Learning and training
- Join the Young Farmers Advisory Council: Joining the Council is a great way to advocacy for the interests of young farmers in your industry and community represented and to develop your leadership skills. Applications are open until Thursday 6 April 2023.
- National Farmers Federation Diversity in Agriculture Leadership Program: Designed to support the NFF’s goal to double the number of women in agriculture’s leadership ranks and to make agriculture an inclusive industry for all by 2030, the Diversity in Agriculture Leadership Program is a 5-month mentoring and networking opportunity for women involved in agriculture with a passion for the industry and it’s future. Applications are now open.
- Applications open for the National Mentoring Program: Share your experience, learn from experience, be your best self and help rural Australia thrive – join the National Mentoring Program and get connected with a mentor or mentee. Apply before 3 April through the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation.
- Farm Business Resilience Program: Looking for ways to prepare your farm business for success? The Farm Fitness Checklist helps to identify areas and opportunities to strengthen your farm business.
- Farm Dams – Methane Emissions Research: Deakin University’s Blue Carbon Lab is seeking access to farm dams for research into farm dam methane emissions. To express interest in the study please complete this form.
- On-Farm Emissions Action Plan Pilot: The Victorian Government has commenced the On-Farm Emissions Action Plan Pilot as part of its commitment under the Agriculture Sector Emissions Reduction Pledge to provide practical information, tools and services to support farmers to understand and reduce emissions. Read more about climate and agriculture.
- Insecticide resistance in the redlegged earth mite is on the rise: Since the first discovery of resistance in the redlegged earth mite in 2006 in Western Australia, the incidence of resistance has increased and is now present in populations across Western Australia, South Australia, and Victoria. Keep reading
- A farmer’s handbook to on-farm carbon management: This nifty little handbook aims to support producers with practical information on the feasibility of carbon sequestration activities on their farm. As carbon storage and sequestration becomes more prominent in rural industries, producers may be considering the opportunities and challenges that come with participating in a formal carbon sequestration scheme. Order a printed copy ($60) or download a pdf for free.
- Rural drainage resource kit now available: Understanding the rights and responsibilities around dryland drainage it important for landholders who may undertake works that turn out to be illegal. To help landholders understand what they can and can’t do and the process around options to manage dryland draining is now available in a resource kit. Find out more.
Protecting the Environment
- Expressions of interest: Swamp Stewardship Payments: Landholders with swampy areas on their farms can receive incentive payments to learn more about them and how to manage them. Interested? Read more about it online.
- Attracting and caring for amphibians in your stream, creek or wetland: Agricultural properties are important for Australian’s native frog species. Dams, ponds, wetlands and waterways provide habitat and refuge, especially during dry periods. Learn how to promote amphibian populations on your property.
- The importance of wetlands for bats: Freshwater ecosystems are home to a huge diversity of plants and animals. Often overlooked but always close by, bats are common visitors to our wetlands. Read a bit about bats here.
- Kangaroo grass is a keystone species for ecological fire management: The latest Hot Topic from the Ecological Society of Australia describes how Kangaroo grass facilitates ecologically appropriate burning under moist soil conditions.
- Restored roadside grasslands provide an exciting template for road network conservation: Dig into the details with this article from Paul Gibson-Roy and Frank Carland online.
- Restoring Native Grasslands: This is a great series about why and how to restore a grassland on your property. Recreating the Country blog
- Rewetting dried wetlands could stop 100 billion tons of CO2 emissions: Half of the planet’s wetlands are dried out or degraded, and rewetting them could limit more greenhouse gas emissions this century than restoring global forests. Read the New Scientist article.
- State of the Climate report:
- Continued warming of Australia’s climate, an increase in extreme fire weather and length of the fire season, declining rainfall in southern Australia, and rising sea levels are some of the key trends detailed in the latest State of the Climate report, released by CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology. Read the report
- Birds in Backyards Autumn Surveys: Simply spend 20 minutes somewhere you can view birds – your backyard, or other favourite space, record the bird species you see and count how many there are. Head over to Birdata (http://birdata.birdlife.org.au/) and register today!
