HOW TO USE THIS ONLINE MAGAZINE
by clicking the arrows at the side of the page.
by clicking anywhere on the page. A slider will appear, allowing you to adjust your zoom level.
and move the page around when zoomed in by dragging the page.
and return to the original size by clicking on the page again.
by entering text in the search field and click on "In This Issue" or "All Issues" to search the current issue or the archive of back issues
a PDF of this magazine.
by clicking on thumbnails to select pages, and then press the print button.
a page via email, Facebook, Twitter and more.
TO VIEW PREVIOUS EDITIONS
, click the
button at the bottom of the screen.
Beyond the Bale : December 2018
40 ON FARM WEATHERING THE DROUGHT WITH REGENERATIVE AGRICULTURE The property of woolgrower and pasture cropping pioneer Colin Seis from Gulgong in the Central Tablelands of NSW is coping with the drought better than a lot of other farms in the region, which he attributes to his perennial grassland and regenerative agricultural practices. Colin Seis and his son Nick run 3,500 Merinos, grow cereal crops and harvest native grass seed on the family’s 840 ha property ‘Winona’ 20km north of Gulgong. The property also runs the ‘Winona’ Merino stud, and is one of the largest breeders of Kelpie dogs. The average annual rainfall is 650mm, but they have seen less than half that for the past two years due to the drought conditions that have affected many farms across eastern Australia. While many properties in NSW have been relying on fodder from interstate and handfeeding of stock, Colin has been supplementary feeding grain and minerals to his sheep, but most of the feed has come from his native perennial grassland pastures for sustaining his flock during drought. “It’s been very dry here this year, just like many parts of the state, and while the farm isn’t going as well as it normally would, our grassland pastures have been very resilient and responded well when we have had the little bit of rain,” Colin said. “Following a storm in February, we had green pasture in summer and autumn; when the summer-growing native grasses became dormant in winter it became standing dry feed. This pasture feed is good quality and the sheep are doing well on it – while we are supplementing with a bit of protein, some urea and a little bit of grain, leading up to lambing.” The benefit of native grassland has been shown in this year’s September shorn wool clip. The sheep cut around the same amount of wool as previous years. Its yield was around seventy percent, and tested sound, with results of 40-45 Nkt. A BIT OF HISTORY The Seis family has farmed at Winona since the 1860s. Ranging from valley floors and gentle slopes rising to granite outcrops on hilltops and ridges, the predominant soils on Winona are well-drained coarse and fine sands derived from granite. From the 1930s to 1980, the farm was used for wheat, oats, wool and sheep production. Pastures of introduced grasses, mostly annual species (sub clover, rye grass, small areas of lucerne), were established. Set or continuous stock grazing practices were used. Crops were sown every three to five years by ploughing and working the soil up to five times. Crop yields during this period were good, with more than three tonnes per hectare being achieved. However, Colin says to sustain agricultural productivity it was necessary to apply high rates of fertiliser to correct phosphorus, molybdenum and calcium deficiencies. “While superphosphate was cheap and subsidised by government during the 1950s and 1960s this high input method was very productive,” he said. “However, as superphosphate became more expensive and the government subsidy was removed, this high input system was no longer affordable.” Colin goes further and says the management of Winona from 1930 to 1980 turned out to be an ecological disaster. “Loss of land to salinity, declining soil structure and quality, soil carbon loss, dead and dying trees, insect attack, fungal and animal diseases, plus the high cost of fertilisers, herbicides and other inputs showed the suffering of an unhealthy system.” In 1979 a devastating bushfire ran through the property destroying the farm’s infrastructure and livestock, which meant that a lack of income prevented him re-establishing the previous high input cost cropping method. Colin was left with no choice but to change the way farming was done on Winona. PASTURE CROPPING During the next 20 years, Colin and his neighbour Daryl Cluff developed a new technique they call ‘pasture cropping’ that involves sowing crops into living perennial pastures and growing them in combination, so that the cropping and grazing benefit each other. “Pasture cropping enables integration of sheep and crop production, optimising production of both while minimising chemical inputs and machinery use and improving soil structure and fertility,” Colin said. “While conventional cropping methods require that all vegetation be killed prior to sowing and while the crop is growing, with pasture cropping there is no need to kill competing ground cover vegetation, and yet adequate productivity can still be achieved. “Groundcover is maintained at all times which makes the paddocks more resilient to drought, wind and water erosion are avoided, soil structure is not destroyed by cultivation, and chemical input requirements are only a fraction of those used in traditional crop production methods.” Sowing a crop using the pasture cropping method also stimulates a diverse variety of perennial grass seedlings, which had sat dormant in the soil, to grow in high numbers. This then produces more stock feed after the crop is harvested and totally eliminates the need to re-sow pastures. “Economically, this technique provides good potential for profit as input costs are substantially less than conventional cropping methods. The added benefit in a mixed farm situation is that up to six months extra grazing is achieved with pasture cropping as no grazing time is lost due to traditional ground preparation and weed control requirements.” Colin Seis in early October on his farm, with plenty of feed for his Merinos.
In the Shops - March 2019