image from the Forum

Leading innovator in regenerative farming, Tim Wright, addresses participants at the Soils for Life National Forum.

The Soils for Life National Forum was held 14-16 March 2014 to bring together our inspirational case study farmers so we could learn from them about regenerative landscape management in practice, and they from each other.

Board member and regenerative farmer from Boorowa, David Marsh, hosted Day 1 of the Forum as we heard some highlights of regenerative farming, as well as what these practitioners believed was needed to encourage wider adoption on landscapes across Australia…

“What excites me is that we’ve been able to make what we do work… Our philosophy in 2006 was challenged; intensive, high-input treatment of pasture was not working and the reason for that was because we hadn’t let the biology have a go. The only component of the soils that we’d ever tried to fix, was to concentrate on the chemistry. The philosophy of ‘a little bit’s good, so a lot’s got to be better’ really doesn’t work.
"Shifting funds that were used in cultivating and those extra urea applications into more wire and more water, meant that our grazing was better. We focused on getting the dung beetles active. They’re our greatest mates, the dung beetles...”

Greg Chappell, Shannon Vale Station

“I see that the future is working with the landscape rather than fighting against it. We were cowboys when I was a kid. We raced out on our motorbikes and rounded up the cattle flat out and thought we were doing a great job. Now I go to the gate and call the cattle and they run to me… The cattle are building our soils, the cow is one of our greatest tools.”
Martin Royds, Jillamatong

“The agriculture soils, up until the last four years, were not recognised as a valuable asset to the catchment, I was a lone voice for a long time. But now that’s changed and they’ve even appointed a soil health officer. My next challenge is to change the attitudes of agronomists that push the high input, high urea, burning stubbles and high fungicide use.”
Brian Wilson, Briandra

“One of the things that really excites me about this program is it shows we’re not on our own… The wall we’ve got to break down is how we get the neighbours to start to do what we’re doing and think like we’re thinking.”
Craig Carter, Tallawang

“18 years ago we converted to organic, and it was probably one of the best moves we’ve made. We use less water, in the past 20 years we’ve never had a cow with bloat… We haven’t drenched the cows for liver fluke or worms for 20-odd years, we rarely call a vet. We don’t get many sick cattle. We’ve learnt to use all our waste, dairy effluent, …our soils are really healthy and we’ve developed some really good markets for our organic milk.”
Ian Klein, Pine Lodge

“What induces me to get up in the morning is seeing our farm rebuilding. Rebuilding the soil, rebuilding the pastures and rebuilding what we’d done for many years… we were using farming practices that were actually mining our natural resource. Once we came to the realisation of that, that’s when we started seeing some really big changes on our farm.”
[On composting…]"If we could utilise some of the waste from our city cousins, back into our farmlands and turn it into fertility system for producing food, we’re going a long way forward to start joining the city and country together.”
Bill Daly, Milgadara

“The thing that excites me the most is not what I can’t do, but what we actually can do now. There is no limitation to what we can do… In 2010 we more than doubled the size of our farm, received under 4 inches of rain that year, it was the worse year by far. In 2010 we harvested all our crop, a profitable crop, and kept every bit of livestock on the property. Just through connecting with the country and listening to what the country is telling you. It’s enabled us to take on land that no one will go near, and in year number one turn a profit on it.”
Ian Haggerty, Prospect Pastoral Company

“Salinity levels were around 7000ppm, they’re now less than 100ppm, which is better than Canberra’s drinking water. Water has gone from being a liability to an asset.”
John Ive, Talaheni

“It’s just so much simpler, in our grazing system, to run cattle in rotations and under control. It’s almost embarrassing that we do it pretty easy and it’s so simple what we do. We literally take country that’s under-developed, which is much of Australia, put water on it, and once you put water on it you can run stock on it. And that’s the first basis of increasing capacity. The second part is getting control of it and making them eat the grasses that you want.
The whole system is so much easier than what we did before… all of a sudden, once you fence it up and water it up, you’ve got control of it and you can see what you’re doing."

John Dunnicliff, Beetaloo Station

“When we realised that we had to make a change in the way that we ran the place, the thing that excited me was just making that change. When we started putting mobs together - I’d done a grazing course and talked to a few people - I was really excited just to see what was going to develop. It didn’t take long for the changes to appear.”
Charlie Maslin, Gunningrah

“The reason I focused on native grasses was because they didn’t need fertilisers… With a combination of grazing management and changing our cropping methods, not only have we restored the grasslands, but we’ve restored ecological function. On 'Winona' now, the farm is functioning as an ecosystem. Farms should all function as an ecosystem. The closer I get to running the place how nature designed it, the more profitable it is, and the easier it is."
Colin Seis, Winona

“I was told at the time, ‘it wouldn’t work, where’s the science?’… but we are scientists in our own right. We have got to learn, and teach other farmers, how to monitor our land, how to measure the things we do – whether it be on a transect or photographic evidence, whatever it is. It is vital that we measure what we do and get it out there to the wider world."
“Since we introduced Holistic thinking, we haven’t fed any grain or hay in over 20 years, and we’re into our third or fourth drought now… Education, not regulation. Education is far more profitable.”

Tim Wright, Lana

Soils for Life Chairman, Major General Michael Jeffery, summarised what he saw as the key points emerging from the morning session:

General Jeffery also discussed what Soils for Life stands for and the opportunities and way ahead in the future to better encourage the wide adoption of regenerative landscape management practices. These topics were workshopped in the afternoon session, and great ideas were flowing left, right and centre. There’s no shortage of motivation and inspiration from land managers who are getting the best out of their land and watching the natural resource improve for generations to come.

The Forum was very well received by all participants. It was a valuable exercise not only for Soils for Life in advancing our mission, but for the farmers as well, who are driven by continuous learning and could all take away something new from each other.

Read about Day 2 of the Forum.

image from the Forum

Soils for Life innovative case study farmers from across Australia came together to share ideas about encouraging wider adoption of regenerative landscape management.


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