land’s agricultural productivity, in part by activating local social capital. While agricultural productivity was a key focus, there was a realisation that this could only be sustainable if supported by improvements in the ecological health of the degraded land holdings.

ECONOMIC HEALTH & PRODUCTIVITY

Kilter Rural’s returns in excess of 8% on capital invested a year is achieved by returns generated from the blending of multiple business units – agricultural produce, irrigation water services and environmental markets (to the extent that they are available), and the operational returns generated as capital appreciation of the land.

HEALTH AND WELLBEING

Kilter Rural has an inclusive leadership and management style, which has led to a positive team based culture. 


THE JILLAMATONG STORY

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

FARM FACTS

Southern Tablelands (near Braidwood NSW)

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

PROPERTY SIZE: 457 hectares

AVERAGE ANNUAL RAINFALL: 655 mm

ELEVATION: 650-750 m

MOTIVATION FOR CHANGE

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

INNOVATIONS

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

KEY RESULTS

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

INTRODUCTION

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

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

ECOLOGICAL HEALTH

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

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

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

ECONOMIC HEALTH

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

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

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

PRODUCTIVITY HEALTH

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

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

HEALTH AND WELLBEING

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

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

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

DRONE FOOTAGE OF JILLAMATONG