Case Study Report: Australia
SAVING MALLEE SOILS - ORGANIC BROADACRE FARMING
Improvements to the environment and productivity
Core Activity: Environmental rehabilitation; Organic farming; Sustainable agriculture
The case is situated in the Mallee, a semi-arid zone in Victoria, Australia. This is marginal land made up of large dryland holdings of cereals and sheep, it is dry and prone to wind erosion, and only two miles from the Big Desert National Park. Anthony Sheldon's believes that, if sensitively restored and worked responsibly, the Mallee is good, reliable farming country. His property is 1,000 hectares, and
carries 1,600 sheep. He has used his own deep understanding of the land with advice from Kym Kingdon, a permaculturalist, to change away from traditional methods of dryland farming. Anthony Sheldon's farm contributes to sustainability by: practicing "chemical free" organic farming; the use of gypsum is making the soil more fertile and workable; the introduction of alley farming and the planting of "living haystacks" provides shelter and fodder for stock, helps prevent soil erosion and reduces water evaporation; modification of farming practices have reduced weeds; his new farming methods have increased biodiversity and encouraged natural predators to return; and he is actively involved in educating and inspiring others about this new approach.
Objectives and purpose
The objectives were to:
- restore the property to a level which could sustain a balance between crops, stock and local biodiversity;
- improve the fertility and productivity of sandhills;
- create a wind break from prevailing winds;
- reduce the effects of erosion;
- reduce financial and environmentally costly inputs;
- develop an organic approach to broadacre farming.
Duration: This case has been developed since 1985.
The process was initiated by: Anthony Sheldon and Kym Kingdon.
- stop soil erosion;
- declining production;
- increasing weed problems;
- to reduce an increasing reliance on chemicals.
Most outstanding results
Within a remarkably short period this case has:
- established shelter belts;
- assisted in dune reclamation;
- provided stock fodder supplementary feed areas using native species;
- improvement in the structure/humus levels and organic carbon levels of soil;
- the regeneration of biodiversity;
- dramatic reduction in inputs;
- dramatic increase in productivity and quality of crops and livestock.
Most significant contributions to sustainable agriculture and land use management
Anthony Sheldon's farm contributes to sustainability by:
- practicing "chemical free" farming (he no longer uses superphosphate, other fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides);
- the use of gypsum is making the soil more fertile and workable;
- the introduction of alley farming and the planting of "living haystacks" provides shelter and fodder for stock and helps prevent soil erosion;
- modification of farming practices have reduced weeds;
- his new farming methods have increased biodiversity and encouraged natural predators to return; and,
- he is actively involved in educating and inspiring others about this new method.
Extent of impact
Anthony Sheldon runs a 1,000 hectare sheep and cereal farm in the Mallee in north west Victoria. The Sheldon family have farmed this area since it was opened up for selection in the 1910's. This Mallee area was heavily cleared in the 1920s, exposing the sand dunes to massive wind erosion. The Big Desert scrub lies only two miles away. However Anthony believes that, if sensitively estored and worked responsibly, the Mallee is good, reliable farming country. His farm has been nominated for two state Landcare awards for his improvements to the environment and productivity.
1985, Anthony began to change his farming practices and is now watching the land improve and productivity increase. The farm is now one of the most productive in the district;
wheat protein and yields have increased;
the suppression of weeds, the organic preparation of seeds, and the improvement to soils have resulted in a dramatic increase in sowing rates.
- healthier stock, as a result of a improved diet and green feed in summer;
- a noticeable drop in fly strike and reduction in the need to drench stock;
- improvement in quality and evenness of fleece, the fleece is softer and whiter, mircron has increased to 17.5
Soil and water
- in 1986 he began applying gypsum to the low lying clay areas of the farm to break up heavy soils and make the land more fertile and workable;
- Anthony has modified his seeding machinery and sows cereals densely to discourage weeds. The crops are 95-100% weed free;
- when mature, the wood lots, native shrubs and alley farming will provide shelter and have a beneficial effect on the water table. These will also stem soil erosion.
