Green patch


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” »

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handful of soil low res

SOIL BIOLOGY – build it and they will come or introduce them in?

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?” »

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Lipid bodies of fungi

FUNGI – Helping build plant resilience to drought and pests

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” »

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Peaola low res

INTERCROPPING – A Winter Crop Example

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” »

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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?” »

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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” »

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soil pit


What many of us really want to know about carbon trading is if farmers can make money from it.  Recent times have seen more methodologies introduced that are more suited to our farming operations, but are they profitable enough to make the paperwork involved worthwhile?  The short answer is – I’m not allowed to say!

An ACCU (Australian Carbon Credit Unit)- which is the tradeable carbon unit, is considered a ‘financial product’ and one must carry an Australian Financial Services (AFS) licence to advise on this.  Whilst I have carried such a licence in the past – it is no longer current, so I would be breaking the law to infer, predict or advise any likely financial gain or loss from ACCU’s.

I can however, talk about how much carbon one might be likely to sequester into the soil and you can get your own advice on the financial relationship to this carbon. Continue reading “CAN FARMERS MAKE MONEY FROM CARBON TRADING?” »

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tree seedling

CARBON TRADING – now more relevant to you all!

Carbon!  I usually talk about how it helps our production and how to get more of it in the soil.  There is however another aspect to carbon that I haven’t touched on yet.  This is the opportunity for farmers to earn money from trading carbon – either storing carbon or reducing the emissions of carbon (and other greenhouse gases).  For some, this may be adding extra income to their farm business, while for others the income might be an added bonus to putting carbon in the soil, which they know will benefit their production in many ways. 

I don’t know about you, but in the evolution of the Carbon Farming Initiative in Australia (what the last Government called the agriculture component of carbon trading), I felt a bit like switching off from the politics involved with it.  As a farmer, I felt – “Just give me something that’s easy to work with on-ground!”  This is why I am grateful for people like Louisa Kiely of Carbon Farmers of Australia.  Louisa has contributed to the hard work for us, to help get our industry to a point where there are now some usable aspects of the Australian Governments’ carbon reduction scheme.  This is why I’ve chosen to speak with Louisa about where things are up to with carbon trading and the now called Emissions Reduction Fund. Continue reading “CARBON TRADING – now more relevant to you all!” »

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young crop - low res


There are some really fantastic regenerative practices that we can and have learnt about.  I understand that for many of you, these are things that you are likely to try first on a trial basis over a small area.  It was pointed out to me by some croppers that they are happy to undertake some trial area of a quite different practice but this is over a small area and they also want direction for what they how they can tweak their farm inputs over the remaining and largest area of the farm. They want to reduce their reliance on high fertiliser and chemical inputs, while being more sustainable.  This is a really great point – and so, this week I have addressed it.

Many of the initial ‘tweaks’ that we might make to traditional system are input related.  It’s about choosing inputs that are kinder to soil life, and more balanced for the plant and supportive of the soil.  As a rule I tend to concentrate on farming practices for this blog, as it keeps me independent, and also because discussion of inputs can begin a very long list.

I do however want to address this point that was raised with me about how a farmer or grazier can make some more minor changes to their system (while trialing other more significant changes) – and this does lead me to the topic of inputs. 

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Weeds collage


When we have an influx of weeds, or a specific weed, we can curse “the damn” things or we can stop, think and use them as a lesson and/or a tool.  Weeds can tell us things about soil condition, ground cover and what might be an appropriate action to repair and bring a soil back into balance.  Agriculture needs to consider different ways to manage weeds because current conventional systems have a finite lifetime of success.  Consider the application rates of herbicides used in crop production systems today when compared with 20 years ago.  There have been really significant rate increases – and it is not just rate increases – we now have double knock strategies that further increase the use of pesticides.  Sure, the double knock strategies delay the build-up of resistant weeds, but this is a delay tactic, not a solution.  We need to explore other options now.