- The Glenelg-Hopkins Soundscapes Project: You can volunteer to process acoustic monitoring data collected through the Australasian Bittern Recovery (Glenelg-Hopkins Catchment) Project. Check it out on Arbimon.
- FrogID Week 2022 – over 32,000 frog records gathered for research and conservation: FrogID Week has once again rapidly gathered data for frog conservation, receiving more than 3 frog records per minute and gathered data from over 4,600 concerned citizen scientists. Read all about it!
Webinars and Podcasts
- Farming Forever: A National Plan for Climate Change and Agriculture: Register to attend the virtual launch of the Farming Forever report from Farmers for Climate Action on Wednesday 15 March.
- Victorian Farmers Federation Podcast: This podcast series discusses issues affecting all of us on farm, from bog recovery and mental health, to livestock management and financial support, Tune in HERE or search the Victorian Farmers Federation podcast on your favourite podcast streaming app.
- Carbon Conversations 2023: The Carbon Market Institute presented a series of Carbon Conversations in January and February. This short series tackled three key climate policy and submission developments, as Australia collectively began a substantial period of domestic climate policy reform. Watch the recordings online.
- Maximising Ecosystem Opportunities to Fit Your Business: Biodiversity: This Landcare Farming webinar is bringing together five industry experts for an exclusive webinar exploring the importance of biodiversity literacy for producers and the key principles of environmental accounting. Register for the webinar.
- Transitioning to Healthy Soil Systems: Nakala Maddock from NutriSoil, David Hardwick from Soil Land Food and Luke Harrington from Re-Gen Farming talk about transitioning from Conventional Farming to a Regenerative System with lower synthetic inputs to create Healthier Soils. Watch on YouTube any time.
- The amazing tech revolutionising farming: Technology has opened up a wealth of information many operators don’t even know exists. Listen to the 2022 Farmer of the Year on the Australian Farmers podcast.
Funding and Support
- National Landcare Program: Smart Farms Small Grants: Smart Farms Small Grants is an open, competitive, grant opportunity to support projects to increase farming, forestry and shing communities’ awareness, knowledge, skills and capacity to adopt best practice sustainable agriculture. Find out more online.
- Landcare Australia Grants: Landcare Australia works with governments, corporate and philanthropic organisations and donors to facilitate funding for good quality, hands on projects and programs that will improve environmental outcomes for the Landcare community. View current grants online.
- BushBank Program – Habitat Restoration on Private Land: The Victorian Government is investing $30.9 million to revegetate and restore at least 20,000 hectares of native habitat across private land in Victoria. More information: go to Habitat restoration on private land (environment.vic.gov.au).
- Landcare Victoria Inc. Rules Review: Follow the link to the discussion paper and feedback survey (https://landcarevictoria.org.au/LVI/Projects/Projects-RulesReview.aspx).
2022 Upper Hopkins LMG President’s report
Jack Tucker, President
Time flies and we are back around at our Autumn newsletter already.
Thank you once again Ayesha for putting together another fantastic publication!
As some members may be aware this will be the last newsletter with Ayesha as our facilitator. Sadly for the Landcare community but excitingly for Ayesha she informed me last week that she has accepted a role with Nature Glenelg Trust, as a Wetland Ecologist. NGT is a fantastic organisation, and this is a wonderful opportunity for Ayesha, so on behalf of us all congratulations to her!
I can’t thank Ayesha enough for the work she has done since commencing with us in 2019. She hit the ground running and has really helped us take the group forward.
Ayesha will be continuing with us until the end of the month, allowing her time to tidy up any loose ends.
We have just recently advertised the position left vacant by Ayesha online via Seek and NRM Jobs, and Kelly and CC are organising the recruitment process. Please don’t hesitate to contact CC, Kelly or myself if you have any queries or comments.
