Whole of Paddock Rehabilitation Voted ‘Best Thing Ever’

Basically, there is this really exciting method of paddock rehabilitation that is called Whole of Paddock Rehabilitation (WOPR, pronounced ‘wop-er’) and is run by Greening Australia, a very awesome environmental NGO that works with farmers to make their land healthier, more productive, and have better biodiversity.

The Problem

The agricultural area of south-east Australia is highly productive but also really very degraded. Farmers face problems such as salinity, erosion, bad soil health, and having their stock exposed to the elements. This makes their land less productive than it could be, means that stock loose weight due to stress, and means that they lose land to problems like salinity or erosion.

unhappy sheep
These sheep are pretty unhappy in their treeless paddock. Photo: Michael Marriott.

A Solution 

WOPR started in 2008 and since then has been pretty successful and shows great potential for kicking goals all over the place. Simply put, the way it works is that stock are taken out of a paddock of at least 10ha and trees are directed seeded in belts. Each belt has about four rows of trees and are 40-50 metres apart, giving the paddock a tree cover of 20-30%, which is ideal. Some trees and other plants such as grasses are put in a tubestock.

happy sheep
Happy sheep grazing in a WOPR paddock. Photo is copyright GA.

Among many other things, it has been shown to:

  • improve weight gain for stock;
  • increase habitat for native fauna, especially for birds;
  • be an additional form of food for stock;
  • increase carbon sequestration; and
  • improve soil health.

So how does WOPR happen?

A farmer applies to Greening Australia to be a part of the project. If they are accepted they need to put aside some land of at least 10ha paddocks, or a large paddock can be divided into smaller paddocks based on the quality of certain bits. Using existing paddocks save a lot of time and money on building fences!

WOPR
This is a really excellent diagram of WOPR that I did on Paint. The green rectangle is the >10ha paddock and the black lines are contour lines. You can see that the dark green belts of four bands of trees trees are planted along the contour lines, that’s because if you plant trees down a hill you just channel water and enhance or create problems with erosion and lowered landscape functionality.

 

The farmer takes out her stock and trees are direct seeded in belts across the paddock. She has to exclude her stock from that paddock for the next five years, so she is compensated at roughly $50/ha/year in two lump payments; one at the start of the five years and one at the end. After this time the trees should be big enough to be grazed by stock so she can let them back in, but Greening Australia recommends using a rotational grazing system for the five years thereafter to really get the best out of the pasture.

The projects are monitored throughout and as WOPR is a fairly new thing, the oldest sites are only six years old there is a lot of research to be done, which is where I come in …

WOPR and I

There is a strong tradition of ANU students doing research on WOPR, especially Honours projects. I intend to follow this tradition and spend between now and November doing a little bit of preparation for Honours next year, when I will be looking at something to do with tree density, probably creating models to project the next 200 years or so (it is only week one of semester, so a question hasn’t yet emerged from my excitement).

————————————————————————-

For more information on WOPR, check out the website here, where there is a nice little video and some lovely pictures. Tony Magee, the farmer from ‘Gunyah’ was nice enough to let us onto his farm to take a look at it when I did a sustainable agriculture course last semester, and it was really easy to see the benefits of it, especially when contrasted with his neighbours’ paddocks.

Drought, Doubt and Climate Change

So today I’m going to review a news article that appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald this morning. The SMH is one of Australia’s biggest newspapers, along with The Age, its Victorian counterpart, and The Australian. This article was writtten by Peter Hannam, who is the papers Environment editor. My comments will be interspersed throughout like this. It’ll be a bit of a long post, so jut hang in there. Climate change is the ultimate sign that we’ve failed to relate to our environment and to natural resources in a healthy and sustainable way and the Abbott Government’s response is just ridiculous …

Tony Abbott downplays role of climate change in current drought

PM vows help is on the way for farmers

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has  played down the role of climate change in the drought ravaging much of inland eastern Australia.

For anyone who may not know, last September Australia voted in a right wing Coalition government. Not a conservative government in the British tradition but a US style ‘climate change is fake because Jesus’ government.