Granted, weed control is probably one of the more challenging aspects of a reduced pesticide input system (at least in cropping), but this is no reason not to try.  As I mentioned above, the herbicide dominated system has a limited lifetime. Continue reading “WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM WEEDS?” »

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Rodale no till planter small file


If we can achieve a thick, deep mulch of material on the soil surface from a cover crop, it is great for weed control, and for preventing soil moisture loss. But, what is the best method for planting into this thick mat of cover crop residue?

I will share with you what Jeff Moyer, Farm Director from the Rodale Institute in the US has done with his planter to adapt it for planting his grain crops into the mulch, created from a rolled down cover crop.  The Rodale Institute are conducting cutting edge research into organic no-till practices, in the US.

If you haven’t already done so, I suggest reading my past cover cropping blogs The ‘New’ Cover Cropping, Experiences from the U.S. – Cover Cropping and last week’s The Practicalities of Cover Cropping – Crop Termination.

Jeff has a Monosem planter.  They are a double disc precision planter, favoured in the vegetable industry due to its ability to plant a wide range of seed sizes with precision.  Jeff has added an extra couple of tool bars to the planter, to aid with planting into the mulch of a cover crop. Continue reading “THE PRACTICALITIES OF COVER CROPPING – Planter Setup” »

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Plain pasture


As I mentioned last week, I have been asked by a subscriber that has visited our farm about how we transitioned country from full zero till cropping to perennial pasture.  We have two alluvial self-mulching black soil paddocks that have had two quite different approaches, with different outcomes in the short and long term.  Sharing these examples with you may offer some helpful learnings.  The outcomes – after a few dry years are worlds apart right at the moment.

In 2008, Derek and I decided that we wanted our business to be solely grazing based.  This decision was made after Holistic Management training and discussion about what we really wanted out of life (but that’s an aside in this article).  I would like to share with you how we took two different paddocks from cropping to pasture, and the current outcomes of each.

When we chose to take land from cropping to pasture Derek and I considered the best way to go about it.  We were aware of situations where farmers had left country and allowed natural succession of plants to occur in order to establish a pasture, while more often others choose introduced pasture mixes, planted at considerable expense.  We did a bit of both. Continue reading “CONVERTING CROPPING COUNTRY TO PASTURE” »

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permaculture low res


What Mark Shepard has achieved at New Forest Farm is truly inspiring, admirable, provides hope and is enviable to anyone interested in nutrient dense, chemical free food production and consumption and most certainly to farmers – with its low inputs and high outputs.  But it is also daunting, overwhelming and, honestly, in the past has actually made me switch off to a degree, because its production system is so far removed from our current beef cattle grazing operation or from the monoculture cropping enterprises of current agriculture.  Do you ever feel a little like that?

It’s like I haven’t been able to bridge the gap on a ‘how to’ basis between what currently is and this pinnacle of agriculture of what could be.  But let me describe it to you and see how we could apply some of the techniques to our farms.

New Forest Farm is a perennial permaculture farm in Wisconsin, USA that grows chestnuts, hazelnuts, pine nuts, apples, asparagus and other fruit, nuts and berries, as well as raising cattle, pigs and turkeys (see above image).  It has been regenerated from what was a degraded, eroded, chemical intensive monoculture cropping farm.  Rich, dark, humic soils have been built from degraded, hard setting, dead red-clay soils.  All this regeneration and production has occurred without the use of pesticides or artificial fertilisers.  The farm is “agriculture redesigned in nature’s image” as Mark described it to me. Continue reading “VALUING EVERY DROP OF RAINFALL – with Keyline Design” »

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If there is a consistent message coming out of regenerative agriculture practices of all kinds it is the need for soil biology, and for a diversity of this.  We gain this from a diversity of species of plants, as well as animals.

I used to think about biodiversity as diversity in the soil, or in our pastures or of native fauna – all of which might have benefited and supported the production of one product from an area of land – be it beef, lamb, goats, wheat or corn.  But of late, (as well as the wonderful benefits that biodiversity can offer to a current traditional production system), I have started to consider biodiversity from the point of view of the number of layers of productive biodiversity that we can have. Continue reading “TREES AS PRODUCTIVE BIODIVERSITY” »

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It’s always great to get off the farm as I find I think in fresh ways and from a different perspective.  Mix with this being surrounded by people equally as passionate about farming in a conscious manner and it’s a pretty good combination – as we found at Acres USA.  I will share with you some detail of practices and growers techniques in time, but today I want to discuss where our food producing systems have gone wrong and that this creates opportunities for us as growers.