Now we have come through summer, the benefits of the extremely wet Spring, which seemed to drag on forever are really becoming apparent in terms of the health and vigour of remnant and new vegetation, and biodiversity in general.
Throughout Summer comments about the swarms of dragonflies and brown butterflies were common right throughout the district. Stubble Quail are in numbers not seen for many years, as are waterbirds and reptiles, particularly snakes, which have benefited from the boom in the frog population.
Recently I was driving in the evening and for a decent distance the road was literally moving with frogs. A closer inspection revealed three common local species – Spotted Marsh Frogs, Eastern Banjo Frogs and Common Froglets. After a short walk I found the source, which was a pool in a seasonal creek, and small frogs of all 3 species were crawling out of the water en masse! I had never witnessed anything like this before and it was an amazing sight!
I have touched on this before, but seasons like the one we are currently experiencing really showcase how incredible, and how critically important our local seasonal wetlands are!
For anyone who is lucky enough to have a wetland on their property, I can’t stress enough how worthwhile it will be for themselves, and future generations if it is managed for the best possible conservation outcomes. Looking after a wetland does not necessarily mean fencing it off and forgetting about it. Like native grasslands, to function at their best, wetlands can respond well to removal of biomass either through strategic grazing or burning.
In terms of natural capital, and considering the rapid development of ecological accounting frameworks (carbon and biodiversity in particular), intact, functioning wetlands could easily become more valuable to a farm business bottom line per Ha than the arable land surrounding them. Please contact our group or the Glenelg – Hopkins CMA directly if you are seeking any information or assistance in preserving wetlands under your management.
NOW (before the Autumn break) is an ideal time to:
- Finalise site selection for proposed re-veg works and rip lines in preparation for planting.
- Order tubestock from your chosen nursery. Remember it is always important to request local provinence stock where possible.
- Fox and rabbit baiting.
- Tidy up Gorse control. Now with the majority of grass dried off and brown, it is really easy to locate any Gorse missed during Spring spraying or any seedlings which have germinated since.
- As always, please spread the word about our group, as we are always keen for new members (and a new facilitator if anyone knows one…!).
Perennial Pasture Systems Problem Paddock Project
Rob Shea, Project Manager
PPS has commenced a Problem Paddock Project looking at paddocks which have severe constraints for perennial pasture establishment and are trialling possible solutions. The first project is at the Kindred family’s Pomonal block which has the sandy, low fertility soil typical of the soils surrounding the Grampians.
PPS is trialling Kikuyu and Serradella, adapting practices seen on study tours to NSW, Kangaroo Island & East Gippsland. Kikuyu was sown on September 9th 2021at a rate of 3 kg/Ha, the legume, Serradella was oversown in Autumn 2022.
The summer rainfall in early 2022 was very favourable for the Kikuyu & it grew well in its first year. The kikuyu was grazed in autumn before the Serradella was oversown.
The serradella established well and grew prolifically during spring last year, fortunately it didn’t smother the kikuyu which responded well to the wet spring and is producing large amounts of green feed during summer.
PPS are measuring feed quality and production to assess the pasture mix but it is already showing its value in providing exceptional ground cover compared to the annual grasses it replaced.
In late January, the serradella had gone to seed and its feed value had dropped but the kikuyu was green and growing actively with 8.5% Crude Protein, and 8.9 mj/kg/DM energy which is above the critical levels for adult sheep.
The Problem Paddock Project is supported by GHCMA through funding from the National Landcare Program.
PPS acknowledges the continued support of the Wimmera CMA in supporting the PPS Project Manager role.
