Joining the regenerative conversation

Over the past few weeks I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to attend some inspirational field days and forums discussing the future of agriculture with some incredible innovators and communicators. Great thinkers around the world like Malcolm Gladwell and Joel Salatin have both, in their books and interviews, explained that great people don’t just do great things, they share their knowledge through excellent communication skills. I have been fortunate to attend a couple of sessions with such people who have inspired our journey to deeper understanding of our land and the responsibility we have to care for it.

A few weeks ago, I ventured to Bibbaringa near Holbrook to a field day hosted by owner Gillian Sandbrook and Soils for Life.

Soils for life’s mission is “To support Australian farmers in regenerating soil and landscapes, to build natural and social capital, and transform food and fibre systems”. It was founded in 2013 by Major General Michael Jeffery, after being asked by the Government to identify the single largest threat to national security. Major General Jeffery identified soil loss and degradation was the largest threat to Australia, and Soils for Life was founded.

Soils for Life supports the growing number for farmers and rural leaders dedicated to farming in ways that improve soil. It does this through conducting case studies uncovering the stories of farmer innovators and sharing their experiences, allowing everyone else to make their own judgements. .

Gillian is part of the 8 families group and were the subject of one of the case studies. The group met during a holistic management course, and the peer support network they established after the course led to the establishment of the 8 families group. They graciously shared their journey with us at Bibbaringa, before we went on-farm to see some of the techniques used to hydrate the landscape, audit and validate the natural capital of the property and monitor the transition to new management practices. The ‘8 families’ group Soils for Life case study can be found here: https://soilsforlife.org.au/the-8-families-group/.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, Gillian was the co founder of Earth Canvas. We had already booked tickets to the Regenerating Farmscapes Forum hosted by Earth Canvas a few weeks after the field day. The Forum was held at the National Museum of Australia, and we were lucky to get our tickets as it sold out quickly. The forum brought together farmers, artists, scientists and writers for a discussion on the shifting agricultural paradigm. Keynote speakers such as Dr Ken Henry, Dr Charles Massy, Darren Doherty, Stacey Curcio and Professor Sasha Grishin provided a fascinating perspective on the link between soil, animal and human health.

We found ourselves in good company in the audience too. We were sitting among regenerative agriculture pioneers, research scientists from the Sustainable Farms, neighbours, local leaders from our very own land managers network and other curious minds.

An element of the forum was the Earth Canvas exhibition that we also walked explored. The connection tween artists and regenerative farmers was thoughtful and insightful.

Confused about all the groups and names? I am too, but what is heartening is that the intent is broadly similar and the the conversations are being shared across the agricultural community. People generally tend to bond ourselves to a particular ‘tribe’ or group. What I have found is many of the leaders in this sphere cross many of the groups and share their message.

It is inspiring and humbling to be part of that journey. For a long time it felt that we were an isolated island doing our best to improve our little farm. It is apparent we are part of a much wider community, who are welcoming to all people with curious minds, no matter how large or small their property is.

These leaders in regenerative agriculture are bringing people together and communicating their journey. They are grass roots leaders who are influencing the highest levels of Australian Government. The conversation is growing, and it great to be a part of it.

Calving and a big dump of rain!

Calving is without a doubt my favourite time of year. It isn’t without its challenges, and requires twice daily (or more) checks just to make sure all is going to plan. As I write we have 13 beautiful calves on the ground, with a couple more stil to calve. The cows seem to understand what we are up to with our regular checks and seem quite happy with our presence. We only have one maiden heifer, and she gave birth to a bull calf without any issues which was a great relief. Regular readers will recall that Daisy had some difficulty calving last year, and despite my misgivings, remained on the farm. She hasn’t calved yet – indeed she might not even be in calf – but we are watching her closely.

Our gorgeous cows are lovely and quiet, however the new mums can be understandably a little more cautious around us. Over the past few years, any cow that has shown any form of aggression has been sold. That said, there are a couple who quitely let us know with a gentle shake of the head that we have approached close enough. We don’t put any more pressure on them. By sitting down a short distance away, those who want to come up and say hello are able to… and they sure make us smile.

We are calving a little earlier than last year. Whilst the soil moisture is great, the rain has reduced the solar gain on the pastures and hence grass growth is a little less than we expected. We are throwing out a bit of pasture hay, and are providing a magnesium lick to the cattle to support their nutrition requirements.

It is an unusually wet year, with the end of last week culminating in the largest flood waters we have seen on our creek since moving in. Our previous flood record was measured to the base of our front gate post. This most recent flood covered the gate and has fiven us a new height datum. A day of steady rain was followed by a sharp 30mm shower as the sun set. The resultant rise in the creek was mirrored with flooding throughout the district, with several roads cut. The family were safely marooned at home, and I ended up staying in town after work.

The following day the creek dropped, and required a bit of work to clear some of the debris off the crossing. Our neighbour was home and cleared the worst of it (thanks Stuart), allowing me to get home that evening. The following day, we continued to drag silt and logs off the drive way. The size of the timber moved downstream by the flood waters was phenomenal. Sadly several trees were ripped out of the creek banks. I haven’t yet established the extent of the damage, but I do know we have lost some creek bank, new trees and a temporary fence. Over the next week or two we will look rebuilding our flood gates and making the front paddock stock proof again.

It is all part of the cycle of the water way. For all the extra work the creek creates, it adds so much more to our property and we consider it an asset to the Rock Farm.

In the meantime, I will keep hanging out with the cows and enoying their company. It is good for the soul!

Special thanks to Stuart for clearing the debris so I could get home and to the Not-So-Little Helper for his amazing photos.