REGENERATING OUR LANDSCAPE

Sharing information on innovative leading performance in managing Australia’s natural environment to encourage the wide adoption of regenerative landscape management techniques by our farmers and land managers.

Holistic Management & the Regeneration of Northern Australia

Wednesday, December 11, 2013
image of NT cattle

This is a copy of the interview performed by Soils for Life and Future Directions International (FDI) as originally published on the FDI website.

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Summary

This interview is in response to the concept paper: Regenerate Australia: Our Greatest Challenge and Opportunity. It seeks to ascertain from a current NT grazier whether the long-term Regenerate Australia plan is viable and what steps need to be taken first in order to see it realised.

Moira Lanzarin

Moira Lanzarin is a 4th generation farmer with tertiary studies in Business Law and a diploma of Company Director. She manages the family company’s stud and beef operations in the Northern Territory and a 500 square kilometre rangeland property. She has been instrumental in introducing Holistic Management to the NT and is extensively involved with Indigenous cattle management. She has extensive board experience at a local, Territory and national level within industry and government and is a Soils for Life Board member.


Key Points

  • If a well-paced approach is taken, we test our decisions as we proceed, and we tailor the strategy to the northern context, the Regenerate Australia concept is definitely achievable for Northern Australia.
  • Implementation of the concept should be taken in a staged process that focuses on perfecting methods on a small-scale prior to expanding them, to prevent exacerbating degradation.
  • Holistic management and planned grazing can allow more cattle to be run more intensively while creating positive ecosystem benefits.
  • Implementing the Regenerate Australia concept will require a supportive policy environment as well as demonstration of the practical success of planned grazing.
  • Improving infrastructure and market access is critical to supporting the development of northern Australia and the implementation of holistic management techniques.

 

Interview

SFL/FDI: The concept paper discusses a long-term plan to access and distribute existing water sources to treble the cattle industry in the Top End, complemented by periodic grain production, resulting in a massive increase in food production as well as landscape and ecosystem regeneration and carbon foot print reduction.

As a current NT grazier, do you believe that this is a viable concept that could be realised over the coming decades?

ML: In some respects I find it quite exciting, in others I see massive red flags .There is huge potential to get northern Australian ecosystems functioning properly again and to build more effective water and mineral cycling processes. This can be done through biology; utilising the grass and cattle in a win-win scenario to improve the quality of the country and its water security. This could also reduce fire emissions and produce more food. There is amazing, exciting potential there for Northern Australia.

Where the flags come up is that the success of the concept is completely dependent on people, the decisions we make and how we manage scenarios. I think that we are often too quick to apply technical solutions – the distribution of water through big pipelines and dams for instance. Depending on the motivations that can either be good or bad. Just adding more water and opening up more land to stock is thinking that has been around since the first farmers stepped onto the land. In some cases that approach has led to a massive deterioration of the country if stock is not managed well. We can do this better in a managed situation, but a paradigm shift in the way people think about pastoralism has to happen first.

The approach I would prefer to see is a staged process that starts by focusing on what we’ve got and perfecting it on a small scale. Training is required to get people thinking and working differently on a small-scale with reduced risk. Then in the future we can scale operations up as the skills base improves. We should start with more effective management of what we’ve got before trying to leap ahead with regenerating the whole area and getting the water out further.

From that perspective then, and with your experience, do you believe that if all these things were to come together, and we were to manage decision making correctly, that this kind of plan could be achievable for the Top End? If we do it right, is it viable?

Definitely. If we’re taking a well-paced approach, testing our decisions as we’re going and tailoring our strategy to a Northern context, this is definitely achievable for the Top End.

 

SFL/FDI: The paper focuses on the many benefits that could be achieved should this concept come into fruition, but only lightly touches on one of the key factors – the planned grazing techniques required to achieve it.

What can you tell us about your experiences with planned grazing and the outcomes you achieved on your farm?

ML: Basically, we try to use our animals to do the work of improving our country. They can improve the land’s carrying capacity and make things easier for us as well. It’s a total win-win scenario.

We do that by getting all the cattle together into a single mob. Cattle are herd animals and want to stay together and work as a herd. It is the basic psychology of a grazing animal to want to move on to fresh feed, to not stay in an area where they have defecated.  We use this to move them through country on a regular basis. This way, the cattle get a feed and the country gets a feed at the same time. The country is fertilised by the cattle’s manure which they trample in, kick-starting the soil microbiology and cycling carbon back into the soil.

As the cattle move through as a group, their hooves till the soil and knock down the mulch. They’re pruning as they go and are stimulating fresh growth of plants. Land managers can then determine which mix of vegetation they need to sustain their country into the future. For a grazing operation that might be diverse perennial grassland ecosystems. Cattle should only be returned to an area when the most desirable grasses have fully recovered. This creates all sorts of benefits and stops the weeds from being a problem because you’re concentrating on what you want and managing it accordingly. The presence of weeds tells you that something is out of place in an ecosystem; cattle have grazed too long in a particular area so the desired plants haven’t had a chance to grow. By changing your activities on the land, the desired plants have the chance to grow and re-establish.

To give you some examples of the outcomes we’re achieving, Coodardie Station which I’m on now, is only 2000 hectares. Run conventionally, it would be set-stocked in a single paddock. It’s a dry block with no natural waters and so there would be one central watering point on it. Conventionally it would run maybe a hundred head. Using planned grazing, we’re running five hundred head and we’ve had up to eight hundred on it. The improvement in the soil, the mulch cover, and the increased biodiversity that we’re seeing in a five to seven year period is huge.

One of the first things you do is mob your cattle and utilise them as a herd animal. How do you physically manage stock movement on a large station and is it financially costly to implement?

You start with what you’ve got. Most properties have already got some system of paddocks and waterways. Therefore they don’t necessarily have to spend any money, just some time and creative thinking. If you choose to mob your cattle, you can follow a defined process, and develop a grazing plan that allows for your land to recover. As you find your economic situation allowing it, you can then structure additional paddocks and watering points as you go to maximise your yield. Our experience has demonstrated that you can create considerable management efficiencies, maximise resource use and save time through planned grazing. The increased production enabled allows the funding of extra infrastructure involved.

 

SFL/FDI: What are the first steps you think need to be taken to begin turning this regeneration concept into a reality? Will they have to come from policy and decision-makers or from the ground up by individual farmers and land managers like yourself?

ML: The need for a paradigm shift requires that the change be tackled from two levels simultaneously. We need to demonstrate the success of on the ground methods that are responsive to local conditions. We also need a policy environment that is supportive of those changes occurring.

Learning sites are going to be really important to assist in policy change. There is no shortage of examples showing the success of planned grazing over fifty year time periods in all parts of the world, but people need to be able to see that it is achievable in north Australia. We need safe, supported areas where people can see, feel, touch and learn. If people can attend field days, see it happening and spend time doing training that will be absolutely critical to selling the idea. 

How we manage the stock is only one part of achieving these things; we also need to establish a supporting policy environment from the highest levels. Making major changes to agricultural practices is a lot easier when the policy, processes and supports are in place.

 

SFL/FDI: Are there any other limiting factors you could see in getting this concept realised?

ML: Market access can be a difficulty. The whole dynamics of the north are different. We don’t have regular store sales and general auctions. It’s all just a little bit more challenging. Transport costs are higher and we don’t have ready access to markets, particularly since the disruption of the live export trade.