Saline Wetlands field day
Aggie Stevenson, Senior Biodiversity Officer
On Thursday 9th February, a field day was held near Willaura. The key focus was on the Endangered Adamson’s Blown-grass (Lachnagrostis adamsonii), however it also encompassed general saline wetland management. The field day saw the 25 participants visiting one of the saline wetlands with a known Adamson’s Blown-grass population, near the Hopkins River east of Willaura. A broad range of speakers participated in the field day, including: Dr Steve Sinclair (ARI), Dan Lees (BirdLife Australia), Tara Hopley, Laura Simmons and Rebecca Miller (Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria) and Dr Austin Brown. A Welcome to Country was provided on-site by Eastern Maar representative Paul Kelly, during which time, three Wedge-tailed Eagles (Bunjil) flew over the group as Paul played his Didgiridoo; this left several participants feeling incredibly ‘grateful’ and ‘privileged.
Glenelg Hopkins CMA is currently running a small project focusing on the protection of this poorly known grass, which in turn is enabling the CMA to be able to put the spotlight on saline wetlands, of which there are many hundreds in the region, yet are greatly underrepresented in Government priorities.
If you have a saline wetland on your farm and would like a CMA staff member to inspect it as potential Adamson’s Blown-grass habitat, please contact Aggie on 0435 537 443 or email@example.com
Reflect, Retrospect, Reality Check!
Michelle McClure, Communications & Engagements Coordinator
The 2022 farming season was certainly a challenge with its’ highs and lows. The Southern Farming Systems(SFS) Annual Trials Results Morning on Wednesday 22 March at Willaura in SW Victoria, will reflect on the season, use retrospect and get a reality check to move forward into 2023.
The results morning will start with the 2023 Economic outlook focusing on cropping, livestock and inputs by SFS Signature Partner Rabobank, Stefan Vogel, General Manager RaboResearch Australia & New Zealand. Stefan will provide insights into the 2023 commodity outlook, the opportunities and the challenges.
Continuing with the finance and business theme Jen Clark, SFS & SW Node Victorian Drought & Resilience Adoption Officer, will present information on SW Victoria farm business finances that have been run through climate modelling to provide insights into the effects of climate variability on SW Farm businesses.
The Southern Farming Systems Pasture and Fodder trials will reflect on the season of establishing pastures and fodder in the big wet and the issues encountered. Lisa Miller & Jessie Wettenhall, SFS will also provide an update for these trials in 2023.
Hear from a local grower and his challenges of running a mixed farm system under the 2022 conditions and how he plans to move forward into 2023.
The 2022 SFS variety by management trials on Wheat, Barley and Canola pull apart Inputs vs Hyper-Yield vs Profitability. Grace Evans and James Palmer SFS, will challenge is yield king? Or profitability?
Greta Duff, SFS will explore what did we learn from waterlogging trials from 2021 using nutrition strategies to revive and survive.
Finishing with South West Victoria Power Panel of Agronomists that are going to reflect on 2022 and revive for 2023 with SFS partners Dagro, Grost Rural, Premier Ag and Western Ag.
“A morning not to be missed if you are farming in SW Victoria, this Results morning gives us all the chance to analyse the data from not just trial sites but also our own farms with the benefit of that 20/20 hindsight and ask what we may have done differently if we had known earlier how the season was going to finish. Southern Farming Systems role in this goes beyond just pushing up yields, our role is to challenge the total farm system and consider farm profitability from a variety of enterprises and take a long-term view of total farm returns and include soil health, human wellbeing and environmental outcomes to give us a sustainable farm business into the future” said Scott Chirnside, SFS Chairman.
More information or register to attend visit https://sfs.org.au/communications/events
Urban Trees in Ararat and District
Ararat Landcare Group
The Ararat Landcare Group has been distributing information to encourage residents to plant trees in their backyards.
The booklets and videos describe how trees have multiple benefits for our town and our environment.
If you are interested in saving money on heating and cooling, consider the right location for planting a tree. Trees can protect us from summer heat and provide a barrier to cold winter winds. They can also reduce flooding, stormwater runoff and air pollution.
