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Beyond the Bale : June 2019
LOWER COSTS AND HIGHER PRODUCTIVITY The new fencing and water infrastructure were initially funded by the reduction in other costs, such as fertiliser and hay, and abandoning pasture renovation. Increased production through the ability to raise stocking rates also covered the financing of the infrastructure. However, Tim emphasises the cost of development is returned within two years. “The point is you’ve got to spend money on infrastructure to get to the point where there is minimum input cost,” he says. “I wonder how many people in this drought might have been better if they had de-stocked a lot more and spent their money on fencing and poly pipe, and less on feed. We need to put dollars into solutions not band-aid treatments.” Grazing management has also significantly reduced vegetable matter (VM) in their wool. VM in skirtings has reduced from 9% to 2% since 1982, enabling Tim to decrease the amount of skirtings, increasing the main fleece lines and subsequently the overall value of the wool clip. Tim has shifted to shearing every 8-9 months. “It seems to be better for the sheep and wool quality with less VM and cotted wool.” Production improvements have seen wool staple strength increasing from an average 40 N/Ktx to 48 N/Ktx. Average fibre diameter has improved from 17.5 micron to 16 micron. Merino lambing has increased from 80% to 90%; calving rate has also increased from 80% to 90%. Larger mobs enable more efficient management and generally require less human input except for key periods such as lambing and shearing. Permanent labour requirements on the farm have reduced from one person per 4,000 DSE in the 1980s to one person per 16,000 DSE today, significantly lowering costs to the business. Importantly, it has also enabled the Wrights to have more time for off-farm social, community and consulting activities. LIVESTOCK ARE THE FARM TOOLS The Wrights show that stock can be used, in effect, as the farm machinery such as to transfer nutrients off sheep camps, and reduce weeds and intestinal worm infection. “We use the farm livestock as the tools to enhance the land as well as them being a source of income,” Tim said. “The slasher is their teeth, the plough is their feet and the fertiliser equipment is in their rear. Stock density, the herd effect, and planned rest from grazing are as much tools as is a plough.” Pastures are now altered by using grazing management and no chemicals are used. “Our animals distribute nutrients across the grazed areas and build soil. The livestock spread native seeds through their dung and the increasing fertility of the soil becomes an ever-improving seed bed. Earthworms, dung beetles and other soil builders are critical to the development of healthy soil. “Chemical fertiliser has not been applied for many years, yet our carrying capacity is increasing largely due to the smaller paddock size that results in improved soil biological activity brought about by greater animal impact.” NATIVE PASTURES AND SOIL HEALTH Pastures are no longer sown, and the property is managed for biodiversity, particularly of native species. “We rely on an increasing variety of native pastures to provide carrying capacity all year round. Overwhelmingly, native pastures now dominate, with a continuing variety of species regenerating. Natives crowd out not only weeds, but also remnant exotics,” Tim said. “We focus on having 100% ground cover 100% of the time so that soil is always protected, maximising the retention of available rainfall and extending growing periods during dry times. Softer soils also attract fertility and generate regrowth. In the 1990s, University of New England researchers identified a four to five times increase in available phosphorus in areas that hadn’t been fertilised over a three-year period, along with increases in total nitrogen and potassium. These findings confirmed improved soil health. The pasture is in recovery phase 95% of the time, meaning the pasture roots were growing deeper, drawing up previously unavailable nutrients. Also, more litter is being laid down, enriching the topsoil with organic matter and building soil organic carbon. The transfer of nutrients off the sheep camps also has a positive effect. “Trees are an integral part of our ground cover and ecology,” Tim adds. “We encourage tree growth to extend shelter corridors and to provide habitat for wildlife.” ONGOING LEARNING Tim believes that the innovative farming practices at ‘Lana’ could not have been done without acquiring an understanding of how the land ‘works’ and an increase in knowledge and skills development. ‘Lana’ is a wonderful example of how woolgrowers can produce quality wool and healthy profits while looking after and restoring their natural resource base. As a result of regenerative agriculture, the biodiversity and ecosystem functions at ‘Lana’ have improved, along with profits. And with an increasingly variable climate, Tim can rest assured that much has been done to drought-proof the property – something from which other woolgrowers can learn. “The threat of drought is always with us and we must plan that into our farming strategies,” Tim adds. “Old ideas of drought subsidies are not sustainable; it is farmers that must manage the impact of drought on their businesses.” MORE INFORMATION For more information, view www.wool.com/lana and www.soilsforlife.org.au/ case-studies/lana Open flats and drainage plains on ‘Lana’ with a healthy amount of regenerating trees as a result of planned grazing. PHOTO: Nick Reid Molong Creek on ‘Lana’. Note the well-vegetated drainage line, riparian zone and the regrowth red gum on the banks. PHOTO: Nick Reid ON FARM 33 33