Having a diversity of market options available is critical and is a key policy area through which development can be supported. We can look at our production chains - resource conversion, product conversion and marketing. We know that we can convert our grass into more beef and improve the country and water cycle in doing so. But we lose control when it comes to actually getting that extra produce to market. If policy decisions could give us more control over market options that would be hugely valuable.

Another of the huge impediments for the North is that in most cases farmers are trying to deal with too much land. There is too much land on most farms for us to actively manage. Much of the country is in huge corporate holdings. Using holistic management techniques, the same number of cattle could be run on smaller areas, reducing environmental degradation.

The management and key decision makers are removed from and understanding of the land though. Reducing the size of farms and actually getting more families and individuals who can manage land and who have more skin in the game would help. These people know the consequences of their decisions, as opposed to simply being managers who can move on when things get hard or who receive a pay check every month regardless of what impact their actions have on the land.

 

SFL/FDI: Any final comments?

ML: I believe the Regenerate Australia concept could be further developed to break out of the existing conventional thinking. We need to change the paradigm so that we are creating resilience and forgiveness into the landscape and letting biology do the work.

Planned grazing allows us to work with nature to create synergies and win-win scenarios. We manage the biology in such a way that it does the work for us to restore effective ecosystem processes. Decisions are based on a holistic perspective and we actively manage for a truly sustainable triple bottom line that will result in improved food, fire and social outcomes. We have well-supported learning sites that can share and assess ideas locally and globally. Local solutions can be developed that people can actively see, so that they can participate in an environment that is safe to learn in without jeopardising the family farm.

We have no idea what carrying capacity the north is capable of but it could well be one of constant improvement. We are dealing with very impoverished soils so remedying that is the first priority. What we do know is that on an individual farm level, we can improve the country quicker than we can produce the livestock to run on it. If we implemented these practices on every single farm, we wouldn’t have enough livestock to do the job. When you start to think on that grand scale, there is a huge space for improvement.

For more on how livestock can be used to regenerate the landscape, I strongly recommend this presentation by Allan Savory:




Watch this clip for more of Moira's story:



Any opinions or views expressed in this paper are those of the individual interviewee, unless stated to be those of Future Directions International.

The link between soil health & human health

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Fundamentally, the food that we eat is derived from plants and the animals that eat them – so how does what plants grow in affect us?


Soils for Life’s resident soil microbiologist, Walter Jehne, has been supporting Urban Agriculture Australia and their display at this year’s Floriade in Canberra, on a mission to encourage people to grow their own food, save money, reconnect with nature and look after their health. Last week the Soils for Life team sat in on Walter’s presentation ‘Why healthy people need healthy food from healthy soils’. Here’s some of what he had to say…



Everything on earth and in our solar system is based on 96 natural elements. Of these, 30 mineral nutrients are the essential elements that underpin all biochemistry and life. These govern the activity of key enzymes and biochemical processes essential to the health of all organisms. Basically, we need these mineral nutrients in order to function properly - and they can only be obtained from rocks or the soils derived from them.

In nature, soil microbes and fungi work with plants to dissolve the minerals and make them available to sustain plant growth. These microbes selectively take up the correct amounts and ratios of mineral nutrients that plants – and animals – need. They also selectively prevent the uptake of toxic elements from the soil solution.

image of soil fungi

In a cubic metre of healthy soil there can be up to 25km of fungal hyphae - the long, branching filamentous structure of a fungus – working to ensure that the right nutrients are provided to the plants that we eat.

Therefore, the nutrient composition of most plants and animals – our food and our health – has been governed by the ability of symbioses, mostly by mycorrhizal fungi, to selectively concentrate and exclude nutrients from an inert, often toxic, external environment.

Up to World War II, the health and nutrient value of most of our agricultural plants and animals depended on these microbial uptake processes. After World War II, however, inputs of chemical fertilisers and pesticides increased to enhance the yields and profits from ‘industrial’ crops.

These high levels of fertilisers and bio-cides (pesticides, fungicides, herbicides) kill the mycorrhizal symbionts that had previously sustained the natural solubilisation, uptake and cycling of essential nutrients. Heavy cultivation and resultant topsoil loss through wind and water erosion also disturbs these important microbial communities.

Consequently, most plants grown under industrial agriculture today are totally dependent on fertiliser inputs and now take up their nutrients hydroponically – through the liquid or water in the soil, rather than filtered by soil micro-organisms - in whatever concentrations and ratios are present in the soil solution.

image of Walter Jehne

As a result, plants contain very high levels of the nutrients added as fertiliser (usually nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium), but little or none of the other 27 essential and trace elements that are not soluble and were previously made available by the microbial symbionts. Accordingly, we also lack these nutrients and trace elements. Selenium, for example, is an essential nutrient - required in minute amounts - for the enzymes that kill cancer cells. Yet the food we generally eat today does not contain such nutrients for us to consume.

Plants often also contain high concentrations of toxic elements because the protective microbial membranes are no longer there to selectively exclude them.

Analyses confirm that much of our industrial food now has a third of the nutrient concentration of equivalent foods prior to World War II. We have to eat three times as much to get these nutrient volumes.

In parallel with our adoption of industrial foods and diets, there have been marked increases in a number of diseases, particularly in the Western world. There is evidence of a direct link between diet and many of these conditions, including cancer, diabetes, heart disease, chronic fatigue, and auto-immune and mental illnesses. We need to change our approach to focus on preventative health.

A key action to reverse our current health crisis is restoring the integrity of our food. It needs to be widely recognised that healthy people need healthy food from healthy soils. Healthy soils grow food with the aid of the natural microbial processes that ensure correct uptake of nutrients and exclusion of toxins.

image of Walter Jehne

We need to think about and make conscious decisions with what we eat. Growing our own food or buying it from farmer’s markets or non-industrial sources provides the practical means by which much of the community can ensure they are once again eating healthy food from healthy soil.

A healthily functioning plant - without other external inputs - is the best indicator of a healthy soil. By composting food and organic waste in our vegetable gardens and by using regenerative agricultural practices we can return nutrients to the soil, build soil (and microbial) health and grow plants with the nutrient content to meet our body’s needs.

This is one of the many reasons Soils for Life is encouraging the wide adoption of regenerative landscape management. Make sure you support farmers using regenerative practices and looking after their soil health.

Learn more on the Urban Agriculture website - it has lots of Fact Sheets to download to start getting your own garden growing.

Visit our Facebook page to see photos from the Urban Agriculture display at Floriade 2013.

Building soil health - and a healthy community

Friday, June 07, 2013

WEBINAR PARTS 2 & 3

Colin Seis Shane JoyceTim WrightBill & Rhonda Daly

Colin Seis, Shane Joyce, Tim Wright and Bill and Rhonda Daly. (Click image to jump to presentation summary.)

This week saw the last of our Soil Health webinars, brought to you in partnership with the National Landcare Facilitator, come to a successful conclusion. Over 670 people registered for one or more of the webinars, able to interact and ask questions of our presenters during the course of the webinar. These webinars and the questions and answers generated now provide an ongoing resource for anyone interested in learning more about soil health – why it’s important, how to build it and how to monitor and measure to extend positive results.

If you don’t have time to watch them in full, our previous blog provided a summary of Part 1 of the webinar series, and Parts 2 and 3 are summarised below.

PART 2: How do we practically regenerate soil health?

COLIN SEIS. A grazier and cropper on the property Winona, near Gulgong in NSW, Colin is the leader in ‘Pasture Cropping’ and his techniques are being trialled more widely in Australia and overseas.