Urban trees add natural beauty to our town and help to improve mood and mental health. People are more likely to spend time outside in areas with more trees.
Trees also provide habitat for birds, lizards and insects in town and can help to mitigate the impact of climate change.
The booklets and videos also guide homeowners to make the right choices when planting trees. Choosing the best location and the right type of tree is very important.
In July, Ararat Landcare Group planted three demonstration sites: Laby Street, McGibbony Street and Gordon Street. Trees and shrubs were selected to avoid common problems with street trees, such as interference with overhead powerlines and underground drain systems. All local residents are encouraged to become good stewards of the new trees in the street, as well as more established trees. Anyone can visit these demonstration sites and read a little bit more about the project on the new signs.
Booklets are available from local nurseries, Council offices and libraries, Hotondo Homes, and local Landcare groups. Videos are available on the Upper Hopkins YouTube channel (@UHLMG).
To help Ararat Landcare Group assess the value of the information provided in the booklets and videos, there is a short survey available on the website. Your feedback is valuable.
For more information, please contact Landcare Facilitator Ayesha Burdett (facilitator@UpperHopkins.org.au).
This project is supported by the Victorian Government and funded through the Sustainability Fund – Supporting Our Regions to Adapt program and our partner Ararat Rural City Council.
More information about the project can be found online:
Protecting Wetlands Together – with Precision Ag
Jileena Cole, Landcare Facilitator
In late February. I attended Agrifutures evokeAg 2023 ‘Down to earth’ conference in Adelaide, with Ayesha, and two progressive farmers, Simon & Ben, who have a farm located near Skipton. This was funded by the OCOC Protecting wetlands together…Precision Ag project through Glenelg Hopkins CMA, in partnership with three other Landcare networks, including Upper Hopkins Land Management Group.
There was over 1500 delegates in attendance, with several presentations, workshops, and forums on various topics over the two days. There was also a networking exhibition featuring operators and inventors in agriculture, and new start up ventures looking to promote their work and attract investment. The two days kicked off with a very impressive Welcome to Country from the Kaurna people, performed by Kuma Kaaru Cultural services, who thoroughly entertained the crowd, sharing their amazing stories through songs and dances. This was followed by a thought-provoking discussion about growing food in space and how this could lead to greater efficiency in agriculture. Space-tech is likely to completely change the way we grown food to feed the ever-growing population on earth.
Further discussions centred around the future of agriculture, and what investors are looking to invest in. Things like the food as medicine movement and how the nutritional value of food will play a bigger role in the agricultural industry and improving the health of the community. Supply chain integrity was also highlighted as a key area of focus for enterprises, and how consumers can and will drive what we see on our supermarket shelves. Biotech is also a growing industry, growing food within a lab, either as an alternative to meat or editing genes to create more nutritional food. The main message was that nutritional, sustainable, affordable food is the main goal for the agricultural industry going forward.
In the afternoon, I attended a workshop on empowering farmers to shape the future of environmental reporting. Sue Ogilvy from Framing for the future was on the panel, and discussed how Farming for the Future is working towards a more financially prosperous, climate-resilient, and decarbonised agriculture sector in Australia and aims to support the agricultural sector to optimise the natural capital that underpins core agricultural production. They believe this will improve economic and environmental outcomes for producers, the food and fibre supply chain and the community – at scale. They are looking at measuring the natural assets on a farm and assigning a dollar value to the assets so it can be incorporated in the total value of the enterprise. I found this a rather interesting concept, here is a link to the website if you want to check it out https://farmingforthefuture.org.au/.
Day two began with discussion around global challenges facing the agricultural industry, the 4 C’s: Climate, Covid, Conflict and Costs, and how these factors will drive collaboration, creativity, or catastrophe in the future. It was noted that the agricultural industry needs to define what sustainability is? What environmental sustainability is, and how it should include biodiversity. Data was highlighted as being important to prove an enterprises sustainability, however technology is not always making its way to farmers on the ground for various reasons. Whether that be connectivity issues, or relevance issues, it was highlighted that tech companies need to be having conversations with farmers to ensure that their technology is relevant to the issues the farmers are facing on the ground and within the industry.
