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The Scotts at Glen Elgin

Using evidence to grow a sustainable business in the Lower Slopes region | Published  January 2024

‘I had this discussion with a friend of mine where we decided to name our most memorable four or five farming years … the years we came up with were ones when extreme hardship was experienced. We agreed that it’s such times when you are shaken out of your comfort zone and forced to make big changes to your operation. You put down a reticulated water system, you buy a feed cart, you do something … they’re the ones that really stick in your psyche.’ – Steven Scott

Steven and Cindy Scott have a clear mission: ‘to gather and collect evidence from trusted sources to grow a sustainable business.’ They manage a number of properties in the Lower Slopes region of the Riverina, and the majority of their income is from cattle, particularly the sale of seedstock breeding cattle. Their home property is Glen Elgin with others close by at Henty and Munyabla. 

Steven’s family has been farming in the region since the 1870s and Steven has been observing how things run on the farm since primary school. Growing up on the Henty property, he began working with his parents in 1987 after completing a degree from Charles Sturt University and took on management of the property and business in 2000. Cindy has a background in marketing and joined Steven to live on the farm, providing business support. They have raised three children together. 

Cindy and Steven are committed to well-informed changes and to assessing their impact across their farm. In recent years they have been able to put money they’ve made out of seedstock back into the landscape in the form of soil improvements and regenerative projects. They are keen Landcare participants and have been working toward 10% revegetation of the landscape for several years1Our partners at Sustainable Farms ANU have produced a short video detailing the benefits of revegetating landscapes at Glen Elgin: 

There have been some big shifts in attitudes at Glen Elgin over the decades. Steven’s grandfather would often tell him about the trees he’d cleared ‘in a rather bragging manner,’ as he believed the number of trees removed was directly proportional to the amount of extra grass he could grow. If he was alive today, Steven is sure his grandfather would struggle to relate to how this generation of Scotts are revegetating by planting thousands of trees, habitat corridors and shelterbelts. 

Image 1. Cindy and Steven Scott together at Glen Elgin. Source: Grow Love Project.

Farm Facts

Wiradjuri Country | Henty, Glen Elgin and Munyabla, Riverina, NSW

Warm summer, cold winter

Average Annual Rainfall
550 mm (recent, 1993-2022)

Agro-ecological Region
Temperate cool-season wet

Property Size
2,400 ha

259 m

Social Structure
Family owned and operated

Enterprise Type
Seedstock, cattle breeding, commercial angus beef production, and wheat and canola cropping

Undulating rises and colluvium (moved under gravity and deposited at the base of hillslopes). Lower slopes have formed on granite-derived colluvium and alluvium (stream deposits). The landscape has been extensively cleared.

Moderately well-drained, texture-contrast soils of varying depths, which may be neutral (Chromosols), acidic (Kurosols), or sodic (Sodosols). Very deep, well-drained earthy sands (likely Rudosols or Tenosols) on the alluvial fans.

*Learn more about soil classifications at

Landscape and Soils

Cindy and Steven Scott’s property, Glen Elgin, lies approximately 15 kms west of Henty in the Lower Slopes region of the Riverina, south-west NSW. The local landscape is mostly undulating rises with the occasional broad ridge and steeper hill. The often long lower slopes are associated with drainage lines and alluvial fans. 

The local soils reflect periods of erosion (soil loss) and deposition (eroded soil that is transported and deposited elsewhere), with soil depth varying from shallow on the ridges and crests, to deep on the lower slopes. The upper slopes are mostly texture-contrast soils (sandy or loamy topsoil overlying clays), which may be acidic or sodic (dispersive). Deep (150-500 cm) alluvial and colluvial soils feature lower in the landscape, where the Scotts have also identified black clay soils.

Vegetation in the region was once grassy woodland or tall woodland and is described as having been extensively or totally cleared. Areas of native grassland remain, with remnant pockets of shrubby woodland including white box, white cypress pine and grey box. 

