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Beyond the Bale : December 2018
ON FARM 41 Colin has spent many years perfecting this technique and can now grow many different types of winter and summer growing crops on Winona, without destroying the perennial pasture base. He now sows commercial crops into the dominant pasture by direct drilling to minimise soil disturbance. Sheep are used to prepare paddocks for the pasture crops and then the crops are sown, usually with no herbicide and 70% less fertiliser than conventional methods. Only relatively small amounts of liquid organic fertiliser are added at the time of sowing, using the same machine, so that tractor costs and soil compaction are minimised. This vertical stacking of enterprises enables three uses of Colin’s native perennial grassland in each paddock: grain cropping (oats and wheat), grazing sheep for wool and meat, and native seed harvesting. Wool and sheep production volumes have remained about the same as pre- 1979 bushfire times, however wool tensile strength has improved markedly and vegetable matter such as burr and seed in the wool has declined significantly making both the wool and sheep more valuable. “Importantly, while Winona now produces similar volumes of wool and grain to that achieved under previous management methods, annual costs have decreased significantly and the condition of the land is improving, not degrading,” Colin emphasised. “It’s hard not to make money using this system!” ROTATIONAL GRAZING weeds. Using herbicides can help in some circumstances but can also kill desirable species, such as the perennial pasture species.” Tree health has improved and the remaining naturally established trees are regenerating. In addition, around 15,000 local native trees and shrubs have been planted in belts to form wildlife corridors and to link areas of remnant native vegetation. A large increase of spiders in pastures has delivered a more stable balance to the insect populations and provided biological control of problem insects like red legged earth mite. By applying regenerative forms of cropping and grazing, Colin has more than doubled soil carbon and significantly improved the soil water holding capacity in just ten years. The vast majority of the soil carbon is highly stable, meaning it is significantly less subject to degradation, and carbon is being built and measured to a depth of 500mm. All soil nutrients increased, including phosphorus, by an average of 172% in available and total amounts, except for aluminium, iron and sodium, which have decreased. In addition to being able to pass on a productive and sustainable farm to the next generation, Colin feels a well-deserved sense of achievement at having developed an innovative farming method that is being adopted by thousands of other farmers in similar climates and soil landscapes all across the world. “With pasture cropping it is now possible to produce an annual crop like wheat and a perennial grain crop for human consumption off the same area within a twelve-month period. Added to this is the grazing value of sheep meat and wool as well as native grass seed, carbon sequestration and a landscape resilient to drought,” he said. MORE INFORMATION: For more information about pasture cropping visit www.pasturecropping.com or view a case study at www.soilsforlife. org.au/case-studies/winona Colin can be contacted on (02) 6375 9256 or 0428 759 256 and email at email@example.com Harvesting the grain crop, showing the green and growing perennial pasture. Soil from a time-controlled rotationally grazed and pasture cropped paddock (left) and from a conventionally grazed and cropped paddock (right). The soil on the left contains significantly more microbial life, soil carbon and subsequently greater water holding capacity. Emerging green grain seedlings in dormant perennial pasture. Pasture cropping Colin’s sheep grazing the ample pasture in February 2016. The grain crop growing in the pasture. Sheep are an intrinsic part of Colin’s pasture cropping system on Winona. They are managed in two main mobs – one comprising 2,000 ewes and the other 1,500 hoggets – rotated around 70 paddocks in a time-control rotational grazing technique. Before sowing, when perennial pasture species are dormant, short term time-control grazing with a large mob of sheep (100-150 per hectare) is used to graze and trample perennial pasture down to a height of around 100mm. This practice prepares the paddock for cropping by reducing the starting biomass and physically breaking down weeds, creating a litter and mulch layer and adding nutrients from manure and urine. “Once the crop is harvested, sheep are reintroduced for a short period to take advantage of the native pasture that has been re-growing while the crop was maturing. Grazing-tolerant native grass species such as red grass and spear grass are gradually being replaced by more productive species such as warrego summer- grass and wallaby grass. Significant areas of winter active species such as common wheat grass and weeping grass are returning.” Introducing time-control grazing necessitated a denser pattern of fencing to increase the number of paddocks from 10 to 70. A central laneway across the length of the property provides an efficient way to move sheep around the property. More than 70 small dams supply stock water as there are no creeks or rivers on Winona. These dams are maintained mainly through lateral underground flow. Colin recognises that trees provide stock with shelter and so has planted more than 2,000 single paddock trees, aiming to restore the original 1860s cover, estimated to be about two trees a hectare. HEALTHY LAND Overall, the implementation of pasture cropping has restored the landscape health on Winona. The property was once dominated by annual weeds like Capeweed and Paterson’s curse, but they have been drastically reduced. Winona is now a diverse, functioning native grassland with more than 60 native species. As Colin points out, this change was created, not with herbicides, but with groundcover. “Providing the conditions for perennial pasture species to thrive will steadily suppress the
In the Shops - March 2019