Valley

Sharing experiences and mistakes provides key learning for farmers

Friday 13 April, 2012
On Saturday 31st March 2012, 50 farmers toured two local and iconic farms, 'Kulaba West', Seymour, and 'Habbies Howe', Highlands. The farm tour was organised by the Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority (CMA) through the 'Beyond SoilCare' project with terrific support from the Burnt Creek and Hughes Creek Landcare Groups.

On Saturday 31st March 2012, 50 farmers toured two local and iconic farms, 'Kulaba West', Seymour, and 'Habbies Howe', Highlands. The farm tour was organised by the Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority (CMA) through the 'Beyond SoilCare' project with terrific support from the Burnt Creek and Hughes Creek Landcare Groups.

The tour began in the shearing shed at 'Kulaba'. David Freeman, manager at 'Kulaba' for the past 23 years, explained his soil, pasture, livestock and environmental management practices – and how all four are reliant on each other.

David spoke about his management of compacted soils and hard pans, created largely by livestock traffic, "I think we underestimate the limitations on pasture growth and productivity caused by compaction," David said.
David's labour efficiency, running 10,000DSE as a one man operation, was also of great interest. The use of laneways and smaller paddocks, created by fencing off and revegetating erosion gullies is a big factor in his efficiency, as is running big mobs.

The tour group saw first-hand David's revegetation program, with over 100,000 trees planted for environmental, aesthetic, erosion and salinity management purposes. They also saw the impact of soil management on regeneration and rejuvenation of clover and perennial pasture species, including Microlaena, a native and summer-active grass.

"Why would I invest in re-sowing pastures like these?" David asked. David illustrated the impact of compaction with his penetrometer. Those paddocks where he had managed the hard pan allowed for greater rooting depth of pastures.

The tour then made its way to the historic woolshed at 'Habbies Howe' to hear from owner Scott McKay. Scott has a vigilant soil testing program, having tested each paddock 3-4 times since purchasing the property in 1997. This assists him in fertiliser use efficiency and management of soil acidity and associated aluminium.

Scott is also fine-tuning his rotational grazing management, resting hill pastures at least every second year over late spring and summer in order to let perennial grasses, predominately Microlaena, set seed. To date, he has been very impressed with the change from solid capeweed to perennial grasses through grazing management.

The discussion with the whole group sharing their local experience was also a highlight of the day. One participant remarked "Being on site was for me, the best possible way to learn. Also to meet other farmers with the same problems who went as participants gave me an opportunity to get more hands on information on what has worked and what has not."

These local comments were reiterated at a recent presentation by Julian Cribb (author of The Coming Famine), Julian remarked that "The most important thing you do as farmers is share your mistakes. Farmers learn from their parents and their neighbours, and they learn from their mistakes." The sharing of information between neighbours was highlighted as a success of the tour, and based on this the Goulburn Broken CMA's Beyond SoilCare project will be aiming to run more farm tours in the future.

David Freeman demonstrates his rapid tester, a homemade penetrometer, to check for soil compaction at Scott McKay's farm, Habbies Howe.  Photo:  Goulburn Broken CMA

For more information please visit our website www.gbcma.vic.gov.au or telephone 03 5820 1100.