I am always aware of how our crop and livestock production systems affect the quality of soils, our animals and our food and, in turn, the health of us and our families.  After all, this is one of the reasons we changed the way we do things on our farm.  With young children, I wanted them to live in a safe, clean environment and I wanted to produce a product that is safe to consume.  As well as chemical free, I want to produce a mineral dense food that nourishes our bodies.

Despite being well aware of the problems with conventional production systems and the associated health problems, (and even changing our practices accordingly), I am still shocked as to the seriousness of this problem when I hear people like Don Huber of Purdue University speak.  Don shared the science behind why we should be concerned about the impacts of Glyphosate and GMO’s on the health of our soils, plants, animals and ourselves. Continue reading “OPPORTUNITIES IN PRODUCING CLEAN, NOURISHING FOOD” »

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MEF roots of canola


I wrote a few weeks back about the impressive initial outcomes of research undertaken with melanised endophytic fungi (MEF) by Sydney University.  The trials resulted in soil carbon increases of up to 40% in the university pot trials.  What we want to know however is if the findings will translate to the field and can such fungi strains be isolated and packaged to farmers for inoculation of our crops and pasture.

You may recall that researchers proposed a process by which the fungi place stable carbon into the soil – depositing carbon rich aromatic melanin compounds into the anaerobic interior of soil aggregates.  The significance of this is that when placed there, the carbon is protected from loss by oxidation or from decay by microbial enzymes.  So, it has potential for increasing ‘stable’ soil carbon in cropping systems.

Work at the university involved inoculating soils with subterranean clover in pot trials – the treatment with some strains of which resulted in significant increases in soil carbon.  Guy Webb, agronomist at Forbes, picked up on this work and wanted to test this inoculation of broadleaf crops in the field, along with determining if there were any resulting increases in soil carbon over untreated plots.  This is with the view that if ongoing field trials are supportive of MEF sequestering carbon, that there may be opportunity to develop a ‘farmer ready, soil carbon sequestration inoculum package capable of reliably, rapidly and significantly increasing soil organic carbon and reducing nitrous oxide emissions in cropping soils”.1 Continue reading “SEQUESTERING CARBON IN THE FIELD WITH MELANISED FUNGI – will it work?” »

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Melanised fungus growing on an agar plate


A predictable and reliable increase of long-lived carbon in cropping and grazing soils would be a wonderful thing for the farming industry.  Carbon sequestration will benefit soils, improve the resilience of businesses and the productivity of our farms.  There may also be opportunities for financial gains from carbon trading.

To reap the benefits for crops and pastures, and for the confidence of trading however, we need to ensure stable soil carbon.  The processes required for deposition of stable organic carbon is the subject of research of which details are emerging.  When similar topics popped up several times in my learnings in the last few weeks I thought it was time to check it out.

I have previously written about the importance of root exudates in the process of sequestering stable soil carbon (see There’s Carbon, then There’s Carbon).  We also know that many different soil microbes play a critically important role in the carbon cycle.  Microbiologists/mycologists at Sydney University, have proposed a process that gives us a better explanation of how carbon is sequestered.  The potential commercialisation of their findings could be an enormous breakthrough to our industry – especially for grain growing industry. Continue reading “IMPROVED OPPORTUNITIES FOR STORING SOIL CARBON?” »

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high rotation clover


If we want to grow our businesses and improve our yield/ profit/ fulfillment, we need to always be looking for a better way of doing things.  It’s great to learn new ideas and become enthused about a new system, but if we don’t act then nothing changes.  I’d like to encourage you to try something different this season.  Or have you already tried something different on your farm recently?  In trying something different I don’t necessarily want to use the word ‘trial’ as this tends to indicate multiple plots tested under the reductionist mentality – where one input is changed and the outcome or yield tested accordingly.  With the complexities of nature’s systems, to alter one input and look at the effects sort of misses the point of many of the processes used in regenerative agriculture.  The symbiosis created from changing several things can be of great benefit and missed in the reductionist scientific model.