In the afternoon I listened to a further two discussions, one on SynBio- which discussed transforming agriculture at a cellular level, and one on the risks and rewards of renewables, in particular bio-diesel. Synthetic biology or SynBio, is designing crops for fuel production or creating programmable cells to fight disease. This sector is big business, with interest from pharmaceutical & biotechnology companies. It was noted that this sector was not looking to impact on the current agricultural industry, only to enhance it or, as in the case for one company who are making a synthetic meat product, create something entirely new and different from the current meat products available.
The discussion on renewables was also interesting, as it was discussing the challenges and opportunities in the production and application of sustainable fuel sources. One farmer who was on the panel, talked about how he was growing a crop to produce biodiesel for his farming enterprise, however he had to go through the same process as larger fuel companies did, to be able to produce that product for his own use. He was calling for change to the regulation so that more farmers could be doing what he does with less red tape.
The workshop on Natural Capital accounting was the highlight for me, as I could see how this concept could have the potential to protect wetlands within a cropping landscape. If there is a dollar value placed on natural assets, would this encourage more cropping farmers to protect them? I think so. Also, I found the discussion on food as medicine rather fascinating, and got me thinking, if there was scientific evidence to suggest that food grown sustainably, within a landscape that included wetlands, rivers, and native vegetation, was of a better nutritional quality, could it be sold at a premium price?
It was a great to attend evokeAg and listen in to some very thought-provoking discussions on the future of the agricultural industry and the current technology that is being developed.
Ayesha Burdett, Landcare Facilitator
Many thanks to Jileena for organising this opportunity for me and our farmer representatives, and to the GHCMA OCOC program for the funding support. It was a great opportunity to learn more about the diversity of challenges that agriculture is facing across Australia and into the future, and how technology and innovation is part of the solution. Like Jileena, I attended a diversity of sessions but I mainly focused on sessions that discussed topics around environmental sustainability.
As someone living and working in the Upper Hopkins, I usually think of agriculture from the ground up: farmers grow food in the soil, and its very hands-on work. This conference looked into the future of farming with some seemingly far-fetched ideas about growing food in space or in the laboratory, or adopting new technology that sounds incredible to those of us who continue to struggle to get a mobile phone signal in our backyards.
Many presentations dug deeper, considering the role of primary producers in climate adaptation and resilience and the responsibility to create high-quality food and fibre for the health and well-being of the consumers (which includes me and my family). I watched a presentation that encouraged producers to start thinking about how to include carbon credits in their farm business, even though we don’t yet have all the answers about how to measure or store carbon. 2030 is approaching rapidly and we need to be pragmatic and get going on farms across the country.
Another panel discussed the Collision of the Four Cs (climate, COVID, conflict and cost). These presentations emphasised the importance of supply chains, food security and nutritional security (i.e., quantity and quality of food). One presenter recognised that the average consumer is not willing – or perhaps unable – to pay more for food at the supermarket. If consumers won’t pay, then something else in the supply chain will, such as the environment. Conversely, another presenter claimed that regenerative farming is no more expensive than conventional farming and therefore should be the same price for the consumer.
Throughout these presentations about the future of farming, we repeatedly heard that farmers need to get better at collecting, collating and interpreting their on-farm data (presumably with support from their agronomists). For farmers to collect this data, the process needs to be seamless and secure.
After hearing about collecting data in a few sessions, I started to notice that the farmers in the audience were starting to push back on the presenters, saying that they were already collecting and using data and precision agriculture was essential to the success of their annual harvest.
I also heard some feedback from the audience that they didn’t need new tech designed for them because it might not suit their needs. Rather than adopting programs from another organisation, some of the bigger producers had designed their own apps or computer programs to manage their farm data and some other farmers were happy to continue to use standard spreadsheets to track their paddock information. It was a good reminder that the newest technology may not be the solution to all of the complex challenges in the future of farming.
