Production systems involving ruminant animals have come under pressure from some sectors of the community concerned about climate change due to the production of methane (CH4, a greenhouse gas) by these animals. While methane has a much shorter life (12 years) in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, the reason it attracts so much negative publicity is that methane is calculated to have a 25 greater fold impact on climate change than carbon dioxide. Much of the atmospheric methane is oxidised to carbon dioxide and water, but with general emission levels increasing since the industrial era, (as with carbon dioxide), there is only so much certain systems can deal with. So should we therefore be worried about the impacts of the methane from our livestock on climate change? Continue reading “RUMINANTS – A methane pest or climate change solution?” »
From time to time I hear comments about “how quickly it’s dried out”. Farmers can experience going from a situation of ample plant growth and OK conditions on the farm, to desperately needing rain, over a short period of time. Has it always been this way and can we insulate ourselves from this seeming cliff face nature of moisture availability and growth?
If we understand how water is held in the pores of the soil and how plants extract this moisture, it will go a ways to helping us understand how we might positively influence soil moisture. So let’s first understand a few terms relating to soil moisture levels (the irrigators among you will likely be all very familiar with these). Continue reading “INFLUENCING SOIL PORES FOR MORE PLANT AVAILABLE WATER” »
I got some clarification recently on the question of making soil biology work for us. Do we take the ‘build it and they will come’ approach or do we actively introduce microbes to ‘enliven’ our soils? My gut feel says ‘build it and they will come’ – it just sits best with me. It’s mostly about practices, not inputs. But, let’s not discount microbial inputs either – there’s a place for all things. It must be considered too, that cropping and grazing may lend themselves in varying degrees to the two approaches.
I often write about soil biology, because I believe it is an area not given enough attention in farming in the last half century. There has been much research into the chemical and physical properties of soil, but only more recently has the biology been explored and our production systems are still catching up and working out how to make the biological research practical. Continue reading “SOIL BIOLOGY – build it and they will come or introduce them in?” »
I recently had a fascinating talk with Dr. Mary Lucero, a former USDA molecular biologist who now works to restore food systems by restoring microbial health.
Mary’s work and knowledge confirms to me the absolute necessity for diverse microbial communities in our agricultural systems, if we are to produce nutritious, chemical free food. Mary’s particular area of interest has been plant and soil fungi. Fungi are not just a ‘choice’ extra that might be nice to have in our farm systems, but are an integral part of healthy plants. Continue reading “FUNGI – Helping build plant resilience to drought and pests” »
I recently spoke with a fellow farmer who was sharing his challenges of perennial weeds – particularly, in this case, mid story native shrubs. This conversation prompted me to think that this was probably a fairly pertinent subject to follow up here on the blog.
If we get our grazing practices right, we know that we can have succession of species towards more stable plant communities and most likely more desirable species for our production systems. So, if there is a season where we have annual weeds, we could use herbicides or mechanical means to control, or we may choose to leave the ground covered with that plant, create conditions favourable to higher succession plants and hang in there hoping that our complex and dynamic ecosystem is being driven in the right direction. Following seasons will likely then see the change to a different species – and possibly a more desirable one. This is because the presence of that annual weed creates changes in the micro-environment around it, which then allows other species to establish that may not have been possible before these micro-environment changes occurred. Continue reading “PERENNIAL WEEDS and planned grazing” »
A quandary of many grain farmers is knowing that the rotation to a pulse crop is a good thing for the soil and farming system, but that this choice has often come with an increased risk associated with these crops. This is when some farmers decide to be innovative to solve such problems – as is the case with Nick Shady on his farm near Lismore in Victoria, Australia (West of Melbourne). Nick has moved to low rates of liquid fertilizer and has begun to experiment by combining a pulse crop with another of his grain crops.
