Dear Prime Minister: practical farmers prepare

handheld tools hang on workbench

Time to get on the tools

Dear Prime Minister,

I know you’ve pledged to be practical about the drought. You know we farmers love everything practical.

Just as well. We know that if we didn’t maintain our gear, manage the land and look after our cows, stuff would be constantly breaking down. So, bothersome and costly as maintenance can be, we change the oil, repair the fences and attack the weeds.

Drought is little different: as you said, nobody can make it rain but, as bothersome and costly as preparation can be, we work really hard to prepare for its inevitable arrival.

We squirrel away feed and funds for the long dry spells, create microclimates with our Landcare brethren, and invest in the latest water-efficient technology, pastures and crops.

When El Nino unfolds and hangs on, we adjust both our herds and our bankers’ expectations, draw on those precious reserves, toughing it out until one of those thumping east coast lows heralds our salvation.

I was hoping you’d take a similar approach to drought and climate change. As bothersome and costly as action now on climate change might be, it’s our best bet to avoid these climate breakdowns becoming more and more regular.

Practical farmers prepare, Prime Minister. The climate needs a little TLC and you’re just the right man for the job.

 

 

 

Our gift from the land to the sea

mannalores

When I was a little girl, Dad taught me to look for this giant as the mark of our boundary with the neighboring dairy farm to the west as well as the river on our north. As farms have grown, this majestic gum now sits halfway along our river frontage but remains a landmark.

To its east, remnant native trees and shrubs hold the riverbank together but, to the manna’s west, the river is almost entirely edged with basket willows. Only a couple of generations ago, planting willows was considered best practice for erosion control but today they’re regarded as invasive weeds.

Unlike the evergreen natives, willows carpet the water every year as they drop their leaves en masse and have the nasty tendency to grown in the river as well as around it. Both habits, science tells us, is bad for native fish.

Ridding the river of willows is not easy. Each has to be removed with an excavator and regrowth poisoned every year. We have not tackled ours yet. It’s too expensive for one farmer to bear and the once-abundant funding for this type of work has evaporated. Instead, we are picking the low-hanging fruit, planting at least 1000 trees or shrubs on the farm each year.

This year, though, we have been able to get a small Landcare grant that will allow us to fence off the manna and just over a kilometre of the river bank in the next two weeks. I suspect the native veg that’s already thick and healthy down the bank itself will creep up thick and fast but, next Spring, we will add another thousand or so plants to a 10-metre strip that extends onto the flats.

I’m a bit excited, to be honest. The kids and I love exploring sections of the river and gully and can’t wait to add some more wild spaces. While I worked on one of the plantation fences yesterday, Zoe and Alex splashed about in the water and found a colony of freshwater mussels.

Mussel.JPG

It’s a good sign, especially given that our river flows into the internationally-recognised waters around Wilson’s Promontory.

We may be milking cows but those who farm the sea – both with nets and beaks – depend on us doing the right thing upstream, too.

rivermudmonster

River fencing is dirty work.

We’re all in this together

SilkyOak.jpg

“We’re all in this together” was the message on the invitation. How true.

So, on Saturday night, around 200 locals enjoyed a “Night on the Green” sponsored by the UDV. As the kids romped on jumping castles or chased each other with balloon swords, the grown-ups took the chance to unwind and regroup after a torrid 18 months. And it didn’t matter where you send your milk.

Among the farmers at the Night on the Green were Paul and Lisa Mumford, who just days earlier had opened their farm, their books and their hearts to visitors. The pair are well-respected and volunteering to make their business a Focus Farm brings a level of scrutiny most would find daunting: everything is on show, right down to their most revealing financials.

The husband and wife team were in equal parts honest, humble and inspiring as they answered questions about their aspirations and challenges. We’ll all learn a lot from Paul and Lisa because they’re so generous with their knowledge.

And, on Sunday, a group of about 10 local Landcarer friends spent a morning doing something for one of our own. Kaye is my Landcare heroine. For years now, she has been the backbone of our group, giving away thousands of trees and coordinating our mob of volunteers to great effect. A long bout of illness meant Kaye’s magnificent garden needed a tidy up. What an opportunity to show her we cared!

This is what community is all about. We’re all in this together! Merry Christmas!

Time to turn out the lights, together

Farmers and environmentalists have finally come out of the closet, holding hands. As Landcarers, farmers have been practising “greenies” for decades, we’ve just never embraced the label.

