Making the change to regenerative landscape management

image of healthy regenerative land and neighbouring degraded land Lana and Gunningrahcases 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.