  • Colin runs a mixed-enterprise 2000 acre (840 hectare) property, including 500 acres of crops (wheat, oats, rye), 4000 Merino sheep wool and meat production, cattle trading, native grass seed and working kelpie dogs.
  • Farms need healthy, functioning carbon-rich soil. These will require less fertiliser, have better water holding capacity, will increase crop and pasture yield and reduce costs.
  • Enabling farm pastures to function like grasslands results in healthy carbon-rich soil
  • Colin changed his practices and regenerated his soil health by:
    - Adopting low-input agricultural methods
    - Reducing fertiliser inputs and stopping the use of pesticides
    - Focusing on having 100% ground cover
    - Starting time-controlled grazing
    - Developing and implementing ‘pasture cropping’
  • image of a harvester in a crop
  • Pasture Cropping is a land mgt technique where annual crops are zero-tilled into dormant perennial grass and was developed by Colin Seis and Daryl Cluff ‘over a few beers’ in 1995.
  • Pasture Cropping produces crops for grain and/or grazing, improves pastures by stimulating perennial grass species and species diversity, improves soil health and soil organic carbon and improves ecological function.
  • Pasture Cropping allows multiple uses from a single paddock while building, not degrading soil health.
  • Over a 10 year period, the soil on Colin Seis’ property now has 204% more organic carbon and holds 200% more water. Soil nutrients and trace elements have increased by an average of 172%.
  • Colin’s inputs are lower, stock numbers are up, crop yields have been maintained, income is higher and soil health continues improving.
  • Agriculture can be more profitable and regenerative, but practices need to function more closely to Nature’s original design.

DOWNLOAD PRESENTATION (4MB)

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SHANE JOYCE. A grazier from Dukes Plain on the Brigalow Belt outside of Theodore in Central Queensland, Shane is successfully managing his grazing and regenerating vegetation to build soil health and deliver increased productivity.

image of pasture amongst eucalypt
  • Dukes plain has certified organic beef cattle breeding and fattening enterprises, along with non-certified beef cattle fattening, backgrounding, and trading enterprises.
  • When the Joyces took up management of Dukes Plain in 1982, soils and pastures were degraded and timber regrowth was abundant. They set a goal to have soils in the best possible condition.
  • Shane sought advice in changing farm practices, undertaking courses, such as Grazing for Profit, workshops, field days and reading widely (including Permaculture Two by Bill Mollison, The One Straw Revolution by Masinobu Fukuoka, Water for Every Farm by P.A. Yeomans and Alex Podlinsky’s Biodynamic lectures).
  • Shane admits he’s made mistakes along the way, including clearing much of the land with timber re-growth, which now yields less than similar land that was not cleared, but he re-phrases these as learning opportunities.
  • image of grass around base of a tree
  • Planned cell grazing has been key to Shane’s success in regenerating soil health. The techniques that have worked for him include:
    - application of biodynamic preparations
    - high density planned grazing
    - appropriate rest for pastures
    - tree retention
    - planning and monitoring (including grazing charts, fixed-point photographic records)
    - ensuring everyone involved is committed to the practices
  • Benefits that have been attained on Dukes Plain include:
    - Improved soil and pasture health
    - increased carrying capacity
    - water use efficiency
    - deeper-rooted pastures
    - diversity in fauna and flora
    - easier stock handling
    - reduced production costs
    - less stress.
  • Shane advises, if making a change in your farming practices, make a transition rather than ‘going cold turkey’ to ensure that production continues as new methods are adopted and farms can remain financially viable.

DOWNLOAD PRESENTATION (2MB)
DOWNLOAD SPEAKER NOTES

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PART 3: How do we measure, monitor and extend effective practices?

TIM WRIGHT. A grazier from Lana, near Uralla in NSW, Tim's monitoring of rainfall and stocking rates provides evidence of how his holistic practices have supported an increased carrying capacity regardless of rainfall.

images of bare and lush pasture
  • Tim investigated alternative approaches to farming 20 years ago as soil health was poor and farm management costly. He trialled cell grazing and eventually adopted planned grazing and holistic management.
  • Over time Tim has increased his number of paddocks from 35 (average of 240 acres each) to 250 (average of 32 acres each). This enables him to better manage his stock for improved soil health benefits and to provide sufficient rest and recovery time for pastures.
  • Resting is a key management tool resulting in increased productivity through profit, using holistic management principles.
  • Tim has recovered the cost of all of his subdivisions within 2 years - through increased productivity and therefore profits.
  • Monitoring and measurement is central to Tim’s management. He bases this on the Holistic Management foundations blocks of water and mineral cycles, sun energy flows and community dynamics.
  • He has undertaken a number of Landcare-funded trials of planned compared with continuous grazing, with fixed point monitoring across various transects on his property. The Botany Department from the University of New England undertook studies of the mineral cycle in these trial areas, recording very positive results for soil health and nutrient transfer in the planned grazing areas.
  • Tim believes that it is important to have an action plan to manage your stock and respond to what you read in the landscape (eg, with drought or growth periods).
  • Tim’s records of rainfall and stocking rate from a period of over 30 years demonstrate that, due to his grazing management techniques and the water-holding qualities of his healthy soils, he has been able to increase and maintain stock levels – even with reduced rainfall.

DOWNLOAD PRESENTATION (3MB)

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BILL & RHONDA DALY. Running a grazing and cropping on the property Milgadara, near Young in NSW, measurement and monitoring have been key to the Daly's understanding of their landscape, enabling them to balance soil structural, biological and mineral components.

  • Across 1250 hectares, Bill and Rhonda crop canola, wheat, oats and lupins (300 hectares) and run a self-replacing merino flock of 5500 sheep and a prime lamb enterprise. They also have 120 head of steer which are traded annually.
  • The Dalys were inspired to change from previous conventional practices which had resulted in “dead” soils, with poor structure, imbalanced minerals, no visible signs of life, increasing input costs whilst animal nutrition and health and profitability was declining.
  • They adopted soil health management and fertility practices that enhanced microbial activity – bringing their soil back to life. These included:
    - producing on-farm Humus Compost
    - Reducing soluble fertilisers
    - Stopping application of single super
    - Applying microbial compost tea
    - Retaining crop stubble
    - Shortening rotations and introducing minimum tillage
    - Undersowing with legumes
    - Planting more trees
  • image of healthy oat roots with soil
  • Measurement and monitoring have been key to the Daly’s soil health success. Using the senses to observe signs of life in the soil, feel soil texture, smell for sweetness are all good indicators of soil health.
  • The Dalys have invested time into understanding how to interpret soil tests and how to respond. They undertake comprehensive soil tests, which show total, exchangeable and soluble mineral pools; and plant leaf or tissue tests to show if plants are absorbing nutrients measured in the soil.
  • Minerals in the total nutrient pool can become available if robust and diverse microbial activity is encouraged. The greater the microbial population in the rhizosphere (soil around roots), the greater the nutrient absorption by the plant.
  • In addition, the Dalys test animal performance, lambing percentage from birth to weaning, weight gain yield of your carcass at time of slaughter, wool quality.
  • The Dalys have gained many benefits by building their soil health, including cost savings, increased yields, improved plant and animal health and soil carbon.
  • With the right mineral and microbial balances, the Dalys have been able to build 10cm of topsoil in 2 years on cropping land.
  • Improved soil health and soil organic carbon has resulted in retention of an additional 56,000L of water per hectare on the Daly’s property.
  • The Daly’s wool production increased by 2kg per head and attracted a premium price due to its quality – brightness, comfort factor and low vegetable matter.
  • Profitability in farming is important and the Dalys are achieving that with their regenerative farming, as well as 'happy healthy families' .
  • Learn more from the Dalys at their Field Day on 24 July, 'Milgadara', Young. Details coming soon on our Events page.