And he has indicated that the coming relief package for farmers will not take into account future increases in extreme weather events predicted in a new report by scientists.

As recently as 2009 the PM is on record saying ‘Climate change is complete crap.’ Now that his Liberal party is in a Coalition government with the Nationals, who have long represented farmers and rural Australia, you’d think they’d do a bit more to tackle climate change. We all know that because of climate change droughts are only going to get longer, more frequnent and more severe so if they really cared about farmers they’d be doing everything they can to take it head on, looking at the long-term effects of climate change on the land.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott met grazier Kym Cramp of “Mount Gipps” station near Broken Hill, NSW, as part of a drought tour with Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce on Monday. Photo: Andrew Meares

At the end of a two-day tour taking in Bourke and Broken Hill in NSW and Longreach in Queensland, Mr Abbott said the present period of extreme heat and dry conditions – broken in part during his weekend visit – was not unusual for Australia.

‘‘If you look at the records of Australian agriculture going back 150 years, there have always been good times and bad, tough and lush times,’’ Mr Abbott said.

‘‘This is not a new thing in Australia.”

 The PM is not a climate scientist or a meterologist and here he is dismissing any link between climate change and this drought. While one cannot say ‘This drought is 4 times worse because of climate change’ or ‘This drought is so long because of climate change’ we can say ‘Every drought *may* be linked to climate change and as our GHG emissions go up it’s only going to get worse. This is not normal for Austrlia. This drought is very bad and we’re only going to see them get longer, more frequent and more intense.’

Prime Minister Tony Abbott at the "Mount Gipps" station near Broken Hill on Monday.
Mr Abbott at the “Mount Gipps” station. Photo: Andrew Meares

‘‘As the seasons have changed, climatic variation has been a constant here in Australia,’’ he said.

Yes, it has been. But not to this extent. Never in the history of huamnity the world’s climate changed so rapidly. Our agricultural systems are set up for a very specific climactic envelope – a global average temperature of about 15’c – and with every day we fail to act the climate heats up and weather pattens go haywire. I don’t want to see a 6’c world and it’s doubtful that Australian agriculture as it exists today could survive in that.

Mr Abbott, who has previously dismissed a link between climate change and October’s early-season bushfires in the Blue Mountains near Sydney, ruled out taking the issue of a warming planet into consideration when preparing his drought-aid package for cabinet later this week.

So with one hand he gives farmers some money to deal with this drought while with the other he dismantles climate related policies and istitutions and blindly ignores that there’s a serious problem. That doesn’t create the resilliance and sustainablity that our agriculture sector needs. Australia needs to feed it’s own people and prop up a huge export market yet instead of looking at the long term and acting responsibly, this government wants farmers to be reliant on hand outs as the droughts get ever worse.

‘‘Farmers ought to be able to deal with things expected every few years,’’ Mr Abbott said.

‘‘Once you start getting into very severe events – one-in-20, 50, 100-year events – that’s when I think people need additional assistance because that is … beyond what a sensible business can be expected to plan for.’’

A new report by the Climate Council – formed with public funding from the ashes of the Climate Commission, which the Abbott government abolished – says heatwaves are becoming more frequent, more intense and lasting longer.

It says Melbourne, Canberra and Adelaide were already experiencing the number of annual hot days that had been forecast for 2030 in the first decade of the century.

The report, by Professors Will Steffen and Lesley Hughes and UNSW researcher Sarah Perkins, said: ‘‘Record hot days and warm nights are also expected to increase across Australia over the coming decades.

‘‘For both northern and southern Australia, one-in-20-year extreme hot days are expected to occur every two to five years by the middle of the century.’’

Records melt

Those three cities, as it happens, have each broken heat records this summer.

Adelaide has had 13 days of 40 degrees or more, beating the previous record set more than a century ago, of 11 such days. Melbourne has hda seven days above 40 degrees, the most in any calendar year just six weeks in, while Canberra has had 20 days above 35 degrees, the most for any summer, the Bureau of Meteorology said.

