Getting the most out of what you have
Graeme has established several sustainable farming practices to optimise water availability across his properties and this is being further enhanced by the next generation.
After sowing and seeding multispecies pastures, Graeme trialled and implemented rotational grazing. This practice has improved carbon sequestered into the soil by reducing overgrazing thus maximising photosynthesis through the pasture. The large mob sizes create manure fertilisation while trampling the organic matter. Multi-species pastures were first sown three years ago which has significantly improved soil function. The cattle appear to love the variety particularly the introduced native forbs that previously didn’t have a chance.
The next step was to address soil compaction by a one-off mechanical intervention to improve moisture penetration, which was paired with plant management to ensure all soil is covered to minimise evaporation and erosion. The introduction of diverse pasture species with different root structures optimises drainage and reduces compaction.
Carrying capacity, measured by kg/ha/100ml rain, has more than doubled since Graeme started this program. This has lifted margins and increased financial resilience.
A further initiative was to install solar panels on the properties to reduce costs. Graeme claims “this was a no-brainer financially, and the reliability of the power supply is also much better.”
Their latest venture is a soil carbon project, funded by a CommBank Agri Green Loan to cover the project establishment costs. The McDonalds are installing spreader banks, or small channels, off their in-paddock dams. These allow for greater water retention and dispersion after rainfall events, which enhances grass production and soil carbon sequestration. Higher soil carbon levels in turn increase the moisture holding capacity of soils.
While it’s still early days in the process, Graeme believes that it’s important that they continue to quantify the data they capture in the program. “We need to know what we don’t know, so we’re using the data captured from the soil to continually check and test we’re on the right track.” His next area of focus is improving his soil biology to further lift pasture production.
A small start is a great start
Graeme believes getting it right is not only important for his business, but for others who want to learn about carbon farming and sustainable practices as well.
“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. It’s how I learn best in my own business - observing what others are doing, talking to colleagues, learning from industry bodies and reading up on what the latest practices are. We then give it a crack so that we (and others) can learn from mistakes, and successes. Taking that first, small step is so important in a venture like this.
"Sometimes it can be hard to get finance when you don’t have a ‘conventional farming operation like ours. Our low rainfall does not help either. Based on my explanation, many people wouldn’t back my ideas, but CommBank had my back.”
“Conventional farming isn’t what it used to be, and CommBank is always endeavouring to understand more about what the farm of the future is going to be, and how they can better support agribusinesses like mine.”