DOWNLOAD PRESENTATION (6MB)

READ WEBINAR Q&A (includes questions we were unable to get to during the webinar due to time constraints).

WATCH WEBINARS in full.

Thanks to everyone who participated, for your wide-ranging questions, interesting follow-up discussions and for helping us to build a community who understands the importance of healthy soils. Hopefully these webinars have inspired you to commence - or keep up - managing your soil health!

The Soils for Life Team

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Spreading the word on soil health

Thursday, May 23, 2013

WEBINAR PART 1

HEALTHY SOILS - WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT, WHAT IS THE SCIENCE TELLING US, AND A VIEW FROM THE GROUND

Michael JefferyMike GrundyDavid Marsh

Yesterday, in partnership with the National Landcare Facilitator, we hosted Part 1 of our three part webinar series on Regenerating Australia’s Soils. Our presenters were The Hon. Michael Jeffery, Mike Grundy and David Marsh. We were delighted to have over 550 primary producers, NRM Group/CMA reps, consultants, Landcare members and Government reps registered to take part.

The webinar was hosted by National Landcare Facilitator, Brett DeHayr and Soils for Life Program Coordinator, Simon Gould. You can view the whole webinar here.

Happily, the webinar ran smoothly, aside from a few technical glitches, but we seemed to get them sorted out alright. The challenge of using such technology across the country with varying internet service! Thanks to those affected for persisting. We had around 250 tune-in live, of which approximately:
- 32% were from QLD
- 27% NSW
- 17% VIC
- 9% WA
- 7% SA
- 5% TAS
- 2% NT
- less than 1% ACT

Approximately 63% of participants indicated that they were already involved in groups dealing with soil health issues and/or taking active steps on their property. 29% were interested in learning more in order to take active steps to improve soil health and 8% were just generally curious about soil health issues.

Presenter Key Points

THE HONOURABLE MICHAEL JEFFERY - Former Governor General and the Advocate for Soil Health

  • The world has to almost double food production by 2050
    - when we are losing agricultural land at a rate of around 1% per year, waterways are polluted, input costs are increasing and soil health is degrading.
  • In Australia, around 60% of our landmass is used for agriculture, much of it is degraded to some extent.
  • Around 1 million kilometres of our rivers and streams are incised, damaged or degraded in some form.
  • We need a national understanding regarding regenerating and managing our landscape so it is fit for purpose.
  • To do this we need to recognise the importance of the integrated management of soil, water and biodiversity of vegetative cover.
  • Look to those who have made the decision to actively manage their landscapes – soil, water and vegetation – and their production line and are doing this successfully.
  • Need to be sure that we’re teaching the right things to our NRM organisations/CMAs, farmers and land managers, asking the right questions of science and distributing the knowledge appropriately.

MIKE GRUNDY – leading CSIRO’s research into observing and understanding trends in Australian landscapes

image of Australian map showing soil differences
  • Soil performs a range of services, some obvious, some hidden. These include:
    - producing biomass and food, store and provide water and nutrients, filter pollutants, store and cycle carbon, provide habitat…
  • Soils are diverse, with many types and capacities, hence soil health means different things in different places.
  • Soils change over time. Resistance and resilience vary, but can be improved. However soils have thresholds, complete regeneration may not always be possible.
  • Soils are part of the environment – the climate and vegetation shape the soil and its properties as much as the rock it forms on and the management it has endured.
  • Soils are both living and non-living – both aspects are important.
  • Key threats to soil health are acidification, erosion, physical condition, nutrient status and soil biology (refer to the State of the Environment 2011 Report for maps and data)
  • Know your soils. Healthy soils will result where the management matches the function.
  • Improved soil health will result in:
    - less degrading land – and less leakage into the environment
    - higher levels of productivity – efficiency in water, nutrients, energy
    - unique habitats – soil-vegetation-fauna survive and thrive.

DOWNLOAD PRESENTATION (3MB)


DAVID MARSH - grazier from near Boorowa in NSW, former board member of the Lachlan CMA, Landcare member.

image of degraded landscape
  • Soil part of the national capital; you cant keep drawing on the credit – you need to invest something back.
  • Previous grazing and land management practices were degrading the landscape, soil was not retaining moisture and pastures were struggling. Productivity was not increasing as expected.
  • Acknowledging that personal decisions were contributing to the situation was a powerful catalyst for change in 1982 (see image right)
  • How we make decisions determines how landscape look (see image lower right)
  • Undertaking a Holistic Management course and applying planned grazing provided the tools to look after the landscape
  • Planned grazing techniques allowed plant succession, from weeds to a community of grasses, including natural re-establishment of many native perennial species
  • image of same landscape much improved
  • Increased green-leaf growth due to recovery periods better harnesses sunlight energy
  • More fungi appeared – these are an important agent in recycling plant material as they can draw Phosphorus out of the soil bank and communicate it directly to plants
  • Ground cover has been retained even through drought, tree cover has increased, bird species have increased
  • Livestock is better matched to carrying capacity and there is no additional feed provided

DOWNLOAD PRESENTATION (3MB)


Q & A

During the webinar we asked a couple of multiple choice poll questions (participants could select more that one answer). It was positive to see that many wanted more tools and information that they could use themselves to manage their soil health, and that soil biology is the primary area of interest.

graph of poll results
graph of poll results

Thanks to everyone who asked the variety of questions at the end of the webinar. Participant questions ranged from scientific explanations from Mike on whether soil degradation experienced in some areas reflected general problems in Australia to specific questions of David regarding how he determines his stocking rate.

We’re collating the questions and answers at the moment and will make them available on the Soils for Life website shortly.


Tune in next time...

Soils for Life is exploring a wide range of options are to help encourage our farmers and land managers to look after their soil health and adopt regenerative landscape management practices. Bringing information to you via our Demonstration and Field Days is a popular avenue, but it is fantastic to be able to reach such numbers from across the country through online technology.

Due to the somewhat rushed feeling we experienced with our first webinar, we will be focussing on just two speakers in subsequent weeks. This will ensure that we have more time for individual presentations and on-air Q&A.

Next week’s presenters are:

  • Colin Seis, grazier and cropping from Gulgong in NSW. Col is the leader in ‘Pasture Cropping’ and his techniques are being trialled more widely in Australia and overseas.
  • Shane Joyce, grazier from the Brigalow Belt outside of Theodore in Central Queensland.

As a result, we now wont be having Graeme Hand, grazier from Western Victoria and CEO of STIPA Native Grasses join us, however for those who were looking forward to what he has to say, listen to this podcast. It covers many topics including grazing management, reading the landscape and making a change...


You can still register for our future webinars via the National Landcare Facilitator website.

We look forward to you joining us!

PS. Please leave a comment below with how you would have responded to our poll questions or what you think are the questions we need to be asking of the scientific community to regenerate Australia’s soil health.

National Landcare Facilitator and Soils for Life logos

Support to change

Thursday, May 09, 2013
image of farmers at a field day

The majority of farmers in our case studies highlighted the value of having support mechanisms to assist them to adopt regenerative landscape management practices. This support took a variety of forms, such as peers or mentors, other farmers who were already applying regenerative practices, agronomists, soil scientists or other qualified professionals, or support organisations, such as Landcare, Catchment Management Authorities (CMAs) or other Natural Resource Management (NRM) organisations.