Erosion is a major soil limitation in the region, with topsoil losses due to sheet erosion on the upper and midslopes, especially in intensively cultivated areas. Lower in the landscape, moderate to severe gully erosion of the sodic soils may be a feature in the major drainage lines. The historic clearing of vegetation has contributed to localised acidity and salinity.

Image 2. Glen Elgin, in the Lower Slopes region of the Riverina. Source: Grow Love Project.

More about the Scotts

A snapshot of production and finance at Glen Elgin

The Scotts’ farming business Scotts Angus specialises in seedstock and commercial Angus beef production with 200 bulls and 150 breeding heifers offered for sale annually, as well as a cropping program consisting of 800 hectares of wheat and canola. They sometimes feel ‘like the odd ones out in the region’ because their business focus is cattle, while most of their neighbours are dryland cropping or producing fat lambs.

Steven and Cindy take an evidence-based approach to growing their business, exploring, and testing new ideas all the time. They have benchmarked with a farming consultant for the last 20 years, who has helped them to track and improve financial and production outcomes. Cindy comes from a corporate background and her knowledge has been useful in growing the seedstock business and bringing a business-minded, analytical approach to their operations. They regularly put themselves in the position of an investor and ask, ‘would we invest in this company?’

Now their children are mostly grown up, Steven and Cindy have more time on their hands to explore and implement new practices. Their aim with any new management decision is to integrate the ‘best’ possible practice based on the available science. They use objective metrics to evaluate the success of operations, including return on assets, stocking rates, water use efficiency and improvements to the soil. The Scotts are ‘fairly happy’ with where they are financially and while they carry some debt, they have increased their asset base, and have a comfortable work-life balance, which means debt is not a major stressor in their lives.

Image 3. Livestock at Glen Elgin. Source: Grow Love Project.

Improving soil and landscape health at Glen Elgin

Over the decades, the landscape has been heavily cleared (98%), to the extent that Cindy described the farm as a ‘moonscape’ when she first came to the property. Many of the paddocks only have one or two old paddock trees and several of these have been lost in recent years. Steven describes their landscape and soils as:

‘Gently undulating, ranging from a little bit of gravelly, friable red soil on ridges through to some, puggy, sodic, grey clays on the lower part, and incorporating some, fertile black clays in middle parts.’ – Steven Scott

The majority of the farm is ‘sown down to deep rooted perennial temperate and sub-tropical pastures’ and Steven believes that the ‘structure and stability of most of the soils is fairly sound.’ The Scotts have been involved in various initiatives to test, monitor and ‘bring life back into the soil,’ including collaborating with the Department of Primary Industries to regularly measure soil fertility and acidity, and more recently with the Riverina Local Land Service (LLS) on the Farming Smarter soil project. This involved ‘precision agriculture technologies’ including electromagnetic surveying (EM38 is an induction method based on sensing soil electrical conductivity).

Efforts they’ve made to improve the fertility of the soil have involved ‘putting out a lot of lime and phosphorus’. They have experimented with different applications of lime, shifting from the standard rate of 2.5 t/ha to 4-6 t/ha incorporated to 10 cm. The Scotts have also added numerous species of dung beetles with the aim to get an ‘annual blanket’ of different species that are active throughout the year to help stimulate microbiology and circulate nutrients. Soil tests show that soil fertility has increased in areas where phosphorus and lime have been applied. They have also tested carbon levels in the soil, and based on their recent results, Steven sees this as a ‘slow game’ but something they will enthusiastically continue to work on.

Image 4. Steven monitors the soils at Glen Elgin. Source: Grow Love Project.
Image 5. Steven monitors the soils at Glen Elgin. Source: Grow Love Project.

Hardships and drought resilience

Like other farmers in the Riverina, droughts have been tough for the Scotts. For them, resilience in dry times is about ‘staying on their toes.’ They constantly assess feed costs, labour units and available options as conditions change. One of their main strategies with their cattle operations is to manage stocking rates. During the Millennium drought they ‘moved a lot of cattle fairly quickly.’ They are always flexible with their cropping program, and have often sacrificed crops in response to conditions, for example they baled canola crops several times in recent drought because there was no money to be made taking it through to grain.

