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28 October 2020
BY DYLAN DE JONG
Willaura farmers who made a transition to regenerative agriculture are starting to reap the rewards of a sustainable sheep farming practice.
Husband and wife team Jack and Celia Tucker made the move to a rotational pastoral system for their sheep farm about two years ago.
Mr Tucker said the move came after 20 years of conventional crop farming where they had a heavy reliance on chemical use that was increasing year-on-year.
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“We’ve gone from being 90-percent cropping to making a full reverse to a 90-percent grazing operation,” he said.
“Our outcomes last year far exceeded what we had expected – it’s great to see our system is actually working.”
Mr Tucker said the ‘turning point’ for his operation was when he realised his soil health was only continuing to degrade with more chemical use.
“In my 20 years in cropping, we went from having a healthy nitrogen cycle to relying entirely on urea as our nitrogen source to grow a crop,” he said.
“We went from zero kilograms up to 300kg to the hectare in some cases.
“That’s not healthy for the soil. Our reliance on fertilisers, herbicides, fungicides and insecticides was going up every year exponentially.” The regenerative farming method works to promote healthier ecosystems by rebuilding soil organic matter through holistic farming and grazing techniques, or in short, ‘letting nature do the work’.
The Tuckers’ rotational system involves sectioning off their 750-hectare property into 40, 10-hectare lots. The remainder of the property is used for broadacre cropping.
This replaces traditional ‘set stocking’ which involved letting the animals roam and graze freely in a paddock.
Mr Tucker said the new system had already shown promising signs.
He said they had managed to get through last summer without purchasing additional feed for lambs.
“We managed to get through last summer without any supplementary feeding and we still had excellent ground cover at the end,” he said.
“If they’re more densely stocked, they just go in, feed and move out again, so you end up with more even grazing across the paddock.”
Mr Tucker said rotational livestock farming had proven to be more sustainable.
“If we were set-stocking, I have no doubt we definitely would have run out of grass,” he said.
“In a set-stocking system, sheep spend a lot of time walking around searching for what they want and standing on and urinating on the feed there. This means you end up with bare areas in the paddock.”
The family’s property is also home to a 55-hectare vermin-proofed nature reserve.
The reserve, named Tullyvallin, is home to native plants and animals.
Mr Tucker said bandicoots were introduced into the reserve as part of the project. “That’s something that we’re passionate about, preserving flora and fauna where possible,” he said.
“We still graze once or twice a year to manage the grass, but it all ties into our conservation ethos.”
The Tuckers have also planted trees on the property to create ‘shelter belts’.
As part of the regenerative agriculture move, the family is also looking at ways to earn ‘carbon credits’ on their farm.
Australian farmers can enter into a voluntary carbon-offset Federal Government scheme that allows land managers to earn carbon credits by changing land use or management practices to store carbon or reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“We’re aiming to increase the level of carbon in our soil,” Mr Tucker said.
“Our soil will be measured and analysed at regular intervals over a 20-year period and for the amount of carbon we’ve sequestered in the soil, we will get assigned carbon credits which we can trade on the carbon market.”
Soil carbon sequestration is a process in which carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere and stored in a soil carbon pool. This process is primarily mediated by plants through photosynthesis.
Mr Tucker said the new agriculture system his family was exploring was a reliable approach to farming and a ‘robust’ business model.
“We’ve always been passionate about the environment and we could see the path we were going down was detrimental for the health of soil and whole farm ecosystem,” he said.
“We’re also very concerned about climate change.”
The entire October 28, 2020 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!
The entire October 28, 2020 edition of AgLife is available online. READ IT HERE!