Greenies are often seen as the enemy and, sometimes, some of them have been. We’ve been blamed for global warming, the blanching of the Great Barrier Reef and the land clearing sins of our forefathers; the rapists of the land.

But tonight, it’s the greenies themselves, WWF’s Earth Hour, who are showcasing Australian farming. Tune in to the Appetite for Change documentary on Channel 10 tonight or watch it online anytime.

The Earth Hour cookbook tells my family’s story and the stories of farmers around the country to inspire action. And it’s all constructive because Earth Hour understands that farmers, foodies and greenies belong on the same page.

We all need to eat, drink and breathe.

Nobody understands what the impact of a changing climate means better than farmers do. So embrace your inner greenie and turn off the lights tonight from 8.30 for Earth Hour.

After all, what’s the worst that could happen?

Secrets of a happy life revealed and it was here on the farm all along

“If your New Year resolution is to be happier, make your priorities fruit, nature, sun and sleep.”

This simple prescription for a happy life stems from Otago University research reported in the NZ Herald this morning.  Sounds a lot like farm life, doesn’t it?

From all of us here on the farm, have a wonderful 2015!

Before we say goodbye to 2014 though, I’d like to pay tribute to our wonderful fellow Landcarer, Margaret Ferguson, who helped us plant trees this summer and tragically lost her life in a farm accident this month. I still can’t believe this magnificent lady is gone but she would be delighted to see how well our trees have already grown.

The trees arrived in September

The trees arrived in September

 

The grass was sprayed to give the plants a head start

The grass was sprayed to give the plants a head start

 

We finished planting in the first week of October

We finished planting in the first week of October

 

Giving the trees a helping hand when it got dry was noisy work

Giving the trees a helping hand when it got dry was noisy work

 

Look how much they've already grown: the same trees on Boxing Day 2014

Look how much they’ve already grown: the same trees on Boxing Day 2014

 

RIP Margaret. We miss you.

RIP Margaret Ferguson: a passionate fellow Landcarer (Photo courtesy of Kaye Proudley)

RIP Margaret Ferguson: a passionate fellow Landcarer (Photo courtesy of Kaye Proudley)

 

A Landcare foot soldier inspired by a true heroine

Alex's babies need watering twice a day

Alex’s babies need watering twice a day

Alex has 1000 babies that demand his tender ministrations twice a day. There must be scores more trailer-loads of trees like this getting twice-daily dousings across Victoria right now, judging by the frenzied timing of the government’s 2 Million Trees program.

We found out we were getting some trees three weeks ago after the local nursery confirmed it could provide stock that must normally be ordered nine months in advance. It wasn’t until two days before we collected them that we knew when they were coming or how many there would be. Crazy stuff!

Even more remarkable is the generosity of a lady named Kaye from our Landcare group. She raises thousands of seedlings every year for anybody who’s keen to get plants into the ground. Her garden is a wonderland of tubes sprouting everything from exquisitely delicate chocolate lilies through to one-day magnificent mannas. Continue reading

From soggy paddock to paradise

Can you spot two black swans and a flock of wood ducks and moorhens?

Can you spot two black swans and a flock of wood ducks and moorhens?

Stretching a temporary fence across an adjacent paddock in the warm winter sun, I was captivated by the scene through the tussocks. Two black swans were gliding across the water, a mob of moorhens were stretching their long orange legs, while a dozen or so wood ducks gathered a little way off.

It wasn’t always this way. This is, or was, paddock 17.  One of the lowest parts of the farm, paddock 17 was often under water and when we investigated the soil, we found it was a potential acid sulphate soil (PASS) with high levels of salinity. The safest thing to do was leave it alone, so we fenced it off and, one November, planted 800 moisture-loving plants with the help of a Landcare grant and the hard work of the Victorian Mobile Landcare Group volunteers.

The next two seasons were the wettest on record and I thought we’d lost the lot. We moved the fence out further and the Wellington Shire offered some extra money to replant the margins. Well, it’s all taken off – even some of the first plantings I’d given up on – and we now can boast a magical on-farm ephemeral wetland habitat.

Put yourself in the paddock with me for a few seconds and listen to this:

 

Why Landcare matters

It’s one of my earliest memories. Mum, Dad, my little brother and I took a tiny tree wrapped in paperbark down the paddock and planted it by the bank of the gully. It was a big affair that must have taken an hour by the time we got there, assembled the guard and wandered home again.