Emphasis added.

The Climate Council report highlights the effect that increased heat is expected to have on agriculture, including reduced crop yields and lower livestock productivity.

That is going to push farmers and rural communities further into debt as they have to invest in seed, stock, chemicals and labour but don’t get the return on the product. There are already far too many mental health concerns and suicides in rural and regional farming communites, and decreasing yeilds and productivity will only lend to this.

The three regions  Mr Abbott visited all had their hottest six-month period between August and January, with rainfall as little as one-fifth of normal levels.

Cabinet is expected to consider an extra $280 million in low-interest loans for farmers, among other measures.

Touring the Mount Gipps cattle and sheep station north of Broken Hill on Monday, he said there was  ‘‘a world of difference’’ between companies seeking handouts and farmers needing help to get through the drought.

Graziers have been offloading their livestock throughout much of inland eastern Australia as they battle to cope with drought and declining feedstock.

John Cramp, the owner of  Mount Gipps,  said the recent extreme heat in his region had seen his cattle remain near their water troughs rather than go in search of remaining grass.

‘‘They won’t leave their water, they won’t poke out and get some feed,’’ Mr Cramp said, adding that in his view ‘‘climates have always changed’’.

During a drought farmers often turn to bore water to hydrate stock and water crops. This drought that stretches across NSW and Qld is largely in coal seam gas territory, where the federal government supports putting in gas wells. These wells are known to be risky in that they can contaminate ground water which farmers rely on. Seems as if the farmers are being put to the bottom of the pile in terms of priorities.

It is strange when farmers themselves dismiss the link between climate change and drought. I wonder if it’s because climate change has been branded as this massively left wing thing that only tofu eating, hairy legged lesbians care about? We know that there are many people in this world who profit from climate change and they fund groups such as the Heartland Institute to sow doubt about it. It’s so disenhartening to see that among the people who are most affected – farmers – there is the most denial or dismissiveness. Does that make it up to the rest of us? Do we try and convince them, or just go on doing our best without them?

Link to the orignial article: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/tony-abbott-downplays-role-of-climate-change-in-current-drought-20140217-32vub.html#ixzz2tcfNuIBN

Poverty, Agroecology and Gobalised Food

If current population trends increase, global production of food will have to increase by 70-100% by 2050.

With current food production practice, meeting this demand is highly unlikely and yet the UN Millennium Development Goals (UN MDG) seek end poverty and extreme hunger. The  humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa (in July 2011 the UN declared a state of famine in Somalia, the first in the 21st century) is testament to three things:

  • Poverty reduction is currently one of the most pressing global issues;
  • Food production systems need to be overhauled in order to promote equal distribution of food; and
  • Food sovereignty should be strongly encouraged in all countries.
poverty
The first UN MDG is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger by 2015. It’s currently 2014.

A possible way to address the above points is encouraging the growth of agroecology.

If there are any doubts regarding the need for countries around the world to independently source their food, one story from the 2007-2009 global recession will remedy this.

In late 2007 food prices rose dramatically around the world and the price of staple foods such as maize and rice almost doubled, causing food riots in more than 20 countries. This wasn’t because of drought or poor crop yields – there was plenty of food for sale – but because food has become a product on the global market and so is subject to fluctuations in the world economy.

prices
In 2007 global food prices rose dramatically…
oil and food
… but not because of a lack of food.

So although there was enough food available few could afford it due to the collapse of the worldmarkets. The food sovereignty offered by agroecology would go a long way buffer this by the strengthening of local markets; food prices in Africa and Asia would no longer be intrinsically linked to the prosperity of banks in America.

Agroecology is a more sustainable agricultural system than conventional ones as positively it address three big drivers of change: climate change; biodiversity; and food security. The system is also more resilient to change, needs less human input, has more stable net productivity, and are better equipped to take full advantage of the ecological services in place.

no text
The triple bottom line is the point of agroecology. I really could just picture this one photo and do away with all the hundreds of words of explanatory text.

The best examples of working agroecology systems can be found in Latin America and the practices there can be used as examples of how to implement this system.