This has led Nick to discover the world of companion cropping or intercropping, with his crop that he aptly calls ‘Peaola’ (a mix of field peas and canola). His ideas developed after he planted a field pea crop quite late (as planting was delayed due to wet weather); in a season that rapidly turned dry. The crop that resulted was not worth harvesting, but was rather treated as a brown manure crop and then worked into the soil prior to summer for the associated advantages. Continue reading “INTERCROPPING – A Winter Crop Example” »
We often hear about how changing climate will affect future generations – our children and grandchildren. This is very true, but we should also realise that it is already affecting us – especially as farmers. Agricultural production is highly influenced by weather, so our businesses are likely to be one of the first affected by climate change (as it affects our weather). Information coming from Australia’s CSIRO (the federal government agency for scientific research) supports this. I learnt this and more when I spoke with Mark Howden of CSIRO recently.
What we often think of regarding climate change is an increase in temperature, and this is true with regard to overall climate and long term average temperatures, but climate change also has other effects on climate. Changes in climate have resulted in more erratic weather events that can affect our agricultural production and increase risk of crop loss. Such erratic weather events place crops at risk of damage; think frosts, drought, hail, intense storms, increased winds etc. Continue reading “HOW IS CLIMATE CHANGE AFFECTING AGRICULTURE?” »
How best to manage early season pasture growth is something I was keen to get a thorough handle on, so I spoke with Brian Wehlburg this week. Brian is a Holistic Management educator based on his farm near Port Macquarie NSW, but training in Holistic Management all over Australia. Early season growth was something he talked about when he visited our farm with his training group earlier this year, so I thought I’d follow it up with him.
First, I will explain that when I am referring to early season pasture growth – we are talking about the window when growth really starts to take off. A time when we might double the quantity of plant dry matter in a relatively short period of time. For us here on the Liverpool Plains in NSW, this is well into Spring, when the weather warms up and the days get longer and our summer growing grasses (C4 or subtropical, or warm season grasses) begin to grow.
Should we change the way we manage grazing at this time of year? Well Brian rightly points out that we should always be considering changes to our grazing in response to pasture growth, seasonal conditions, time of year, and monitoring – something very strongly advocated in Holistic Management. There are however, some extra things that can be considered at the seasons’ beginning. Continue reading “CONSIDERATIONS FOR EARLY SEASON GRAZING – with Brian Wehlburg” »
Intercropping is a way that we can introduce diversity into our cropping systems. There are many reasons why one might chose to do this, including reducing the use (and potential financial risk) of high input fertilisers, reducing pest problems and reducing soil erosion. Intercropping can also aid in weed control and helping to make the most profitable and productive use of land, through the complementary access to a greater range of the soil’s resources than with a monoculture.
The history of intercropping is long – with developing countries still using it as a common technique. Developed nations’ farmers however predominantly moved away from it around the 1940’s1, and into monocultures, but in some cases have now done the full circle and are beginning to incorporate it back into their programmes. The added bonus now is that they have the use of modern day technology and the value of greater scientific understanding. Continue reading “INTERCROPPING – FOR CROPS AND FORAGE” »
Planned grazing and allowing grasses to recover from grazing certainly works to restore pastures, improve ground cover, engage natural nutrient cycles and increase pasture growth. Lots of farmers around the world will attest to this. This doesn’t mean that it is easy to get it right though!
The following information draws on research from many years ago that a subscriber sent me a while ago, and the information is still so relevant. I believe it may be one factor in why not everyone gets the same outcomes from planned, rotational grazing. The information relates to what happens to the root system of a perennial grass plant when the top growth is grazed to different levels. This will obviously influence when we choose to move animals out of a paddock.
The trial included cool and warm season grasses of different growth patterns – rhizomes, stolons and bunch type growth. Grazing of these grasses was simulated by the manual cutting of their foliage. When half or more of the foliage of the grasses was removed, root growth was halted for a time after the removal (with the exception of one grass type). The time period for which the root growth was halted varied with the degree of the foliage removal. Foliage removal occurred in intervals of 10% – ranging from 10% to 90%. Continue reading “HOW MUCH GRASS TO REMOVE IN A GRAZE?” »