Make soil, don’t lose it, farmers told at Canowindra meeting

A group of wool producers are blocked from crossing a small culvert on Reids Flat Road near Cowra by the storm last Friday, January 11. Landholders lacking groundcover could not prevent soil loss from last Friday's deluge.
A group of wool producers are blocked from crossing a small culvert on Reids Flat Road near Cowra by the storm last Friday, January 11. Landholders lacking groundcover could not prevent soil loss from last Friday's deluge.

“‘Farmers must prioritise avoiding putting themselves under intense pressure in long dry times as it can lead to depression and other mental health issues,” according to Dubbo Agricultural Consultant, Mark Gardner who recently spoke to a group of farmers at a Canowindra woolshed meeting.

“Recent heavy storm activity has sent many drought-stricken farmers’ precious topsoil into dams, creeks and river systems and in many cases could have been prevented,” Mr Gardener said.

“Maintaining ground cover, with green leaves, allows a faster response when it does rain and results in more feed and less weeds,” he said.

Cranbury farmer, Matt Pearce, told the Canowindra meeting, maintaining groundcover throughout 2018’s extended dry period, has been his priority.

He said he has avoided “feeling under pressure by getting stock numbers right so pastures got the right rest”.  

Early destocking, applying conservative dry pasture assessment and creating a temporary feedlot were the strategies Mr Pearce described using.

“Make sure you’re not making decisions under pressure. For example, running out of feed half way through calving can be avoided if you always think three to six months ahead with a feed budget and a grazing plan involving planned recovery for every paddock.”

Mr Gardner told the group this was the first ‘drought’ he had experienced when stock were still worth significant money.

He reminded the group they were still at the start of a long hot summer and at the end of an extremely dry period.

“Farmers should avoid running their landscapes to bare soil and contributing to the dust storms that are predicted by scientists to continue frequently over this summer and also erosion.

“Farmers need to make soil not lose soil.  

“Soil protection through groundcover management is a key outcome of Regenerative management,” he said.

Mr Gardner has recently completed a report in collaboration with the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program, The Australian National University, the University of Canberra and the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

The report states there is significant potential to simultaneously increase environmental health and biodiversity in grassy box woodlands and improve financial and wellbeing for graziers.

The University of Canberra’s Dr Jackie Shirmer who runs the large Rural Wellbeing Survey and was involved in this project, found regenerative farmers had higher levels of physical health, wellbeing and happiness when compared to similar farms in the Rural Wellbeing Survey.

“It is possible to have good regenerative land management and be profitable and have healthy happy farmers,”Mr Gardner summarized.

The study also revealed unfavorable seasons are much more common than favorable, in 11 out of every 14 years, for the farmers in the study.

The study also found Regenerative farmers maintain profitability in below average years because of their low-cost structures, low risk management decisions and low levels of applied inputs.  This means in 11 out of every 14 years, regenerative style agriculture comes out on top.

For More information or access to this report, contact Scott Hickman on oatleighsjh@outlook.com who runs the Growing the Grazing Revolution for Mid Lachlan Landcare.

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