Movimiento Campesino a Campesino (MCAC)(Farmer to Farmer Movement) is a movement that has established itself in Central America over the last three decades. It promotes farmers learning from other farmers, sharing information between them in order to find the best possible ways to produce food. This has been found to be the most effective way of communicating sustainable practice quickly and on a large scale, and it offers good results small landholders are more likely to listen to and connect with their peers.

work
Flowcharts are nice. Information flows in conventional vs campesino systems.

For example, when soil conservation practices were introduced into Honduras through MCAC yields for hillside farms rose from 400kg per hectare to 1,200 – 1,600kg per hectare due to healthier soils. This easily accessible network of information is a central part of agroecology as currently one of the biggest barriers to food production in developing countries is a lack of available knowledge/technology.

As an agricultural system, agroecology should be broadly implemented on a global scale to stabilise food security, use natural resources sustainably, protect biodiversity, and alleviate poverty through the formation of stable markets.

To do this, governments must take responsibility in engaging with farmers, research facilities, NGOs and industry to ensure that the system works in the most efficient way possible. Several recommendations have been made on the subject;

  • Governments must put in place mechanisms to empower small farmers (such as partnerships and financial aid). This also ties in with article 1(B)(6) of the International Food Security Agenda (1993).
  • Current subsidies on conventional agriculture must be dismantled so agroecology becomes more economically rational on an industrial scale than conventional systems
  • Equitable markets should be developed, emphasising fair trade to create both income for farmers and sustainable food supplies for their regions.
fair trade
Of course, it’s not all up to governments. As a consumer, you can chose what you buy and therefore what kind of industry and philosophy you are supporting.

Sustainable agriculture should be developed with emphasis on local knowledge and involving farmers directly in formulating research agendas and technological innovation. Solutions must be site-specific be focused on information systems rather than capital.

For this, systems thinking must be used in order to ‘work smarter, not harder’ using practices like agroforestry and polycropping in order to boost yield with minimum input. Most recommendations focus on policy change  which could be difficult to implement in capital focused countries like Australia. This is because of three things;

  • Agroecology has often be branded as anti-capitalist by supporters of an entirely unregulated market
  • Implementation would require an overhaul of current food production systems in Australia
  • Demand for food that cannot be produced locally is high; would require a large social shift in ways of thinking.

Agroecology should be encouraged and supported in developing/more socialist countries with current knowledge and understanding while more research is needed to develop a viable way for industrialised/neo-liberal countries to do the same.

5 Things I have Learnt from studying Environmental Science

I’m currently doing a BSc at the Australian National University, double majoring in Environmental and Landscape System Science and Geography. Internet was asking me what I’ve learnt so far, so I made a list!

Although I still have a semester to go (and Honours!), here the five most important things to know about environmental science, brought to you by the Fenner School of Environment and Society and Internet’s questions.

5. Environmental Science is a Fashion Victim

There are fashion trends in everything and environmental science is no different. Back in the 90s the Big Thing in international environmental talks was sustainable development, with all all-star cast of the Brutland Report, Limits to Growth and the 1992 Earth Summit – the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio. Agenda 21 was born, nations who were at war with each other sat down and talked about sustainable development, Severn Suzuki was the *coolest person ever* and the triple bottom line was the new creed;

sustainable

But today we all know that the Big Thing is climate change. Divest! Emissions trading schemes! Carbon dioxide! Fossil fuels! REDD+! Ice caps! More buzzwords!

One of my lecturers often laments this dramatic shift in focus; she argues that just looking at climate change is too simplistic as it doesn’t fully capture our degraded relationship with our home planet. How do we solve this problem? We study geography! Yay!

In a more physical geography sense, back in the 90s and early 2000s the Big Thing in land management in SE Australia was salinity. Salinity was set to become the Armageddon, the end of days, the Battle of Hogwarts. Salinity was It. However, the drought broke in the late 2000s and salinity never became the disaster it was meant to be. Lucky!

