Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A very big school day

Today Cam introduced me to John, a neighbouring farmer and 1999 Nuffield whose aim is to cut down on the amount of 'stuff coming in through the gate' to maximise his profitability, reduce his exposure to the unpredictable weather and to complete his succession plan. John is in the process of reverting much of his 10,000 acres into grass and leguminous pastures that can eventually be recolonised by native grasses and legumes. John uses a mixture of chicory, clover, fescues and lucerne to give the soil biology and nutrient base a natural kick start and then manages his stocking with an impressively simple but comprehensive grazing system to utilise the grassland. HE runs both cattle and sheep but needs more of both - prices to buy in are hampering progress but a hell for leather breeding programme is trying to address this. John is not organic, he still drenches the sheep etc he just uses as little as possible - the pastures certainly don't recieve any extras and through good choice of species and careful balance of rates the pastures only need the livestock to mnage them.
John runs Dorper sheep as these will lamb every 6 months for him, so although there price at market may be a little lower - although this is changing, yield is king. John had to review his farm or sell it - the old cropping system during the drought just didn't pay. Since the U turn John has been able to pay off the old farm debts, his parents and his sisters. His farm also had literally thousands of tonnes of feedstock in reserve compared to his neighbours paddocks and even after the severe rainfall the area has seen, very little run off and soil erosion from Johns farm.

I have now smelt a lot of soil around the world and it is a full proof method of assessing soil health and microbial activity and for sure Cam has the best condition and smelling arable soils I have ever seen topped only by Johns soils - a truely lovely yummy sweet smell. The only additions John gives his pastures are two biodynamic preparations flown on one in Winter, one in Summer. -Jury's still out for me.

My reading has led me to believe I need a Brix meter - to measure plant sugars so today John and Cam demonstrated it to me - it seems a really good agronomists tool to monitor the crop to help decide when leaf tissues should be carried out.

Today was a very big school day.

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