Our case study participants also emphasised that presentations, field or open days are excellent opportunities to visit other enterprises and learn, also creating a forum for information transfer and peer review. These activities encourage cumulative learning, and knowledge sharing can be empowering. Such activities also create a community - even if it is separated geographically - which is essential to support widespread adoption of change.

Taking advantage of support mechanism as listed above can also be very useful to provide confidence in changing practices after attending training activities or demonstration days. Soils for Life is pleased to have such organisations and individuals present at our demonstration and field days to share knowledge and information about what tools and support mechanisms are available to help farmers and land managers.

We're also very excited to be working with the National Landcare Facilitator to deliver a webinar series on soil health. Building on the growing trend of farmers using social media, we are exploring all avenues to share information and encourage adoption of regenerative practices.

Find out more and register for the 'Regenerating Australia’s Soil Health’ webinars now, and join in the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #soilhealth.

Extension activities in focus

As part of our case study research, Soils for Life selected two case studies to look specifically at support mechanisms. These examined extension activities underway which are successfully leading, guiding and encouraging farmers and land managers to learn about and adopt regenerative land management practices.

The North East Catchment Management Authority (CMA) in Victoria and the Tasmanian Natural Resource Management body, NRM South, provide two of many possible examples of effective means which are being used to provide encouragement and support to farmers and land managers to adopt regenerative landscape management practices.

North East CMA Soil Carbon Programme

image of farmers with soil samples

North East CMA is achieving catchment-wide change in knowledge of how to build healthy soils. By identifying a critical knowledge gap – the ability to understand and respond to soil tests – the CMA developed the Soil Carbon Programme. This program provides practical action and advice, in the form of:

  • soil tests
  • agronomic advice on options on how to respond to the soil tests
  • ongoing engagement and
  • information activities based on farmer and land manager requests and requirements.

Over 500 farmers became involved in the farm planning/soil management training, accessing free soil testing and agronomic advice and agreeing to change their management practices on a nominated area of their property.

Landholders selected to participate in the initial soil testing component of the project, came from a range of farming enterprises including grazing, cropping, horticulture, viticulture, dairy and mixed enterprises.

Interim reports demonstrated that, as a result of being involved in the Soil Carbon Programme, many participants adopted agricultural and management practice changes across their whole property, not just on the sites committed to the soil testing activities. These changes included:

  • Increasing paddock numbers and transitioning to rotational grazing management
  • Improved ground cover maintenance
  • Promotion or sowing of perennial species
  • Maximising species diversity in pasture
  • Increased stubble retention
  • Changes to fertilisers used, such as seaweed and trace element application rather than only annual NPK application
  • Application of more precise Calcium products, such as sulphur/calcium/magnesium mixes

With funding of $2.2 million over four years, over 500 farmers are actively involved and up to 1500 have been informed of improved soil management practices. This equates to around $1500 investment in each farmer over a four-year period, a relatively cost-efficient way of encouraging change in farming practice. For example, if extended across Australia’s other CMA/NRM organisations it could potentially realise 25,000 farmers actively changing their soil health for the better, together with more than another 50,000 informed to make a change...

Visit the North East CMA website for more information on the program and to review the soil test results.

image of paddocks


NRM South Planned Grazing Trials

image of farmer with NRM South reps

On a smaller scale, the projects being managed by NRM South are encouraging landholders to adopt regenerative landscape management practices in a low risk way that suits the situation of individual farmers.

NRM South provides a range of options to assist farmers to change their practices, with ongoing engagement to support changes beyond the initial enthusiasm experienced at field days or workshops. In particular, their Building Evidence for Regenerative Agriculture assisted trials in planned grazing are empowering farmers and land managers to understand new techniques at their own pace.

Trial participants set up two small half or one hectare paddocks for the trial and selected an area of conventional practice to be their ‘control’ or reference site. The trials comprise a short grazing event with intense stock density followed by a long recovery period.

Specific biophysical monitoring was performed on each trial site, including changes in soil organic carbon and soil water content. Evidence of improvement in soils and pastures on some sites were recorded in as little as 12 months.

image of sparse grass image of grass with sheep manure

Images from a 1 hectare trial paddock, Feb 2011 (left) and may 2012 (right), six weeks after 24 hours grazing by 700 sheep.
Note improved ground cover and concentration of manure.


You can download the NRM South Guide to Planned Grazing from their website for guidance on how to conduct a trial of planned grazing on your land and access planning and monitoring tools for ongoing refinement of the method.

NRM South found that trial demonstration sites also allow for sharing of results and broader discussion and to generate interest across the catchment. Through this support technique, the landholders are a part of the change, with minimal disruption to their production, and they can choose whether or not to adopt practices based on their own evidence.

Visit the NRM South website for more information on the services they provide.

Specialist skills

In addition to government-funded organisations, there are also many private consultants working in natural resource management fields who are having significant impacts in supporting the adoption of regenerative landscape management practices. The panel of agronomists accessible to participants of the North East CMA’s Soil Carbon Programme was an important part of the project, and numerous other case study participants made use of specialist consultants to provide specific advice on the implementation and management of their innovative practices.

You can read more in the Bokhara Plains, Jillamatong, Gunningrah and Briandra case studies in particular, which reference benefits gained from obtaining support from like-minded individuals, groups or organisations in adopting changed practices.

Seek the support that suits you

Identifying an individual provider or program which has an approach that aligns with your own values and requirements is central to the success of such support.

If you’re thinking about adopting regenerative practices, look around for different support options and select a mechanism that would help you to reach your goals.

Good luck!

The Soils for Life Team

PS. To all the agronomists, soil scientists, CMA, NRM, Local Land Services (LLS), Landcare and related organisations out there who are helping farmers to work with their land for environmental, production and social outcomes, keep up the great work! With your support we can make regenerative landscape management practices the norm in Australia…

Making the change to regenerative landscape management

Thursday, April 25, 2013
image of healthy regenerative land and neighbouring degraded land

Our case studies were selected because they are high performing examples of regenerative landscape management in action, but these results were not achieved overnight, nor was the path of change an easy one. A common experience for most of the case study participants was the challenge in changing behaviours to regenerative landscape management and breaking away from the status quo – but they persisted. We were fortunate enough to share their lessons learnt, and this post discusses what we identified as the common principles for changing practice…

Take a holistic view

Think of the entire system, and have your own financial, environmental and social goals. Seek to address underlying causes and maximise natural system functioning rather than just dealing with visible symptoms.

Our case study participants look at the big picture and all elements of production. They identify what they can influence and manage and where they have to respond. Read the Lana and Gunningrah cases studies for examples of Holistic Management in action and how underlying causes were identified for treatment, rather than just addressing visible symptoms.

Care about the land as a resource

Invest in the landscape and you can get more out of it. Manage production to suit the capacity of your land. Adjust stocking or change or integrate enterprises to enable regenerative practices and sustainable production.

Our Dukes Plain case study provides a great example of how, by using regenerative techniques, you can obtain continuous improvement of the natural resource base, rather than degradation of the landscape over time.

Many of our case study participants began ‘seeing’ the landscape differently from conventional management perspectives, to understand what degradation and healthy functioning looked like in order to facilitate natural processes. For example, on Tallawang and Bokhara Plains this involved accepting weeds as pioneering species to allow vegetation to commence regeneration and managing stock numbers to suit. On Milgadara, Inveraray Downs and Briandra, crop stubble was retained rather than being cleared, and composts or soil conditioners applied to return nutrients to the soils. On Shannon Vale Station and Jillamatong direct-drilling was adopted, rather than conventional practice of fully cultivating and re-sowing pastures, and soil fertility addressed to combat weeds, rather than relying on ongoing chemical herbicide use. Each of these techniques are long-term investments for the ongoing productivity of the landscape.