While the experiences during droughts are tough, Steven also sees them as transformative. He believes they lead to better operations in the longer term because farmers are forced to act and adopt new approaches in order to survive:

 ‘I had this discussion with a friend of mine where we decided to name our most memorable four or five farming years … the years we came up with were ones when extreme hardship was experienced. We agreed that it’s such times when you are shaken out of your comfort zone and forced to make big changes to your operation. You put down a reticulated water system, you buy a feed cart, you do something … they’re the ones that really stick in your psyche.’ – Steven Scott

Dealing with drought while raising small children has been one of the most challenging experiences for the Scotts. The combination of ‘working much longer hours to survive’ with the demands of caring for very young children made them focus on maintaining outside interests to balance the financial and mental strain.

Observing the benefits of shelterbelts at Glen Elgin

Through the Riverina Drought Resilient Soils and Landscapes fifteen producers are being supported to select and implement a new practice – enhanced farm dams, native shelterbelts, or stock management areas – to improve landscape-level drought resilience and to set up long-term soil health monitoring. The Scotts have chosen to plant more native shelterbelts – woody vegetation with a mix of trees and shrubs – across the farm. These are being carefully integrated between paddocks to offer a range of benefits that contribute to farm productivity and the conservation of natural assets.

In the 1980s and 1990s shelterbelts were introduced back into farming land primarily to control problems with secondary salinity. These days, the integration of shelter and shade into farming systems is often a strong motivation, as well as improving the aesthetics of a farm and providing habitat for native wildlife. Other functional aspects include use as a tool for livestock protection, erosion mitigation, and wind-speed reduction across pastures and crops.

Image 6. Existing shelterbelts on the Scotts’ property. Source: Grow Love Project.

Participating in the Riverina Project is a natural extension of revegetation work the Scotts have already undertaken with the aim to diversify species and revegetate 10% of the farm. In recent years, the Scotts have been celebrating the return of native birds and animals and they view them as central to the farm ecosystem. The sounds and regular sightings of small woodland birds such as Superb Fairy Wrens, Songlarks and Grey-crowned Babblers are a welcome indication for the Scotts of an improving ecosystem.

‘I saw my first wombat on Glen Elgin two weeks ago. A wombat on the farm?! Yeah. Got a hell of a kick out of it.’ – Steven Scott

Another reason the Scotts decided to join the Riverina Project is the opportunity it provides to meet people who are innovative and open minded. As Steven says, ‘I enjoy sitting in meetings with those people and picking up ideas and feeling motivated listening to others who share our objectives and passions.’ They were also recently involved in a Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) peer-to-peer program, and Cindy is currently collaborating on a study with Melbourne University exploring the co-benefits of trees and shelterbelts on farms. Steven and Cindy are always looking for ways to improve the farm and are thoroughly enjoying both the journey and the results.

More to come 

Check back in early 2024 for more of the Scotts story as they share with us how they implemented their shelterbelts and how they are going in monitoring their soils. 

To read more about shelterbelts explore our project partner’s resources Riverina LLS free training and Sustainable Farms, ANU

This case study is part of the Riverina Drought Resilient Soils and Landscapes project, which aims to support producers in adopting drought resilient practices and enhance their landscape and soil monitoring capabilities. The Riverina Project is led by Riverina Local Land Services (LLS). It is supporting 15 producers to adopt one of three well-established management practices that enhance agricultural productivity and profitability during or after droughts while safeguarding natural resources. As part of the project, Soils for Life has prepared five case studies that follow producers as they implement their chosen practice/s, and their experiences with soil lab-testing and in-field observations. The producers are guided in their practice implementation with support from Riverina LLS, and have opportunities to learn through field days and webinars provided by the project partners, and an online discussion group. This project is led by Riverina Local Land Services, in conjunction with Sustainable Farms ANU, and Soils for Life. This project has received funding from the Future Drought Fund. We acknowledge that the contents of this page do not necessarily reflect the views of these contributors.
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