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Regenerating the Lowlands

Nov 29, 2023

Dear Farming Friends,

I have to be honest, I have been on the farm scene for a blink.  Originally from a big city, I have worked a desk job for 20 years and wouldn’t know a bore pump if I tripped on one. Well, not really, but what brings me here?

I discovered a profound shift in perspective during the COVID lockdowns. My journey led me to the agricultural industry, where I embraced the role of Sustainability Consultant for a grocery store chain, focusing on reducing plastic and implementing recycling programs.But it turns out, no matter how important I thought all that was for the environment, the bigger elephant in the room— in terms of environmental impact— is HOW our food is grown. Who knew? 

But how interesting that no matter how many light bulbs we changed over in the shops or packaging we reduced, it paled in comparison to the carbon impact of our farming practices. 

Venturing into the world of farmers, chemicals, and supply chain challenges, I honed in on the importance of healthy soil. Healthy soil, it turns out, is a game-changer, contributing to carbon sequestration, robust crops, and increased resilience to environmental challenges.

Engaging with farmers nationwide, I observed that simple practices had the most significant impact on soil health: minimal tilling, cover cropping, avoiding herbicides and fungicides, and rotating livestock. Inspired, I implemented these principles on a half acre test paddock since May, seeking a tangible measure of success—the “shovel test.”

Our heavily compacted land posed initial challenges, with the shovel barely breaking ground during the early stages. However, after five and a half months, the shovel now penetrates two-thirds into the ground.  

Specifically, the result has been a visible change in the texture of my soil. My “shovel test” proved this by not only allowing me to get better depth, but also allowing me to pull out a healthy sized chunk of soil (See photos) showcasing a healthier root system of the grasses growing.  And this grass that my animals graze on is not what I even planted. What a great by-product of improving the soil as a whole. 

So the root system looks chunkier, healthier and longer when compared to my other paddocks. Do I dare say it might even taste better? 

On our modest 13-acre property, this small-scale experiment has yielded promising results. Our next steps include spreading composted horse manure and leaf mulch, generously provided by a helpful neighbour with a spreader. With the horses off the property for a few months to allow paddocks to rest, we plan to refine our approach to rotational grazing.

Looking ahead, I aim to experiment with a Spring/Summer seed mix for ongoing cover crop and natural soil aeration. Extending access gates for better equipment manoeuvrability is in the works, a necessary adjustment given the initial oversight.

While our 13-acre endeavour may seem small compared to others, my hope is that by sharing our field notes, we can connect with fellow landholders in the Hawkesbury. Our journey continues, with plans for composting, rotational grazing, and experimenting with cover crops, all geared towards fostering healthier soil and sustainable farming practices.

Until next time,

C W McGregor

 

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