- Anthony has returned to the four year rotation system used in the Mallee by earlier generations using wheat, barley, pasture and fallow;
- He is now experimenting with alley farming: planting rows of Saltbush at 200 metre intervals across the best cropping ground;
- In 1992 Anthony began ‘chemical free farming’. He no longer applies superphosphate, other fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides;
- Anthony no longer tills the sand dune areas of his property which are now reserved for sheep. He has planted ‘living haystacks’- rows of Acacia, River Saltbush and Old Man Saltbush - which provide shelter and living fodder for the sheep and stabilize the dunes. This provides the equivalent of 2,000 bales of hay every four months. As the sheep are no longer grazing on pasture there is a reduction in soil erosion. Between the rows Anthony is encouraging deep-rooted perennial pasture such as lucerne, evening primrose and clover;
- Anthony has reduced paddock sizes which has assisted in: reducing wind erosion, improved conditions for stock as nearly all fence lines have shrubs;
- some sand hill areas have been exclusively fenced for stock only and within these enclosures the alley distances have been reduced to approximately 20 metres, as these areas will no longer be cultivated for cropping;
- Anthony has incorporated slow release organic rock mineral fertilizers, in addition to this, he sprays when required, microbial soil activator to increase microbe populations and activity above and beneath the soil level;
- savings from the use of well maintained older equipment have allowed more resources to be directed toward land restoration.
- more than 14,000 trees (wood lot and wind breaks) have been planted, with the goal of planting 30,000;
- 70,000 fodder shrubs have been planted with the aim to build this to 250,000 in the next 4 years;
- the extensive planting of trees and shrubs have increased biodiversity of birds, plants and insects;
- use of perennial plants have reduced annual weeds.
Anthony Sheldon and Kym Kingdon regularly present at field days and farm tours for farmers, school children and Landcare groups.
Methods used to monitor and evaluate multi-functional impacts
detailed observation and recording of the land;
photographs were used to record changes in conditions and the development of the farm using these new methods;
soil samples have been collected and analyzed by the local Landcare group.
The most import elements (key ingredients) which contributed to success
Spreading gypsum to the low lying clay areas of the farm to break up heavy soils made the land more fertile and workable, and helped in the retention of water. This provided a necessary base for the "Living haystacks", tree lots and alley farming on the farm, and has assisted with more efficient water management.
Using organic principles that were based on working with the local native environment. This enabled the farm to become chemical free and assisted in the regeneration of the land and biodiversity.
Factors that might affect replicability
- This case would be suitable for similar dryland environments that are trying to maintain sustainable farming on marginal lands with wind erosion problems;
- The fundamental factor is for farmers to understand the local indigenous environment in which they farm and to learn to adapt to and re-built this landscape. All plants should be sourced from local indigenous varieties.
Factors that influence sustainability
Factors that make this case sustainable:
working with nature - farming methods that are adapted to the local natural environment;
commitment and involvement of farmers to have personal contact and understanding of the soil;
decrease reliance on high technology and chemicals;
input costs have been dramatically reduced;
soil and water conservation;
increase in biodiversity of plants, birds and insects;
improved productivity and quality of stock and crops;
active interest and involvement of other farmers and community organizations.
The most important lessons learned
Long-term sustainable organic bio-diverse dryland farming systems can and do work. Broadacre permaculture is a necessary step towards sustainability.
It is possible to farm in harmony with nature. Nature is used as an agronomist: healthy soils lead to healthy plants, animals, people and future.
Large, capital intensive farming is unsustainable and unnecessary. Large equipment requires fewer people, which contributes to the decline in rural populations. Good results are possible with fewer overheads.
How this case enhanced the multiple use of agricultural land and water
The application of gypsum stopped water logging and run-off. The use of shelter belts of trees and shrubs reduce wind and assist in reducing the loss of water from evaporation. This means that rainfall becomes more effectively used, a greater proportion of water is able to infiltrate the soil and become available to plants for growth. The use of shelterbelts assist in increasing crop and pasture growth.
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Documents referring to the case
a. Australian Broadcasting Commission, "Landline" television program, 1995.
b. Museum Victoria's "Future Harvest" exhibition, education kit, website, 1998.
c. "Broadacre organics works wonders on cereal crops", South Australian Stock Journal, 18 September 1997, p. 25; "Permaculture to keep farmers on the land", South Australian Stock Journal, November 1998, p. 4.
Replication of the case by others
Many people have expressed interest and have planted salt bush, but no one has acted on the whole farming practice yet.
Some South Australian farms are using chemical free methods for dryland farming but are not planting fodder shrubs.