Wildlife on the farm
CMA Flood Recovery Effort Continues
Dave Nichols, Senior Project Officer
The Glenelg Hopkins CMA flood recovery effort has been continuing over the past couple of months on several fronts. Firstly, the CMA Works Crew have been kept busy assisting farmers clean up and repair livestock fences following the high rainfall events of October and November 2022. To date they have repaired over 34 kilometres of fencing across the properties of over 30 landholders. This has largely occurred across the catchments of the Upper Hopkins, the Fiery Creek and the Upper Mount Emu Creek. This work is now coming to an end, but if there is still anyone looking for some assistance they can contact the CMA on 55712526.
In recent months aerial surveys have been flown over the same catchments mentioned above, conducting assessments of damage to stream banks and associated infrastructure. Follow up ground assessments of sites identified from the aerial surveys are now been conducted by engineers. CMA staff are now in place to follow up on the remediation work that will follow over the next 18 months.
Landholders with damaged streamside banks and associated infrastructure, such as eroded banks, crossings, dams and fences arising from high stream flows of the recent flood events, can also contact the CMA to register their site for an assessment.
For more information about the program, call the Glenelg Hopkins CMA on 55712 526.
RCS Online regenerative cropping workshop
Ayesha Burdett, Landcare Facilitator
You may have seen the recent training opportunity with RCS Australia (https://www.rcsaustralia.com.au/) to participate in Online Regenerative Cropping Workshop. With funding from the Glenelg Hopkins CMA, the Upper Hopkins Land Management Group has supported two local farmers and the Landcare Facilitator to participate in this eight-week training course. We have now completed half of the course.
The training began with an overview of agriculture and how farming has increased production over the past ten years. However, there is still room for improvement particularly in the way to manage soil health and natural systems within the farm production system.
Participants have been encouraged to think about positive and negative feedback loops as they manage their farm enterprise. According to systems thinking theory, feedback loops generates waves of change within a complex adaptive system (in this case, the farm production system). Everyone is encouraged to experiment with different farming techniques depending on their own circumstances and challenges, but always observing the positive and negative outcomes from that management decision.
The course has also considered ecological feedback loops that are important in agricultural systems (e.g., water cycle, ecosystem services, carbon). Because of my background in ecology, a lot of these concepts are not new to me. However, applying ecological concepts to a managed agricultural system is a bit more challenging. There has been an emphasis on improving soil health by supporting the soil food web through finding the right mineral balance and building healthy populations of arthropods, fungi and bacteria. Participants have been provided with lots of examples of how to do this on the ground, and are reminded to monitor the outcomes of anything that they do on the farm.
Many of the course participants have already begun adopting some regenerative agriculture principals on their farms, and this course has reinforced some of the concepts that they have learned elsewhere. For other participants, much of the content is new and it has been a steep (but well-paced) learning curve.
If you’re interested in attending a workshop like this in the future, keep on eye on the RCS website (https://www.rcsaustralia.com.au/). They host in-person and online courses throughout the year.
This project is supported by Glenelg Hopkins CMA, through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.
If you’re interested in learning more about biofertilisers and compost, consider attending the Biofertilisers and Compost Workshop with David Hardwick on 6 April. Click here to register online.
Totally Renewable Ararat Project
I’m proposing that Ararat establish a community owned renewable energy facility to provides all of Ararat’s energy needs, including transport, by 2030. I’ve looked at a number of community renewable energy projects around Victoria and they all fail to actually delivery the community’s total energy needs, including heat and transport energy. Typically, they use solar panels to produce an annual output equivalent to the community’s current electricity consumption. Unfortunately, the peak output of solar panels is during summer and peak community energy demand is in winter. The battery storage needed to shift solar output to cover winter demand is cost prohibitive.