Now the big thing that everyone is researching and talking about and pulling their hair out about is overgrazing.

roos
In Australia roos contribute to the overgrazing problem, necessitating culls. Picture: the ABC

See Internet? Fashion victims.

4. Environmental Science will shift your World View

Especially if you study the more ‘society’side of it; human geography, human ecology,  stakeholder based qualitative things, sustainable development etc. You will see our society in a new and increasingly complex way that will force you to realise the incredible inter-connectedness of it and, ultimately, the fragility of our inter-dependant gloabalised Western hegemony. Nowhere is this more evident than when considering the global food market.

In short, this will happen to you:

382054_10151187851246821_264818659_n
Picture courtesy of the Fenner School Society.

3. Stakeholders

You can boost your marks by about 5 points by having a version of this paragraph in an assignment;

“There needs to be a strong emphasis on stakeholder collaboration and resilience building in light of a rapidly growing population and increasing threats from climate change.”
2. People don’t like anything that doesn’t fit their worldview
This makes point four harder to accept. The obvious example here is climate change; Australia being the intellectual backwater that we are, the media and politicians still talk like climate change is a debated idea, and still act as if it’s just a quite theory of little real world impact.
I experienced this first hand a few weeks ago when I was talking to a third year economics student whose father is a contractor. We were on an hour long bus trip and she was telling me how her father is contracted by farmers to put fertilisers on pasture and crops. I said something about paddock trees and how there aren’t enough of them to stop erosion and do all the great things they do and she launched into a tirade about those ‘bloody greenies’ who ‘don’t know anything about agriculture’ and are trying to ‘driver farmers into the ground’.
Yep, totally. Sorry if my three years of studying environmental science doesn’t quite fit in with your economics world view of ‘Cut down all trees, ???, profit!’.
‘Bloody greenies’? Seriously? Yes, I absolutely want to drive farmers into the ground. Because, you know, I find food overrated and I don’t actually want employment when I graduate after doing HONOURS IN SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE. (At this point Internet would like you to know that she hates those people. She said it, not me.)
treessalt

Turns out trees do help with salinity! Picture: The Australian Academy of Science (but what would those bloody greenies know? They don’t study economics; their dads aren’t contractors!)

1. Goats and Fire

The most important thing I have learnt in the last three years is that if you have a problem – any problem – it can’t be solved by grazing it with goats, setting fire to it then grazing it with goats again.

Any problem. Ever.

goat1fire

Water Ponding in the Rangelands

Rangelands are used for very diverse purposes and have many associated management issues.

They cover 80% of Australia and comprise diverse ecosystems, such as woodlands, tropical savannah, shrub lands, grasslands and deserts. There are many land uses of rangelands, such as mining, tourism, Indigenous use and agriculture. The semi-arid areas are very important for grazing, and $4.4b is made annually from cattle, and a further $1.1b from sheep and wool.

nsw-map-rangelands-higher-rainfall
The rangelands of NSW cover 60% of the state and are located west of the 500mm per annum rainfall zone. The field preparation for this report was conducted in the area around Trangie and Nyngan. SPicture: R Hacker et al., Best management practices for extensive grazing enterprises, NSW Department of Primary Industries, April 2005. 

 

Introduction

Water ponding was used to reclaim scalded soils at two sites in the Nyngan locality. These sites are now 25 and seven years old and a Landscape Function Analysis was carried out on them to compare functionality and pond age, using a scalded site as a baseline.

Landscape Function Analysis

Landscape function analysis (LFA) is used to assess the functionality of rangelands. It uses visual indicators to give an indicator of 11 physical and biological processes to describe three key soil phenomena, and thus the overall functionality of that landscape (Tongway and Hindley, 2004).

indicators
2 Eleven tests are conducted in order to assess three key soil processes that describe landscape functionality.
Picture: Tongway and Hindley, 2004.

An LFA was carried out on ponded sites in order to determine the effects of water ponding on landscape function in terms of stability, infiltration, nutrient cycling, soil carbon, and soil biomass relative to pond age.