Doing something different may mean you have to be a little brave. Continue reading “LET’S DIP OUR TOE IN THE WATER” »

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Refractometer up close


What do you reply when you are asked what you do?  Maybe that you produce corn, wheat, lamb, beef, wool or chickpeas?

Yes, we farmers ARE doing these things, but we are actually in the business of maximising the capture of light energy from the sun, for the production of chemical energy and sugars in the plant.  With these sugars we want to maximise our food and fibre production, because this is our profitability.  And, as regenerative farmers, we want to do this whilst increasing the quality of our asset base (soil, farm environment and our team).

So, the sugar levels in the plant are like a gauge of photosynthetic activity.  They are also a gauge of the health of the plant; the higher the sugar levels – the healthier the plant.  A determination of the plant’s sugar levels, (as well as other dissolved solids like minerals) is measured as Brix.

Measuring brix levels is a helpful thing to do because it is very quick to do and gives us clues as to the health of the plant and the subsequent likelihood of insect pest attack, frost susceptibility, possible plant growth limitations and more.  If higher brix levels can have such benefits to us and our crops, then we also want to know how we can increase brix levels. Continue reading “PLANT HEALTH AND SUGAR LEVELS” »

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Morris' ripper


I spoke with a couple of farmers this week who have been using the Bio-Agtive Emissions Exhaust system, to see how their crops are performing.  I want to share this with you, but I also want to share a basic understanding of plant physiology in trying to help you understand how the Bio-Agtive exhaust system may be getting the results it is and how natural processes can support plant growth.  Sometimes we forget to go right back to basics to understand things and I think it is helpful in this situation.  Regardless if you are a cropper or a grazier or what you think of the exhaust system, there is some great understanding about plant growth here.



I’m sure you will all recall the process of photosynthesis.  Carbon dioxide is taken from the air by plants, and along with water from the soil and light energy from the sun, plants convert these things into plant photosynthates (sugars, starches, proteins, carbohydrates).  Oxygen is released from the plant in this process.  It can be simply represented by this equation.

6CO2+ 6H2O + sunlight energy = C6H12O6 + 6O2

(Carbon dioxide + water + sunlight = glucose + oxygen)

This is how carbon gets from the air into plants.  The plant releases some of the produced sugars as root exudates to feed soil microbes and fungus (which supply nitrogen and other nutrients to the plant), as a result this is also one way that carbon ends up in the soil. Continue reading “GROWER EXPERIENCES WITH EXHAUST EMISSIONS and basic plant physiology” »

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Exhaust Emissions on a 15 tyned ripper


If we can omit a negative from our farm businesses, then this is a good thing, but if we can turn that negative into a positive, then even better still!  This has been the experience of growers who have taken tractor exhaust emissions are directed them into the soil.

Three negatives are eliminated:

  • The release of carbon into the atmosphere
  • The use of certain artificial fertilisers that can harm beneficial soil microbes, leach into waterways and aquifers and create mineral imbalance in the plant.
  • The use of fungicides as seed treatments – which can also harm beneficial fungi in the soil.

The exhaust emissions become a desirable thing – as they stimulate soil biology, fumigate planting seed and provide carbon and micronutrients to the soil.  The emissions are not designed to be a plant fertiliser in themselves, but rather are there to prime the soil microbiology, so that THEY can make available the necessary nutrients for the crop or pasture. Continue reading “TRACTOR EXHAUST EMISSIONS AS A SOIL PRIMER” »

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We found a mushroom in our black soil country this week, which was very exciting for us.  This country has been in perennial pastures for 4 years now, but before this, had a history of years of chemical use and fallow periods.  We think this is a pretty good indicator of the soil health improving as Derek has never seen one on this black soil farming country before… ever.  My Dad talks of taking box trailers full of mushrooms to the Sydney markets, which he picked as a kid from the pastures in their paddocks at Yass, in southern NSW (Australia).  Whilst there are still mushrooms about, they are not of this quantity that they once were and it got me thinking about fungi, which led me to mycorrhizal fungi.

