Provincial Pastures, Brogo : Farms With A Future


Provincial Pastures Case Study, Brogo, NSW


Farm Overview
David Charlton and Lisa Roberts have been at Provincial Pastures, Brogo since December 2013, so it is still a ‘farm in the making’. Located just 10 minutes north of Bega, it has a coastal rangeland climate and average, although sporadic, annual rainfall of 660ml.

Across the 56.5 hectares, with 55.5 used for production there are steep gullies and slopes up to the treeline as well as gentler slopes toward the river flats. “We are still getting to know the soils” says David, who describes them as a “mix of decomposed granite, some basalt and alluvial soils along the river flats”.

The aim is to use the whole farm as an enterprise, with careful planning, including gullies and steep areas which are to be planted out with fodder crops, natives or orchards.   There is an area of about a hectare of regeneration eucalypt which will be reserved. The aspect is predominantly north to north east but is very open and wind affected from all directions, which is proving a challenge for the owners.

Main farm enterprise
The farm is planned as a mixed use polyculture (variety of livestock and nursery) with organic dairy production as the “energetic” driver of the farming system.  “We endeavour to utilise regenerative agricultural practices that facilitate and implement long term ecosystem stability, increase biodiversity using local indigenous species and improve farm habitats whilst creating healthy soils, pastures and waterways” says Lisa.


Background of the farm
The farm had been used as a dairy farm for many generations.  The soils were ‘run down’ and compacted when the owners took over.  Grazing areas were degraded and the compaction contributed to significant runoff.  The farm was a monoculture in practice and biodiversity was ‘fairly basic’.

Changes that have been made
Immediately upon acquiring the property David and Lisa reduced the grazing pressure by removing livestock for around a year and have since restocked with significantly fewer numbers.  Everything has had a rest period.  They’ve since created a large number of smaller paddocks for controlled grazing and livestock management with varied animals all performing different functions on the farm.  Extensive fencing has allowed them to begin to regenerate and improve multiple areas. 


Provincial Pastures has been deep ripped in various places and the owners installed contoured swales on the slopes for water retention and penetration.  Swales also increase surface area for planting opportunities.


The irrigation system has been re-jigged and an additional 360,000L water tank has been installed in addition to the 140ML water licence to extract from the Brogo river. So water is now secure.


David and Lisa have experimented with various strategies (plantings, for example, legumes and non legumes of diverse species direct seeded into new cultivation and rip lines) and some have been more successful than others!  “We’re still coming to terms with the working nature of the farm,” says Lisa.  Fence lines, catchments and steeper hills and gullies have begun to be planted with thousands of fodder crops, natives and exotics.


Paddocks worked over by the pigs (tractors!) have been planted out and the areas where chickens have roamed will be utilised as vegetable gardens.  Biotecture plantings that will eventually create shelter for livestock were planted in 2014 and more are to follow.


Extensive soil testing has been undertaken and strategies for improvement are being implemented. In the meantime, having limited stock and therefore excess pasture biomass presents an excellent opportunity to skim the pastures with the forage harvester to make mulch. 


Plans for the Future
Biodynamic and natural / organic farming practices are planned over the next few years with a focus on rehabilitating the soil that has become tired due to past management practices.  The restorative agricultural practice will see the owners growing animals and food whilst restoring ecological health in an integrated system.


Biodynamic farming practices will focus on applying BD500 to all new, improved pasture areas with strict grazing management. Spraying of 500 and compost making are to be undertaken in spring for the areas that are to be deep ripped for fodder trees, the vegetable and stock feed areas, as well as any paddocks we prepare for pasture improvement.
“We will practice holistic land management and agricultural diversification to create resilient environmental systems for healthy soils, creeks, pastures, animals and habitats” says Lisa.


The owners will utilise regenerative agricultural practices that facilitate and implement long term ecosystem stability, increase biodiversity using local indigenous species and improve farm habitats whilst creating healthy soils, pastures and waterways. 


Research into the most efficient pasture irrigation systems combined with deepening soil profiles and increasing biomass and nutrient levels will make the property as water use efficient and productive as possible.


 

 

Specific improvements that are being implemented include:
 

Soils

  • Increase organic matter including plantings and azolla composting
  • Encourage biodiversity in and above the soil, including minimising tillage
  • Move stock based on pasture assessment (managed grazing)
  • Make and spread compost (dairy herd dependant)
  • Farm worms for castings and liquids (dairy herd dependant)
  • Increase ground cover to protect from winds and increase water retention, including cover crops, green manure mulches, crop waste and stubble

Water retention and quality improvement approaches

  • Increase carbon in soil
  • Reduce runoff and increase water penetration (contour planting, swales)
  • Use groundworks and revegetation to capture water higher in the landscape
  • Use drought tolerant plants and perennial fodder crops
  • Treat erosion gullies


Biodiversity Enhancement approaches

  • Maximise natural system functioning
  • Manage holistically
  • Re-introduce native plant species
  • Protect and repair habitat for local species
  • Plant field hedges
  • Connect patches of remnant vegetation
  • Use polyculture farming to encourage diversity


Acknowledgements: SCPA-South East Producers, LLS, Provincial Pastures