Water ponding

I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word ‘pond’ I think of this:

tumblr_lzhybmvoMG1r9wixeo1_500
Water ponding; less to do with the Ponds, more to do with soil scalds. Picture: Bill Israel.

Water ponding, however, is a practice used to reclaim scalded soils, which we’ve talked about before.

These soils develop due to clearing and overgrazing, causing an excess of sodium ions (i.e. >15%) which creates hard, concrete like surfaces called scalds. Neither water nor roots can penetrate these surfaces, leading to an absence of vascular plants in these areas, which in turn further disrupts the site’s hydrology. At this stage the landscape enters a new stable state that is X to agricultural use. A functional landscape experiences short tortuous flows of water through grass tussocks, whereas a dysfunctional has long straight flows around tussocks which loses resources such as water, soil, and seeds.

water flow
3A functional and dysfunctional landscape. Note the differences in plant cover and resulting water flow.
Picture: Tongway and Hindley, 2004.

Water ponding is a highly successful practice that uses to reclaim these soils, a system that uses 0.4ha horseshoe shaped ponds to hold water and encourage plant growth by holding water on the surface. When a site is identified for water ponding, it is surveyed with a laser leveller in order to find potential positions for pond banks. Ponds are then laid out from the highest point in the scald and overlap like fish scales so water is not lost. They must be no more than 10cm deep or only reeds and rushes will grow, and wave action can destroy the banks. In order to ameliorate wave action, tunnelling, and dispersion there is a heightened buffer section between the banks and the pond. As the system is reliant on rainfall, water ponding may be less effective in times of drought.

Results

Two water ponding sites were visited, one 25 years old and one seven years old. An LFA was carried out in four ponds at each site in order to assess the effect of water ponding on landscape function relative to pond age. This was done by laying down 15m transects at the back of ponds and collecting information on the fore mentioned 11 indicators in the patches (areas of vegetation) and interpatches (clear areas). Soil carbon and biomass were also measured.

biomass
4 Biomass results from the two differently aged pond sites compared to a scalded site. 

Biomass was taken from a 30cm2 plot in the middle of the transect, oven dried and weighed.

carbon
5 Soil carbon results from the two differently aged pond sites compared to a scalded site.
stability
6 Soil stability is a result of LFA. This graph shows the results from the two differently aged pond sites compared to a scalded site.

infiltration

7 Infiltration of water into soil is a result of LFA. This graph shows the results from the two differently aged pond sites compared to a scalded site.
nutcyc
8 Nutrient cycling is a result of LFA. This graph shows the results from the two differently aged pond sites compared to a scalded site.

Discussion

The above results show that water ponding has a positive effect on landscape functionality. In every data set, treated sites performed better than the scalded control. In the case of nutrient cycling and infiltration, this difference was particularly significant. These two factors are both dependant on basal cover, litter origin and surface roughness among other things. The scald does not have these properties as it has no vascular plants and the dispersive soils create a smooth, hard crust that does not allow for the build-up of resources such as seeds, litter and water.

Water ponding allows water to sit on the scalds, which restores the swelling and cracking properties of the duplex soils (Thompson, 2008). Cracks allow windblown seeds to get caught in the micro-topography, as well as allowing water and root penetration of the surface. The seeds can then grow, restoring infiltration and nutrient cycling. This was indicated in the results; stability does not significantly increase with pond age, whereas infiltration and nutrient cycling do, suggesting that stability recovers first and is needed for nutrient cycling and infiltration.

There was no biomass on the scald, and differently aged ponds had similar amounts. This is because total biomass increases and plateaus relatively quickly; it can be up to a 20% increase in the first year.

Soil carbon increased over time and in comparison to the scalded site. Soil carbon helps to restore functionality by ameliorating soil structure and available nutrients (CSIRO, 20011).

Conclusion

It can be seen from the results that water ponding is successful in reclaiming scalded soils for use. Functionality of landscapes was seen to increase with age, but not significantly in regards to stability. It can also be concluded that, despite it’s irrelevance to agriculture, Amy and Rory’s story is wonderful and that the Last Centurion and the Girl Who Waited are heart warming in their (literally) undying love for each other.

rory
He waited 2000 years for a woman who ripped Time apart for him, but can he reclaim a scalded soil?