Commit to education and constant learning

Research widely, try different things and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Adapt practices to suit your own circumstances.

Prior to adopting change, many of our case study participants experienced low points in terms of production, landscape degradation or personal health challenges, and identified that there had to be a better way to manage their enterprise. Questioning and challenging convention was a common factor across many of the case studies.

Many cited that their existing knowledge and mindset was the biggest hurdle to overcome, having to learn different theories, techniques and approaches to their practices. Incorporating new knowledge against their own and others’ traditional values and approaches took confidence and persistence.

Most case study participants committed to self-education and continuous learning, searching widely to identify what would work for them in their circumstances. Many noted that relevant information is much more available now than it was a decade or more ago when they commenced practice change.

Very few adopted one single theory or method, and the more common practice was to learn widely and adopt techniques and practices that aligned with their own individual goals and the local landscape. In the words of Shane Joyce from Dukes Plain, “Select the tiles that you want, and make your own mosaic”.

Search out communities of interest for help and advice

Attend presentations, field or open days as an opportunity to visit and learn, creating a forum for information transfer and peer review. This leads to a sense of empowerment and encourages cumulative learning. Such activities also create a community, even if it is separated geographically – which support a commitment to change.

Not everyone is comfortable talking about or trying regenerative landscape management practices – but there are many who are and they are also willing to share ideas and provide support. These communities are an invaluable resource.

Support from like-minded individuals, groups or organisations was noted as beneficial for many case study participants in adopting changed practices. This can be seen in the Bokhara Plains, Jillamatong, Gunningrah and Briandra case studies, amongst others.

Improve the structure of soil, through enhancing organic matter content

A healthy soil underlies everything – literally. Learn about soil and seek to restore its physical, mineral and biological balance. Start by increasing organic matter to produce soil organic carbon.

Read more in our soil-themed blog posts.

Use and conserve rain where it falls

Improved soil structures and increased vegetation will enable you to capture rainfall and have it infiltrate the soil to support your plants and animals for longer.

Read more in our water-themed blog posts.

Strive for maximum ground cover, for the majority of the time

Groundcover and vegetation not only protects the soil from erosion and loss, but also builds more soil. Manage your stock and landscape to ensure pastures have adequate rest and recovery to thrive.

Read more in our vegetation-themed blog posts.

Work on best land first and extend from there

Maximise production on the best performing areas of the property first. Use additional income to invest in poorer performing areas without compromising cashflow.

Many of our case study participants did not take an ‘all or nothing’ approach, but managed improvements or infrastructure implementation over time and using increased production to ensure cashflow. Costs for constructing fences to reduce paddock size for rotational time-controlled planned grazing were recouped in 2 years on Lana and 3 on Dukes Plains.

Other graziers changed practices to incorporate trading or agisting to better manage stock numbers as carrying capacity increased. Using the sell-buy approach – where you only buy with profits available from previous sale, so you’re not in debt, rather than buy-sell and banking on production covering all costs also helps to manage debt. (Look at pages 27-28 of Bruce Ward’s The little book on managing holistically for a good explanation of this technique.)

Manage in times of plenty for times of shortage

Conditions will always change. By enhancing your landscape through improving soil health, water-use efficiency, maintaining groundcover and adjusting your stocking rate to match your land’s carrying capacity, you will build resilience to a changing climate and enable sustainable production.

Matching stocking rates to the carrying capacity of the land was evidenced as a very important factor by a number of grazing enterprises. The use of grazing charts to generate a benchmark carrying capacity per 100mm rainfall, as illustrated on Gunningrah, effectively provides a feedback loop from pasture to management about when to increase or decrease stocking rates. This has been demonstrated to good effect, especially on properties adopting stock trading strategies, such as on Bokhara Plains and Tallawang.

Reduce reliance on inputs

Reduce or cease the use of chemical fertilisers and bio-cides (herbicides, pesticides, etc.) to support biodiversity and enable healthy biological functioning and nutrient cycling. This can reduce farm input costs too.

Take a holistic view and use alternative methods and address the route cause of issues being addressed with off-farm inputs. Read how weeds were overcome on Shannon Vale Station through managing soil fertility rather than using herbicides and how input costs were reduced on Inveraray Downs and Winona through reduction in chemical use and use of regenerative techniques.

Observe, measure and respond

Keep records and photos to show incremental changes and inform you which practices are working and which are not so you can extend or change them for best effect.

Observation and measurement were central to the adoption and maintenance of regenerative landscape management practices by many of those interviewed for the case studies. Maintaining regular records and observing the landscape through techniques such as keeping a fixed point photographic record allow incremental change to be tracked. This then provides an effective feedback mechanism to respond to.

John and Robyn Ive of Talaheni provide a key example of these practices, capturing over 30 years of data. John notes, “If you do not measure it, you cannot manage it”.

Some case study participants are maintaining a direct link between management practices and production. For example, on Dukes Plain, measurement of the planned grazing practices includes the stocking rate, shelter type, percentage of canopy cover as well as grazing pressure - which can be converted to grass consumed, based on the known consumption patterns of the stock class concerned. Production is measured in terms of kilograms of beef produced per hectare of pasture. Cause and effect relationships can therefore be determined and influencing factors adjusted.

You too can do it

In adopting regenerative landscape management practices, these principles emerged across the Soils for Life case studies, regardless of enterprise or location [1] - once they made the decision to act.

The case study participants demonstrated fortitude and commitment to persist when the techniques were new and results took time to achieve. These farmers emphasised that trial and error is an important process in learning and adjusting practices to suit the landscape and personal goals. Many cited that they made mistakes along the way, but, importantly, they persisted. And today they are reaping the rewards.

Perhaps their lessons will help you on your regenerative journey?


Footnote
[1] Soils for Life is aware that there is a dominance of grazing enterprises in NSW amongst the 19 case studies. Should funding be acquired for additional case studies, Soils for Life will seek to focus on other enterprise types and locations and share any additional principles identified.

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Supporting natural cycles with Holistic Management

Thursday, April 11, 2013
image of lush
pastures on Lana

After looking at the key components for regenerative landscape management – soil, water, and vegetation - in detail in our blogs so far, this post will look at the application of a technique that focuses on the big picture and all these components together – Holistic Management.

Yesterday we hosted our demonstration and field day on case study property Lana in the NSW Northern Tablelands, just outside Uralla. The field day wrap up will be coming soon, but in the meantime this post will look at how Holistic Management has been applied by the Wrights and some of the benefits they have achieved.

Adopting Holistic Management

On his 3350 hectare property, Lana, and accompanying 780 hectare Kasamanca, Tim Wright has been applying Holistic Management practices for almost 20 years. After experiencing falling profit margins and increasing susceptibility to drought in the early 1990s, he was motivated to change practices by excessively high production costs and the opportunity to better use grazing management.

The Wrights undertook a number of courses – including a Holistic Management course (read the recent Soils for Life experience at a Holistic Management course) – through which they learned about the importance of decision making and working towards their own holistic goal.

As a result of testing all of their management decisions against their personal principles and holistic goal, the Wrights are now enhancing the productivity and resilience of their landscapes and grazing operations.

image of Lana paddock plan
       Lana control board - the paddock plan

Grazing management is now the primary management tool used by the Wrights. Since 1980, the number of paddocks have been increased from 30 to some 350 by subdividing paddocks that had been 100-120 hectares in size to 10-15 hectare paddocks. This allows shorter, more intensive controlled grazing on, and longer strategic rest periods for each paddock. Eroded watercourses have been fenced off and a mix of troughs and dams are used for stock water.