But that’s what “tree planting” meant back then and here is the very same tree today.

How we planted trees 40 years ago

A tree just about as old as the Milk Maid

Everything changed in my teenage years when we joined 20 or so of our neighbours to visit a nearby farm criss-crossed with healthy young stands of trees. John and Gayle had created an oasis on a windy flat. It was the first Landcare event I can remember and Dad and I came away totally inspired. He set about planting trees.

An aerial photo of the farm in 1994 shows young trees emerging around the dam but little else. It was still a blank canvas but there was a sniff of success.

The centre of the farm in 1994

The centre of the farm in 1994

Can you see a few trees along a rough line in the centre of the picture? It’s a denuded gully that now looks like this, thanks to Dad’s hard work and a Landcare grant that went towards his costs:

The gully 20 years later

The gully 20 years later

During my six-year-custodianship, we’ve planted nearly 10,000 trees and re-fenced our 11 hectares of forest with the help of Landcare, the local catchment management authority, the shire and Greening Australia. Although the funding sources are diverse, it’s all happened because of Landcare as the group acts like a triage service, matching funding sources with farm projects. The funding doesn’t cover everything but it does make it possible, especially with practical help from other Landcarers.

Landcare continues to inspire. In the last few years, our local Landcare group has created a grand vision that brings together the work of individual farms: creating wildlife corridors that stretch from the forest to the river to the foothills across farms, linking precious remnants to provide a network of habitats. And it’s working. Together, we can see that it’s not just our own farms that are changing, it is the entire landscape.

In this, the 25th Anniversary of Landcare, the Commission of Audit has recommended halving its funding – just as this powerful grass-roots volunteer movement has really begun to make a difference. Do you care? I do.

Bruce and Zoe planting in late October

Bruce and Zoe planting trees in October 2011

Progress: peeping through the same trees two and a half years later.

Progress: peeping through the same trees two and a half years later.

For our children

Have you seen this?

Yes, it’s by Unilever. Yes, you’re entitled to be cynical and yes, I love it.

The global manufacturer and ice-cream maker has just accredited Australian dairy production as meeting its Sustainable Agriculture Code – a huge accomplishment, which is also a world first. Of course it doesn’t mean Australian dairying is perfect and Dairy Australia has published a Sustainability Framework that will nudge us all to do better.

Here on the farm, our family does a bite-sized project for the environment every year. We have:

When I say “our family”, I have to stress that we haven’t been able to do all this without help. Grants from Landcare, Greening Australia and the Wellington Shire, work by the West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority, together with the hard yakka of volunteers from the Victorian Mobile Landcare Group and some of our friends have made the tree planting possible.

It just goes to show what we can do when everyone pulls together.

Goanna

Caring for Our Country requires a team effort

If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a country to take care of its land.

Our family has set a target of planting at least 1000 trees on our dairy farm every year but we’ve only been able to do it with a lot of help.

  • Greening Australia helped me develop a whole farm plan and funded the refencing of 11ha of remnant vegetation plus 800 trees that our friends helped us to plant.
  • Our local Landcare group provided a good chunk of the funding for fencing off and revegetating a wetland that volunteers from the Victorian Mobile Landcare Group came down from the city and planted with us.
  • The West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority funded kilometres of fencing and thousands of trees along the gully and anabranch, plus connecting wildlife corridors.
  • Again, the volunteers from the Victorian Mobile Landcare Group came and planted 1200 trees for us last year.
  • The Wellington Shire Council funded the planting of trees along the roadside bounding our farm a year ago and has funded more work in the wetland this year.

We are so, so grateful for all this help. Revegetation is an expensive affair that involves a lot of planning and hard yakka. It’s so worthwhile! This is one of the trees planted by Bruce, Chris and David of the VMLG last October.

Six month old tree

The trees will provide wildlife habitats, help to keep the water table healthy, protect our rivers and the ocean and make a small contribution to reducing carbon pollution. They will also make our cows more comfortable in unpleasant weather and enhance the beauty of our landscapes.

With all this in mind, it was a relief to hear that the doomsayers’ predictions of funding cuts to the chief national environmental program, Caring for Our Country, that helps to fund all this work failed to materialise in the federal budget. There are unwelcome cuts (on top of previous cuts) but it is still here.