It’s pretty clear that mycorrhizal fungi are a wonderful advantage to have in soils – you will even hear the benefits of it touted in conventional farming circles!  Let’s examine it a little more though – because when we understand the potential benefits of something, is when we begin to value it enough to encourage it and work out how we can incorporate it into our farming systems.

Unlike mushrooms, mycorrhizal fungi exist in obligate symbiotic relationships with plant roots.  What does this mean?  This means that the mycorrhizae are entirely dependent on the plant roots for their survival – they cannot exist without the plant roots.  They rely on the liquid carbon containing exudates from the roots of their host plants.  You will no doubt be familiar with the appearance of fungi – with the strand like threads of hyphae that they produce.  These hyphae grow into the tips of the roots and extend out into the surrounding soil – seeking nutrients like N, P, S, Zn and Boron, as well as moisture.  It seeks and supplies these things for the plant in exchange for the carbon rich root exudates which it feeds on for energy. Continue reading “MAGNIFICENT MYCORRHIZAE” »

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Carbon in soil


The adoption of no-till farming has been great for many reasons, but why are carbon levels of soils still depleting despite the return of much carbon back to the soil via stubble?  This week I examine why high rates of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser is contributing to soil carbon depletion, as well as what to consider in transitioning from high N agriculture to a lower input system.

The liquid carbon pathway, which is described by Christine Jones and I have reported on in ‘There’s Carbon, then there’s Carbon”, is the way that plants take carbon from the atmosphere and convert it via photosynthesis to carbon rich plant sugars.  These sugars which provide two functions for the plant:

  1. providing immediate fuel to the plants
  2. are exuded from the plant roots to feed soil microbiology.  In turn, these soil microbes make nutrients (including nitrogen), available to the plant.  One particularly important outcome of this process is that these root exudates are the substances in which carbon enters the soil in a stable humate form.

When we bypass nature and supply nitrogen in an inorganic form (synthetic fertilisers), there is no requirement for the plant to supply exudates to the soil microbes that in turn supply nitrogen to the plant.  This is because the plant already has access to luxury levels of nitrogen.  This means we have interrupted the process by which plants deliver stable carbon to the soil, and soils are subsequently being depleted of their carbon stores.1

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Rolling a cereal rye & vetch cover crop


How fantastic to chat with two of the world’s leading cover croppers who are reaping the benefits from their multispecies cover cropping.  Look back on last week’s blog for the background on cover cropping, and let’s now get to learning from Gabe Brown from North Dakota and Gail Fuller from Kansas, who I have spoken with last week to get some real life experiences of this technique.  To me, the most truly amazing improvement that these farmers have affected and measured over time is rainfall infiltration rates.  Testing on Gabe’s farm shows increases from initial rates of ½”/hour (12mm) to 8”(200mm)/hour – a 16 fold increase!  Gabe says “we can produce more grain on a lot less rainfall”.  Similarly, Gail Fuller reports at least a 6 fold increase – from less than 1”(25mm)/hour to 6.5”(163mm)/hour in the high clay soils of Kansas.

This allows them to optimise rainfall capture from the less frequent, but more intense and heavier rainfall events being experienced in recent years.  This infiltration then also prevents erosion and nutrient loss from what would otherwise be runoff rainfall events.

Sometimes we find ourselves skipping straight to thinking about why a technique won’t work in our environment, but I encourage you to think, ‘how can I adapt this so that it could work in my environment?”  So, before we get too concerned about this not working in a dry climate – I will tell you that Gabe Brown has a 16 inch rainfall (10” falls as rain and 6” as snow – certainly not a wet environment), and things are well and truly working there, where Gabe achieves grain yields 25% above the district average, with just 1/3 of the input costs (more on the input changes later).  He has temperatures typically ranging from 36oC (98oF) to minus 34oF (-30oC), with 90oF (32oC) common for much of summer.

