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The Wilkes-Bowes at Anderloose

Building soil health and profitable farming in the Lachlan Region | Published  January 2024

‘We always knew we wanted low inputs, partly because we needed to and partly because – coming from where I came from – I saw the value of native grasses.’ – Dee Wilkes-Bowes

Craig and Dee Wilkes-Bowes have always wanted their own property and moved to Anderloose with their two young daughters, Imogen and Grace, in 2009 after the Millennium drought. They have made many changes to management over fourteen years, and the family are ‘still building the property and business.’ They describe their approach as ‘striving for a sustainable balance with profitable outcomes,’ and see soil monitoring as key to understanding their landscape. 

Financing the purchase themselves, Craig and Dee have been focused on making cost effective decisions and integrating practices that support the regeneration of their soils and landscapes. The couple combine off-farm work while managing their property. Dee grew up in Ivanhoe and Balranald further west of Anderloose and has a degree in agricultural economics. Craig is originally from England, with a background in computer programming. Their two daughters ‘loved growing up on the farm’ and are now young adults at university with an intention to remain involved in the family business. 

Image 1. Craig and Dee Wilkes-Bowes. Source: Grow Love Project.

Farm Facts

Wiradjuri Country |Naradhan, Riverina, NSW

Hot dry summer, cold winter

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

Agro-ecological Region

Property Size
2,400 ha

200 – 400 m

Social Structure
Family owned and operated

Enterprise Type
Grazing sheep (Australian whites and dorpers) and cattle. Fodder crops and occasional commercial cropping.

Lower order stream valleys and relatively flat plains (cleared) surrounded by the foot slopes, steep hills, and ridges of the Naradhan Range (forested) to the north and west.

Brown, shallow sandy soils (Rudosols or Tenosols) associated with extensive rock outcrop on the ranges; texture-contrast (Chromosols) and non-texture contrast (Kandosols) soils on the foot slopes and flats; deep, sandy soils (Rudosols or Tenosols on the flats and along the creek lines.

*Learn more about soil classifications at

Landscape and Soils

Dee and Craig Wilkes-Bowes’ farm, Anderloose, lies to the west of Naradhan, in the Lachlan region of the Riverina. The property is about thirty kilometres south of the Lachlan Valley, which represents the northern border of the Riverina region. 

Anderloose is surrounded by the bedded sandstones of the Naradhan Range to the north and west. Off this steeper country, the farmed foot slopes and flats are a mix of colluvial (moved under gravity and deposited at the base of hillslopes), residual (formed in place), and alluvial (associated with the creeks and streams) soils. Boulders and rock fragments are a common feature across the landscape.  

Naradhan has a rich agricultural history of predominantly sheep grazing and winter cropping. The flat country has been extensively cleared of what was likely a diverse vegetation, including box and mallee (Eucalyptus sp.), currawang and wattle (Acacia sp.), white cypress pine (Callitris sp.), and a range of native perennial grasses, annual grasses and forbs. 

Image 2. Aerial image of Anderloose. Source: Grow Love Project.

More about the Wilkes-Bowes

Managing for landscape health and profitability

Since taking over Anderloose, the Wilkes-Bowes have mainly run livestock. They grow some mixed crops to produce fodder and occasionally a commercial crop with a share farmer. They have been working to improve the landscape for many years and began by applying the principles they learnt from Holistic Management training. They regularly rest paddocks through rotational grazing, and ‘try to run big mobs, although that’s not always feasible,’ for example when joining ewes. 

Their long term aim is to make the farm profitable enough to sustain a comfortable lifestyle and hand Anderloose on to their daughters in good condition. They focus on maintaining ground cover, increasing native species and incorporating multispecies with the overall aim to continuously ‘build soils, restore native grasses and build ground cover.’ The Wilkes-Bowes have resowed native seeds across some paddocks, leaving others for cultivation, and have used minimal inputs, apart from superphosphate on a ‘couple of paddocks’ in recent years. 

‘We always knew we wanted low inputs, partly because we needed to and partly because – coming from where I came from – I saw the value of native grasses.’ – Dee Wilkes-Bowes 

The Wilkes-Bowes have been testing their soils since 2014. Monitoring the soil health is helping them develop a deeper understanding of their soil types and function, they have a good handle on how their soils behave and what the ‘country does.’ The soils at Anderloose vary considerably across the landscape. Dee describes how they are very red in the creek line, and in the ‘natural valley they’re heavier, loamier. As soon as you get up towards the hill they turn into lighter soils, less fertile and rocky, there’s rock everywhere.’ 

