New ag trial at Newry

While most of our work with the farming community is based around projects focussed on protecting waterways there is another part of our work which aims to assist farmers to be more productive on the land. 

This work is often done in partnership with others such as Ag Vic or local Landcare groups but is a major contact point for WGCMA staff and the community. 

Over recent years while we have continued to work with farmers around things like Whole Farm Plans or improvements to irrigation practice (both of which aim to reduce run off into rivers and creeks), there has also been an emerging interest in Regenerative Agriculture. 

Re-gen Ag as it’s also known is a method of farming that aims to use natural systems and has healthy soils at the centre of its philosophy. It’s not organic (but it can be) but is a system that uses less artificial interventions to grow the grass or the crop than traditional farming might use. 

One site where a Re-gen Ag approach is being trialled is on the dairy farm of Kate Mirams and Peter Neaves. 

Kate and Pete are trialling a multi-species cropping system across approximately 12 hectares of their conventional irrigated dairy farm in Newry. The farm currently has a ryegrass-based pasture system with irrigation. 

Our Land Programs Coordinator Anthony Goode along with Cover Crop Agronomist Jade Killoran are assisting with agronomic advice and monitoring of the demonstration site 

The aims here are to reduce, or where possible eliminate, the need for fertilisers and chemical sprays (eg. herbicides, pesticides, fungicides) and improve the soil by encouraging diversity, deep rooted plants and beneficial biological activity. Building soil carbon, and the myriad benefits that come from increased soil carbon, is a particular outcome that Pete and Kate are aiming for. 

The first summer crop was sown in October 2019 and while drought conditions hindered germination and early establishmentgood rain in January saw the crop take off. 

Overall the summer crop was deemed a success given the trying start to the season. The cows loved it. Feed produced was roughly equivalent to the perennial ryegrass areas (but without any fertiliser). Milk production was marginally up post grazing. 

You can see more about the work being done on the Mirams/Neaves property at our Vimeo page  

While the Mirams/Neaves property is already experimenting with Re-gen Ag, the interest in the community has seen a multitude of workshops and seminars held over recent years. 

The Maffra and District Landcare Network has been working during the last four years to build resilience into dryland grazing enterprises by providing education to farmers about regenerative agriculture practices.  

Dinners, seminars, workshops and subsidies to farmers to attend courses have all been offered over that time and seen more than 300 farmers engaged. 

One of the most interesting initiatives was a seminar and luncheon at Sale’s Criterion Hotel in May 2019 with author and regenerative agriculture advocate and farmer, Charles Massy as guest speaker. This was a sell-out with 110 people attending, many who’d never heard about regenerative agriculture before. 

Charles is a speaker in very high demand and his presentation gave much food for thought to those who attended.  

Further workshops and events planned for 2020 have been disrupted, first by bushfire and now a pandemic.  Although this part of Gippsland received fantastic rainfall during January-February we’re not yet out of the drought and the need to work with farmers about practices that build soil health and enterprise resilience is as strong as ever.  In the meantime, you can find out more about the Regen-Ag scene in Gippsland by visiting a website set up by WGCMA Regional Landcare Facilitator Sam Shannon. 

The Regenerative Agriculture South Eastern Victoria website aims to bring together research, events and other content from the local area for landholders to learn more about what’s happening in the Regen-Ag space.