If you are considering starting out cover cropping, the first cover crop is likely to be ‘ugly’, as Gail puts it.  ”Understand however, that while it may not look like a great success visually, there will be lots of useful and wonderful things happening below ground – even with a poor crop” Gail assures.  ”Remember, we have 100 years or so of a ‘dead’ system to repair, so don’t lose heart.”


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Multi species cover crop


There is SO much to offer from the huge and exciting variety of applications of this technique – it’s hard to know where to start! What I will be doing is start by focusing on the concepts of cover cropping and addressing the nitty gritty and real life experiences (which is what I love most) in coming blogs, rather than doing one big gloss over. This will keep the blogs to a readable length and will also allow your feedback and input, which we can build on as the later blogs come.

[Talking of feedback, I had some really great and helpful feedback from Cam at Uralla after last week’s blog on animal performance under planned grazing systems. More on Cam’s feedback and comments in the side bar(to the right) of the main page of this blog. Thanks HEAPS Cam. I'm sure that Cam's sharing with us will help give more of you in our Conscious Farmer community the confidence to share your experiences.  You will realise that this is a ‘safe’ place in which you can share; either for the benefit of informing others or for seeking input from me and/or others].

Back to cover cropping! There are ALL SORTS of reasons to cover crop, which include incorporating grazing into the system. Certain farmers have worked with this technique and had some amazing success with it and I hope to take this and share it around other parts of the world.

Just imagine increasing your soil infiltration from ½” (25mm) per hour to 8”/hr (200mm)? This is an astonishing improvement achieved by North Dakota farmer Gabe Brown, whose experiences I will share with you next week! On our farm in recent years, we have experienced longer dry periods between which we have more intense and heavier rainfall events compared with the more even nature of our annual rainfall of last decade. I hear these observations echoed by North Americans with regard to their areas. (I am interested to know if the South Americans and Africans are experiencing similar). What this means however, is that CAPTURE and STORAGE of rainfall are now more critical than ever.

The amount of rainfall that we are able to INFILTRATE during these less frequent falls becomes paramount; more important than our actual yearly rainfall. Not only this, but how much we can then hold in the soil to stretch us through to the next rainfall event is equally as critical.

What is cover cropping?

Traditionally I would have thought of cover cropping as the planting of a legume or oats crop (often referred to as a green manure crop) in between cash crops, which is either worked in or sprayed out. Well, this is old school and playing small compared with the amazing things being done now.

Continue reading “THE ‘NEW’ COVER CROPPING” »

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Can we increase stable soil carbon levels with no till cropping systems?


Will crash grazing plant matter to the soil surface increase stable soil carbon levels?

Ground cover

These are important things to consider, as carbon is one of THE main things that will help to restore our soils.  It will increase the resilience of our farm businesses in dry times, by allowing greater water holding capacity of our soils.  And longer dry spells we are having – with more intermittent rainfall events.  For most of us, water is the most limiting factor in our production systems. Continue reading “THERE’S CARBON, THEN THERE’S CARBON” »

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Crop harvest


There is one thing that seems quite clear to me, is that one of the best ways to improve our soils, is to have root systems from a diversity of plants, actively growing for as much of the year as possible.  Pasture cropping fits the bill here beautifully and has resulted in some truly impressive soil and profitability improvements.

Now if you are a cropper and think, “this isn’t relevant to me”, or you’re a grazier and you’re thinking, “I don’t crop” – do read on, as pasture cropping has such a wide applicability and there are lots of lessons about soil health to be learned.

But first, let’s look at what pasture cropping is….


Pasture cropping is the coming together of cropping and grazing for the symbiotic benefit of both enterprises, economically and environmentally.  It is the

‘zero till sowing of annual crops into living perennial pasture’.

Colin Seis, one of the founders of pasture cropping, also refers to it as

Perennial Cover Cropping.

Continue reading “PASTURE CROPPING” »

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