Craig and Dee are developing skills using soil data to inform their decision making and would like to become more empowered in ‘managing to type.’ 

‘Understanding if there is something we can do, whether it’s fertilising or lime or even just planting appropriately to soil types, that would be good to know.’ – Craig Bowes 

Applying his programming skills, Craig is also in the process of designing a smartphone app that will allow them to systematise their monitoring program, and they plan to make the app commercially available in the future.

Image 3. Craig, Dee and Grace Wilkes-Bowes, with James Diack and Katharine Brown from Soils for Life during a soil monitoring activity. Source: Grow Love Project.
Image 4. A close up of soil at Anderloose. Source: Grow Love Project.

Living through drought

When the Wilkes-Bowes bought Anderloose from an absentee landholder the land was ‘pretty bare’ from nine years of very dry conditions and low-level management, and there has been a lot of work done on the property to repair and rebuild it.

Growing up in rangeland environments, Dee is familiar with the physical impact and psychological stressors of drought, and she recognises the ‘emotion in it.’ She also notes that while best practice advice is focused on ‘decision points, where you destock progressively,’ she believes that things are ‘often messier in reality,’ because of the pressure and balancing act required when making high-stakes decisions. 

‘It’s a balance between losing that ground cover and therefore the soil, and not having enough feed for our stock. We also need to make the property sustainable in the long term. So we try to be nimble around destocking when needed, but ensure that we’re not under-stocking when we have got the feed.’ – Dee Wilkes-Bowes 

Dee and Craig watched the land at Anderloose become more and more depleted during the dry period of 2018 and 2019, and they experienced again the stress of losing ground cover, soil, and not having enough feed for stock. Over these years they kept a residual mob of sheep in one sacrifice paddock which was relatively small but not designed to be a stock containment area and did not offer the most efficient way of feeding and caring for stock. The land also suffered and took some time to recover. The experience motivated them to adopt new practices they hope will minimise the negative impacts of future droughts.

Building drought resilience

The Wilkes-Bowes decided to get involved with the Riverina Drought Resilient Soils and Landscapes project to increase their suite of management options so they can act early and have multiple options when moving into dry periods. The Wilkes-Bowes are one of fifteen producers in the Riverina who are being supported to implement one of three practices (enhanced farm dams, native shelterbelts, or stock management areas) to improve landscape-level drought resilience, and to set up long-term soil health monitoring. 

Craig and Dee have decided to build a new stock management area (SMA), including an adjacent saltbush and native shelter belt, and are working to integrate this effectively with existing grazing practices. Their intention is to slowly reduce the pressure on their pasture by destocking where possible and gradually containment feeding select stock to ensure a swift pasture recovery after dry conditions pass.

Working with the Riverina Local Land Services (LLS) to improve drought resilience is not a new experience for the family. They implemented dam enhancements a few years ago with the guidance and financial support of LLS.

‘We did a farm dam project a couple of years ago … and prior to that we had fenced off two riparian areas. We’ve seen these areas regenerate and provide short-term grazing, whereas in the past stock had tended to hang on in the creek lines and over-graze the area.’ – Craig Bowes 

Image 6. Before dam enhancements at Anderloose. Source: Craig and Dee Wilkes-Bowes.
Image 7. After (right) dam enhancements at Anderloose. Source: Craig and Dee Wilkes-Bowes.

The dam enhancement has improved water management for livestock with better overall water quality. Water is transferred automatically using a solar pump to several water points across the property, which supports stock health and is time efficient for Craig and Dee. Fencing off the dam completely has enabled superior water quality and has had the added benefit of supporting a more diverse range of wildlife, including a range of bird species. Craig also notes that the increase in biodiversity around the dam ‘lifts his spirits’ and has been good for his mental health, especially when the rest of the property really dries out.

More to come 

Craig and Dee are part way through the build, and have positioned the SMA in a timbered area to provide shade for stock throughout the day, with access to troughs of clean water pumped from the dam. They also planted a saltbush belt from seed in July 2023 but have had minimal rain since then. Check back in early 2024 as Craig and Dee share with us how they implemented the practice, and their progress monitoring soils at Anderloose.

To read more about SMAs, explore our project partner resources Riverina LLS free training and a recent publication produced by MLA.

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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