Brogo Valley Farm, Upper Brogo : Farms With A Future

Case Study: Brogo Valley Farm, Upper Brogo

Farm Overview
Brogo Valley Farm is owned and run by Ben and Veronica Keating. Located in Upper Brogo, approx. 25km, south west of Cobargo, and close to Wadbilliga National Park. It is 16 hectares in size with 5 hectares planned for production of orchards including nuts, apples and pears supported by under-storey plantings of Mediterranean shrubs such as lavender, rosemary and thyme as well as pastured chickens for additional soil nutrients and egg production.

Ranging from 80m to 140m above sea-level, the property slopes from top to bottom toward the west with a number of distinct gullies down to Brogo Swamp Creek floodplains.  It has predominantly unimproved coarse granite gravel on the hill tops, sandy clay loam and peat deposits on the mid-slopes and rich black clay-silt on the flood plains.

Approximately two-thirds of the farm is covered with natural vegetation, with stands of old growth trees on the ridge tops, remnant sub-tropical plants in the gullies and mixed grasses and wild flowers on the floodplains, providing substantial existing biodiversity across the block. Whilst the ground cover across the property is diverse it is also relatively shallow rooted on the hillsides as a result of high water flow removing topsoil.

The coastal climate provides high rainfall of 950mm, with historical records providing the current owners a degree of confidence about rain water supply. However, Ben and Veronica have noted that rainfall seems to have come in ‘batches’ over the 2 years they have been on the property.

Background of the farm

Purchased in 2015, the farm is entirely operated on solar power.  It was previously a lifestyle property for 20 years, with no evidence of commercial agricultural production during that time. Areas of the property on the mid-slopes below the main residence were cleared in the last 5 years to reduce wild fire hazard, with some subsequent regrow the of Black Wattle trees.

Water is plentiful and the quality is good.  However, Brogo Swamp Creek, which flows through the lower part of the farm before joining with Brogo River below the dam, has created a deep erosion gully, with significant loss of soil caused by water flowing off the hills onto and across the farm's fertile flood plain. A smaller, unnamed creek (which the owners call Silver Creek), also runs through the block and joins with Brogo Swamp Creek near the property boundary.

Six rain water tanks (holding approximately one quarter of a million litres) and a leaky dam are located across the highest ridge of the farm, providing water  excess to requirements for domestic use. The owners believe that, in "normal" conditions, there would be enough water for planned orchards if they installed a drip feed irrigation system. 

However, recent episodes of both flood and drought conditions across the Bega Valley have prompted Ben and Veronica to think about the potential impact of climate change on their planned orchards and to come to grips with the "new normal" of the coastal climate.

Changes that have been made

Ben and Veronica are committed to the principles of organic farming and Brogo Valley Farm is currently in the first year of conversion to organic certification through SCPA Organics.

They have also undertaken significant earthworks to control the erosion of the fertile soils on the floodplain of Brogo Swamp Creek and improve the retention of sub-surface water.  This work includes the establishment of contour channels and the reinforcement or battering of significant erosion points along the edge of the creek. The earth works have been designed to slow the flow of water from the higher points and retain moisture in the soils in the areas earmarked for orchards.

Plans for the Future
Ben and Veronica plan to develop a commercial scale orchard on the cleared sandy mid slopes above Brogo Swamp Creek. Existing soils are suitable for orchards but, before commencing planting, they intend to address water security issues and continue to build fertility through the use of pastured egg chickens, green manure crops such as lupin, clover and rye, and native grass species.

The control, collection and dispersion of rain water will be essential to ensure that times of heavy rain are balanced with water requirements in drier times.  Water management is, therefore, a key focus for Ben and Veronica during the first of their three-stage development of a productive orchard system. “We would like to develop a whole-of-farm irrigation plan that will future-proof the farm orchards against both flood and drought” say Ben and Veronica. They envisage that the work they have already undertaken to control erosion and retain sub-surface water will be further supported by the installation of drip-fed irrigation systems from additional storage tanks, wells and solar pumps from the creeks and potentially the construction of a new dam.

Focus of the Ground Work Day

The ground work day at Brogo Valley Farm will focus on:

•    Water management and erosion control using earthworks

•    Irrigation planning for orchard systems.

Book Here to attend the Ground Work Day on 10 August 2017

Acknowledgements: SCPA-South East Producers, LLS, Brogo Valley Farm.