Tim notes that the cost of development has been returned within two years as a result of productivity increases.

Using stock to manage fertility

Paddock layouts and the controlled movement of stock facilitate the redistribution of soil nutrients from areas of high to low fertility. Nutrients are thus deposited in a different part of the property from where they are taken. This process also enhances biological activity through the more even spreading of nutrient from manure and urine.

image of cow manure
       Nutrient transfer in action

The nutrition and health of the pastures has increased consistently in response to this enhanced grazing management despite no fertilisers being added for several decades. This increase has resulted from the increased solubilization, availability and cycling of essential plant nutrients from what had been locked-up, unavailable soil nutrients by the deeper, longer lived perennial grass roots and associated rhizosphere microbiologies fostered by the holistic grazing management.

The periodic high intensity grazing and its urine and dung and the trampling of these pastures has also contributed to the transfer of essential plant nutrients from deeper in the soil profile and past fertiliser additions into available surface organic matter nutrient pools.

image of soil with worm on Lana
       A good covering of plant litter helps to add organic
      matter to the soil and creates a haven for worms

While in the long term Lana will require the nutrients that have been exported in products to be returned to its soils, the holistic grazing management processes has significantly increased the availability and cycling of essential plant nutrients from the former unavailable soil pools and thereby the productivity of Lana's native perennial pastures. These perennial pastures were also able to sustain this increased productivity even during the recent extended drought, underlying the resilience improvements able to be achieved through such holistic landscape regeneration and grazing management approaches.

By maximising the use of nutrients already available on the property and using stock to spread them, the Wrights have been able triple their stocking levels and productivities without requiring chemical fertiliser additions.

Taking advantage of enterprise diversity

image of sheep and cattle grazing on Lana
       Sheep and cattle are grazed separately or together, depending
       on fodder availability and animal requirements

The Wrights have diversified enterprises on Lana, providing flexibility and risk management in the farm ecosystem. They are optimising outcomes from their grazing rotation by mixing stock classes and animal types. This gains a greater level of pasture utilisation and subsequently nutrient cycling. In terms of the differing requirements of animals in their enterprises through time, the Wrights are able to spread the feed demand between production for fine wool, fat lambs, breeding cattle and fattening cattle, better utilising the resources naturally available at different times of the year.

By having a holistic goal and understanding all the aspects which contribute to successful production, the Wrights have changed from grazing practices with poor relationship and feedback loops between monthly feed availability and the stock rate being run, such as with set stocking.

They now have the flexibility and capacity to proactively respond to influences on production they cannot control, such as seasonal rainfall and temperature and related grass and water resource availability. They can then manage carrying capacity to match the resources on hand whilst there is time to manage the outcome of too much or too little feed, without degrading the natural resource base.

Increased outputs, reduced inputs

image of Lana paddock plan
       Previously poor, bracken-infested areas now
       support productive pasture

Since the 1980s, the Wrights have increased their carrying capacity from an average of 8,000 DSE [1] to 20,000 DSE and this production increase has been maintained through periods of drought. The improved groundcover and increased organic matter in the soil have allowed for improved rainfall infiltration and retention and increased resilience to periods of reduced rainfall.

Labour requirements have reduced from one person per 5,000 DSE to one per 12,000 DSE. While animals are being moved regularly, a pattern with which they become familiar, this increased human exposure also makes them easier to handle and monitor for general farm practices.

Keep changing with nature

The Wrights emphasise that trial and error is an important process in learning and adjusting practices to suit the landscape and personal goals. All of our case study farmers have noted that that they have made mistakes along the way, but, importantly, persisted with changing to sustainable, regenerative practices. As Tim highlights, "...we assume we could be wrong, and we monitor and replan. This is the holistic feedback loop, which is really important. Tomorrow is another day – nature is changing every minute and we have to change with Mother Nature".

Read the Lana case study for more of the Wright’s story, and keep an eye on our News page for the Lana Field Day wrap-up coming soon.
The Soils for Life Team


FOOTNOTE:
1 DSE is a stock measurement, ‘dry sheep equivalent’ based on the feed requirements of a 45kg wether. This can be multiplied for various type s of stock, for example a ewe with one lamb is measured as 1.5 DSE, and a dry cow is equivalent to 6-8 DSE.

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Inherent resilience in biodiverse perennial pastures

Thursday, March 28, 2013
image of cattle on Tallawang
image of Craig Carter

We hope you enjoy our second guest blog, this time by Soils for Life case study participant Craig Carter of Tallawang.
Read Craig’s own experience of how the resilience in his pastures as a result of his regenerative farming practices enabled him to effectively manage the climate extremes experienced at the beginning of 2013.


On 19 February, Nicky and I had the pleasure of attending a workshop with the self confessed lunatic farmer Joel Salatin [of Polyface Farms in the USA]. It was a refreshing insight into his views on a wide range of matters that are pretty pertinent to what we are trying to achieve at Tallawang.

One of the more insightful remarks was to consider all non-growing periods as dormant times and not try to give them different names according to the season or amount of rainfall you have received – very much in the keep it simple mode. This really applies to perennial systems as a failed “crop” of annuals is a failed crop.


Those who have read our case study on the Soils for Life site will be familiar with the focus that we have on perennial grasses and rainfall.

This past six to eight months months has been challenging period as the winter rains provided a kickstart for the grasses but no follow up rain left them in a dormant state for much of spring and the first month or so of summer. Our rolling rainfall didn’t drop below average until November when it fell off a cliff picked up again in December but searing heat and wind terminated all but the hardiest of annuals. From a livestock point of view it was time to consider destocking if no significant rain fell in January.

image of cattle on Tallawang

Stock numbers on Tallawang are adjusted according to fodder availability

To paint the picture, the only green bits on Tallawang were the vege patch (constant watering from the Chief Vege Person) and the well hydrated creek flats that were copping a punishing as we were trying to hold condition on cattle for sale.

The week leading up to Australia Day was cruel – one night down to 37 degrees. Then Cyclone Oswald arrived – bringing 199 mm of rain followed up by a further 25mm. A significant flood and much re-fencing. However, the key result was an explosion of grass.


image of young tree in pasture

Regenerating Eucalyptus albens

   

Grasses that had been dozing since October like the Tall Oat grass, Kangaroo Grass and Qld Blue woke from their heat- and dry-induced snooze, Bothriachloa Biloba and Silky brown top (later starters) shot up and we now have a sward of highly productive and diverse pastures. First off the block were annual grasses like Liverseed, paspalum and Barnyard grass and a range of forbs, however, within three weeks of the rain the perennial grasses and native legumes had grown fast enough to start adding lots of compensatory kilos on to the cows to make up for the weight stability or reduction that had been sustained during November and December.

Our response to this fast growing sward of pasture has been to accelerate our rotation between paddocks from once every day and a half, where we were trying to give the pasture as much rest as we could to moving twice a day morning and night.


We have purchased additional stock to match our capacity and keep the grass in a state of constant growth.

