The Drought Proof Property


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New England grazier Tim Wright explains how he tamed the fierce Australian drought by planned grazing. He presented at the Carbon Farming Conference & Expo at Orange NSW Australia in November 2009.

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The Drought Proof Property

  1. 1. Working with nature at ‘Lana’ Tim & Karen Wright ‘ Lana’, Balala, NSW, Australia 2358 Disclaimer - The information in this presentation is based on our own experiences. Please be advised that this information may be incomplete or unsuitable for use in specific situations. Before taking any action or decision based on this presentation, you should seek expert advice.
  2. 2. Where are we situated? Uralla, Northern Tabelands, NSW
  3. 3. <ul><li><1955 – western wethers, spring burning, total of 4500 DSE </li></ul><ul><li>1955 – first aerial application of superphosphate </li></ul><ul><li>1970-1989 – sown pastures (12%) and livestock buildup </li></ul><ul><li>1992-1994 – cell grazing trial </li></ul><ul><li>1995-2006 – planned grazing and holistic management </li></ul><ul><li>2002 – Kasamanca farm development began </li></ul>History of ‘Lana’
  4. 4. <ul><li>From 35 paddocks (averaging 240 acres each) to 250 paddocks (averaging 32 acres each) </li></ul><ul><li>Five major farmlets and one minor farmlet </li></ul><ul><li>3500 DSE per ‘farmlet’ </li></ul><ul><li>1 DSE = 1x45kg dry sheep </li></ul>
  5. 5. The high cost of pasture establishment and haymaking (especially for long term droughts)
  6. 6. Water & feed were in short supply
  7. 7. <ul><li>The lack of a grazing plan, which resulted in ‘knee-jerk’ decision-making </li></ul><ul><li>Overgrazing and underutilisation of pastures – in 1990, only 40% of the pasture was being utilised </li></ul><ul><li>The terms of trade have been in decline for many years – costs of production exceed returns </li></ul>
  8. 8. The change led to greater species diversity (more cool season perennials) and 100% groundcover all year-round. Native pasture species are more tolerant of drought and acid soils
  9. 10. Changes in soils Nutrients increased under planned grazing at ‘Lana’
  10. 11. A whole farm management approach <ul><li>Holistic Management is about decision-making </li></ul><ul><li>Decisions are always made based on a combined business and family, multi-faceted goal (holistic goal) </li></ul><ul><li>Decisions are always made based on identifying the weak link and then treating the cause rather than the symptom </li></ul><ul><li>Decisions consider the social, environmental and economic implications of their outcomes </li></ul><ul><li>We assume our decisions can be wrong so we constantly monitor to review and refine decisions </li></ul>
  11. 12. <ul><li>More litter, greater rooting depth, means: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>quicker plant response to rain, more subsurface moisture </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>dams aren’t drying out as much </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>greater rainfall use efficiency (20-25% increase) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Healthier riparian zones mean: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>less streambank erosion, no stock tracking </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>platypus in streams </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Vegetation regenerating means: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>no need to plant trees </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>all understorey species likely to benefit, including herbs </li></ul></ul>1. Water cycle 2. Community dynamics
  12. 13. 3. Mineral cycle 4. Energy flow <ul><li>Mineral cycle: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Dead, non-decaying material indicates an ineffective mineral cycle </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Energy flow: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Aim to trap maximum sunlight energy via green leaf </li></ul></ul>
  13. 14. B. Livestock as tools <ul><li>We use animals as machinery – slashing, ploughing, fertilising – mainly in a leader-follower programme </li></ul><ul><li>We use stock density to reduce overgrazing and improve pasture utilisation relative to time </li></ul>
  14. 15. Supplementation vs substitution <ul><li>More balanced, diverse pastures have been linked to better animal nutrition and animal health. </li></ul><ul><li>During dry periods when pastures become rank, we supplement with by-pass protein and minerals. </li></ul>
  15. 16. Changes in biodiversity <ul><li>We have noted increases in: </li></ul><ul><li>Native tree regeneration </li></ul><ul><li>Native pasture species diversity </li></ul><ul><li>Ground cover – 100% ground cover means improved mineral cycle, water cycle & rainfall use efficiency </li></ul><ul><li>Birds – 8 endangered species were identified </li></ul><ul><li>Mammals – numerous bats were recorded and platypus indicate good water quality </li></ul><ul><li>Soil biota – mushrooms, toadstools, dung beetles, ants & spiders </li></ul>
  16. 17. From 1980 to 2008, ‘Lana’ increased its rainfall use efficiency
  17. 18. <ul><li>Three droughts compared: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>1980-81 </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>$5.50/week/cow-calf unit for 15 months (1981 $) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>4 years to recover financially </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>1993-94 (half-way through development) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>60c/week/cow-calf unit for 9 months (1994 $) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>no debt </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>2002 </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>80c/week/cow-calf unit for 10 months (2002 $) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>no debt </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Land benefited as well as no recovery was required </li></ul>The cost of drought has decreased
  18. 19. Pasture cropping
  19. 20. Pasture cropping
  20. 21. In summary <ul><li>Our highest return on capital has been from education, not regulation </li></ul><ul><li>The biggest breakthrough has been the ability to plan ahead through feed budgeting </li></ul><ul><li>Managing the whole system with HM/PG is more rewarding than high input systems and sown pastures </li></ul><ul><li>We are improving our triple bottom line – environmental, economic and social </li></ul><ul><li>In the future, we need to develop ways to monitor soil biota and convince others of the benefits </li></ul>