When Marg and I purchased Apple Gully Farm eleven years ago it set in progress a steep learning curve. Both of us came with science backgrounds so we were very interested in examining farming from a scientific basis.
Information from friends with a sustainable farming background, a basic understanding of animal production and a desire to “do it right” meant our first port of call was a course in Sustainable Agriculture with a focus on Soil Mineral and Microbe management by Graeme Sait of Nutri-Tech Solutions in Eumundi, Queensland. Before the course we had several soil samples tested.
We were of course inundated with information but the take home message was that the soil is a massive factory of microbial activity that should not be disturbed. We can help with addition of deficient minerals and by not reducing photosynthetic activity (that is not overgrazing). Chemical fertilisers have a very limited role in pasture improvement.
Our first job on the farm was clearing a massive amount of scrub and regrowth that had severely impacted on grass growth. Generally what could be removed by my tractor was done leaving wooded parkland paddocks, perhaps a little too shaded but we liked the look and removing the larger trees would have vastly increased the workload (I was still a full time Vet in Sydney). Leaving the larger trees also had the advantage of maintaining a better balance for soil microbial activity.
We were reading avidly and the book that really made an impact on us was “Call of the Reed Warbler” by Charles Massy. Again the strong message was not to get in Mother Natures way. She has been at it for millions of years whereas upstart humans have been trying to influence soil and pasture for about a hundred years.
Charles Massy’s practical message was rotational grazing, many small paddocks that are not overgrazed and allowing the grass to be of sufficient height to allow continued photosynthetic activity. Photosynthesis is a vital process for producing valuable nutrients (particularly sugars) to the roots.
Finally we were introduced to Peter Andrew’s with reference to water management (“water should walk not run”) and we have strategically placed “weirs” to slow the water in times of heavy rainfall and allow slow lateral movement of water in to the adjacent paddocks when the rainfall has stopped.
I don’t pretend we have got it all right but it has been an interesting journey. We have made minimal chemical intrusions letting the existing pasture improve naturally (with assistance from manure and dung beetles and with periodic application of lime). I am still considering over sowing and some mineral supplementation but the jury is out. My brilliant discovery is the need for water (from the sky) above all else. Bring on La Niña.