What is the message? We have built significant resilience into our landscape and this can only come about with a very diverse range of grasses, herbs, legumes and forbs and well hydrated landscape. This resilience enabled fabulous recovery of the landscape putting us in the position to be able to buy in stock whilst many in our district were waiting for the grass to grow. The broader the range of perennials the better ground cover and the earlier you have saleable cattle. And this is all done with no purchased inputs.


image of poor and degraded pasture with bare soil visible     image of thriving and diverse pastures

Degraded pastures on Tallawang when Craig bought the property (left) have been regenerated to biodiverse and resilient perennial pastures through his grazing management practices (right).


Read the Tallawang case study to learn how Craig and and his partner, Nicky, built this resilience in their landscape.

Questions for Craig? Any thoughts? Click on 'Comments' below and let us know.

The Soils for Life Team

Making the most of vegetation

Thursday, March 14, 2013
image of trees

Tree planting is a well-known and popular activity within landscape regeneration, and the benefits that can be gained are broad. Combined with maximising ground cover, some of our case studies have demonstrated strong production and economic benefits from making the most of revegetation on their properties.

What trees can do for you…

Trees can improve agricultural production by providing shade and shelter that protects stock and crops from wind and extremes of heat and cold. Vegetation contributes to an effective water cycle. Together with extensive, slow biodegrading litters, diverse woodland communities reduce surface wind speeds and extreme temperatures that would otherwise encourage significant evaporation losses.

Studies on a wide range of sites have shown that shelterbelts can improve crop productivity, typically by 5% to 20% [1]. Trees established as shelterbelts and woodlots can be managed to produce timber and other tree products, thus increasing diversification of farm income [2]. Experiences of our case study participants have further demonstrated the benefits of tree regeneration and/or revegetation.

Increase profits…

On Dukes Plain near Theodore in Queensland, Shane Joyce is measuring the financial benefit of increased vegetation in his pastures. Shane has found that paddocks with regenerated stands of brigalow (Acacia harpophylla) support higher production (a gross margin of $112.74 ha/year) compared with those that had been cleared (gross margin of $83.96 ha/year).

Shane’s own observation and monitoring on Dukes Plain identified the importance of shelterbelts and tree canopy levels in relation to production, as well as for regeneration of natural resources.

Shane observed a balance between sunlight reaching the grass understorey for photosynthesis and the benefits to that understorey of having shade during hot periods when photosynthesis would otherwise shut down. He noted that shelterbelts also provide protection from wind shear on both moisture loss and animal performance in cold, as well as a barrier to frost impact on leaf production. As trees have deeper roots, they also intercept nutrient from depth, recycling to topsoil and subsequently grass production via fallen leaf and residues.

image of narrow shelterbelts of trees image of wide shelterbelts of trees

Shane Joyce experimented with both narrow (left) and wide (right) shelterbelts to identify what would optimise production.

The Joyces observed that approximately a 40% canopy provided optimum pasture production for them. This is not a fixed ratio and will change from area to area relative to seasonal values of temperature, wind and rainfall frequency. The optimum level will vary from farm to farm - and is an area that can be investigated to maximise individual outcomes.

Increase productive land…

As discussed in an earlier post, on Talaheni, John and Robyn Ive are using revegetation to capture rainfall higher in their property to lower the water table and subsequently reduce salinity problems. As a result, saline seeps have been all but eliminated across their property, making much more productive land available.

The Ives have used innovative techniques, employing strategic grazing to exploit variable seasonal conditions, and using livestock to disturb hard ground surface to facilitate germination. Combined with additional manual planting, the Ives estimate they have established more than 200,000 trees on their property. The result of their actions are clearly visible along their boundary line in the image below.

image of hill with trees on one side and not on the other

Just some of the benefits that can be obtained by regenerating vegetation and making it work for you!

The Soils for Life Team



FOOTNOTE:
1 Cleugh, H., 2003, Trees for Shelter: a Guide to Using Windbreaks on Australian Farms, RIRDC Publication 02/059, Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, Canberra.
2 Fritsch, S. and Hudson, B., 2008, Whole Farm Financial and Environmental Returns Under Farm Forestry: Six case studies, RIRDC Publication 08/146, Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, Canberra.

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Improving pastures

Thursday, February 28, 2013
image of pasture with trees in background

Revegetating our degraded landscapes isn’t just about planting trees, but encouraging a biodiversity of vegetation to perform all the essential ecosystem services that nature provides. Ensuring continuous ground cover is particularly important to restoring landscape health.

In our last post we mentioned that livestock grazing accounts for use of 55% of Australia’s land area [1]. While overgrazing is a well-documented cause of landscape degradation, regenerative practices, such as planned grazing and intelligent use of livestock has been demonstrated to restore groundcover and landscape health (watch this presentation by Allan Savory). By adopting these practices, we therefore have the opportunity to ensure a thriving landscape across more than half of our country.

The innovative farmers in the Soils for Life case studies are already implementing regenerative practices on their managed landscapes with positive natural resource and production results.

Planned grazing

image of dense mob of cattle in long grass

Various forms of time-controlled planned grazing are being practiced on our case study properties, including Bokhara Plains, Tallawang, Lana (register now to attend the Demonstration Day there 10 April), Gunningrah (read the guest blog posts by Charlie Maslin), and Dukes Plain (Demo Day scheduled for 3 July), amongst others.

Their results through applying these techniques include increasing groundcover and proliferation of preferred pasture species such as native perennial grasses. Establishing and maintaining perennial grasses assists in providing resilience to the landscape.

Our case studies have demonstrated that increased persistence of native perennial species in pasture provides for more continuous groundcover. This protects the soils from erosion and weed incursion, produces root biomass, builds soil organic matter to enhance water holding capacity and enhances resilience against drought. Preferred species can be encouraged through grazing techniques and by monitoring and responding to plant life cycles to maximise – or minimise – plant succession.

Supporting vegetation succession to more productive species of grass and shelter in turn promotes stronger mineral and water cycles and attracts a greater diversity of animals to then recycle nutrient back to plants.

Maintaining groundcover

Many of the Soils for Life case study participants cited the goal of "100% groundcover, 100% of the time".

image of emerging crop sown in pasture

On Winona, Colin Seis’ ‘pasture cropping’ technique aligns with perennial grass lifecycles, ensuring continuous groundcover and delivering multiple production lines from his land. Colin sows crops into dormant perennial pastures and has integrated his grazing enterprise to graze the crop stubble and regenerating pastures (and read what this has done for his soil carbon levels in an earlier post).


image of lush pasture

Deeper rooted plants can draw on deeper moisture and nutrient for plant production. This in turn increases water holding capacity and structure to receive moisture infiltration where there is greater groundcover. As illustrated by Martin Royds of Jillamatong, deep rooted plants can be sought out to facilitate this. Martin elected to encourage growth of chicory (Cichorium intybus) and plantain (Plantago major), after observing the deep tap roots of weeds that he was removing from his more shallow-rooted pastures. He also observes that by allowing pastures to grow longer through planned rotational grazing practices, the dew condensing on the tall perennial grasses each night now provides additional water that helps sustain soil moisture and healthy pasture growth.

image of kangaroo grasses going to seed

Another technique being applied to increase pasture quality and quantity is the establishment and protection of seed banks – or “seed orchards”, as Ben and Graham Forsyth of Three Rivers Station in the fragile West Australian rangelands call them. By protecting clumps of preferred grasses enabling them to complete their lifecycle, seed can spread and increase the population of the preferred species.





Join us in restoring our landscape – one paddock at a time. Make maximising groundcover a priority on your property today!

The Soils for Life Team

FOOTNOTE:
1 State of the Environment 2011 Committee, Australia: State of the Environment 2011, Independent report to the Australian Government Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Canberra: DSEWPaC, 2011, p 271

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A healthy landscape