Grazing on Struggle Street: Conventional

Morning Internet! 

cat
Internet is totally ready for some science. PHOTO: cutespaw.com

My assignment is still lurking around in the shadows of my Wednesday, so here we go, back into my developing field report.

So this morning we’re going to talk about grazing, specifically we’ll be talking about the merits of conventional versus organic versus time controlled grazing. I then have to decide which is the most sustainable, economically and environmentally, and then justify that decision. 

Oxton Park, Buronga and Tulgani: Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of these various agricultural practices, and therefore which is the most sustainable (both environmentally and economically).

So grazing. Yeah. 

Conventional Grazing

We saw a conventional grazing system at Oxton Park. It’s an 8000 ha property with 200 ha set aside for grazing.

They had their soils classed and they have classes 1 – 5. Soil classing works like this; hazards are used to assess capability; the potential consequences of a hazard and the likelihood that that consequence will be realised. The LSC is based on the most limiting hazard. Soil classes go from 1-8. You can do anything you like with 1 but 8 is rubbish country. The assessment scheme is the major tool to assess the sustainability of land management practices. It follows on from one made for the Central West of NSW in 2008 (which was itself based on the US Dept of Ag scheme from the early 1950s).  A Land and Soil Capability (LSC) assessment scheme is most suitable for broad scale assessment of land capability particularly for low intensity dry land agriculture-less so for high intensity use or irrigation. 

classes
Class 7 isn’t great at all, class 4 is good for grazing class 2 is beautiful. PHOTO: NSW Office of Environment and Heritage.

So they graze on class 5. They crop for four years on classes 2 – 4 then graze for 15. This very long term thinking is in place as the farm is not a family farm but a business. They are playing with huge amounts of money and every paddock has a plan for it; they know what they will be doing there every year for about the next 20 years. 

They run about 30 000 merino, mostly for superfine wool. 16 000 are pure merinos and 6000 are a quicker growing crossbreed that they use for meat, which is now worth more than wool. The meat sheep are exported if they’re more than 11 months old. 

bigmerino
The Big Merino in Goulburn, NSW. Legit. PHOTO: weekendnotes.com
merino
Merions, man. Note the wrinkly neck, their most recognisable feature. PHOTO: farmadvisor.com.au

 

Wait, what’s superfine wool? How is it different to normal wool?

Good question Internet. Superfine wool is 18-19 microns thick, which is the diameter of the wool. Wool is also measured on it’s tensile strength, but the diameter is the most important factor and is dependant on the sheep’s age, breed, health and so on. Merinos are known for their superfine wool, which is used in thermal and luxury products. 

icebreaker-clothing
Clothes made from superfine wool are really soft, warm and dry quickly, so they don’t get smelly. These properties make them ideal sports clothes. PHOTO: gearforgirls.co.uk

They shear every ten months, generally in April and January. You need about 70mm of wool to make it worthwhile and you shouldn’t shear them in winter (really?!) or when they’re lambing. 

This way of raising sheep is very high input, both in terms of money and time. You have to drench them and crutch them; you have to shear them, you have to move them from one paddock to the next. 

The advantage is that you get a consistently high quality product, but the disadvantages are that if you run out of money or inputs the system will collapse. Also, because they’re grazing their sheep on class 5 land, it is reasonable to expect that the sheep’s diet isn’t great as the pasture in those paddocks may not be very varied. If this system was hit by a serious drought the farm would probably be fine financially but it’s anyone’s guess how the land would go after being managed to produce meat and wool rather than to produce pasture with the sheep as by products. 

So what’s your conclusion?

Well Internet, it’s probably only sustainable financially as long as you have enough money to put into it and aren’t hit by a big drought; it’s very dependant on inputs. Environmentally it’s probably not that resilient, although good on them for understanding their soils and utilising them correctly. 

Tune in next time for the same again, but with organic grazing!