My approach is to use a combination of local rooftop solar and a bioenergy plant to meet Ararat’s total energy needs, including space heating and hot water, as well the additional electricity needed to charge electric vehicles. The proposed bioenergy technology is a gasification system designed and built by Australian company Wildfire Energy. Gasifiers aren’t as efficient as a combustion/steam cycle based systems but they offer fast start up and better load following capability. This flexible, dispatchable form of renewable energy eliminates the need for battery storage. An example of this type of plant is in Skive, Denmark, built by SunGas Renewables. It also has the added advantage of producing large amounts of biochar which is a natural form of long term carbon sequestration and has the potential to make the proposed project carbon negative rather than just carbon neutral.
The proposed fuel for the bioenergy plant is up to 50,000 tonnes of local wheat straw at a suggested delivered price of $100 per tonne. Part of the proposal is a district heating system that uses waste heat from the bioenergy system to replace natural gas for Ararat’s space heating and hot water needs. District heating systems are unknown in Australia but are increasingly popular in Europe. They have the advantage of replacing electricity demand at peak times of the day and during winter. An important part of the proposal is an arrangement with an energy retailer to buy rooftop solar output from Ararat residents at a reasonable price, along with output from the bioenergy plant, and sell the electricity to Ararat consumers at a lower price than they currently pay. Hepburn Energy have a similar arrangement with retailer, Flow Power.
In addition to meeting all of Ararat’s electricity and heating needs, there is the potential to produce synthetic diesel suitable for farm machinery and heavy transport. The proposed bioenergy system would only operate at full capacity for a few hours each day and the spare gasifier capacity could be used to supply syngas to a synthetic diesel plant similar to the Renewable Biodiesel Plant currently planned for Narrogin in WA. This possibility isn’t included in my current proposal but could be added later. If there’s enough interest in the proposal, I’d recommend inviting a representative from Hepburn energy to a meeting to explain how they succeeded in developing their system. Anyone wanting to register an interest in the proposal can call me on 0497 609 944 or email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rethinking Methane from Animal Agriculture
Richard Murphy, Senior Land Health Officer
Dr. Frank Mitloehner provided a presentation titled ‘Rethinking Methane from Animal Agriculture’ on Friday 10 February in Warrnambool. Knowing there were many who were unable attend, and remain interested to learn about Dr Mitloehner’s message, I provide a summary below.
Who is Dr. Frank Mitloehner?
Frank Mitloehner is a Professor and Air Quality Specialist in Cooperative Extension in the Department of Animal Science at the University of California, Davis. He has a degree in Animal Science and Agricultural Engineering and PhD in Animal Science. He is a recognised expert for agricultural air quality, livestock housing and husbandry and is best known for his blog Green House Gas Guru a.k.a. GHGGuru
He has served as chairman of a global United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), served as workgroup member on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) and a member on the National Academies of Science Institute of Medicine (IOM) committee on “A Framework for Assessing the Health, Environmental, and Social Effects of the Food System”.
Dr Mitloehner was brought to Australia by Diary Australia to Australian Dairy Conference held over 15-17 February 2023, Hobart, Tasmania. Taking advantage of this opportunity, Food & Fibre Great South Coast and Grasslands Society of Southern Aust. (Western Districts branch), coordinated with Dairy Australia to bring Dr Mitloehner to south west Victoria.
Rethinking Methane from Animal Agriculture
Dr Mitloehner led the audience through an examination of the role of methane as an important component of natural ecosystems and as a potent greenhouse gas. Acknowledging the contribution of methane to human induced climate change, Dr Mitloehner presented estimates of global emissions of methane from all sources and annual rates of methane removal through natural sinks by ecosystem processes. Though net amount of methane entering the atmosphere is less than what has previously been estimated, Dr Mitloehner stressed that this is still way too much.
The main feature of his presentation was to challenge the carbon-equivalent 100 method, currently used to calculate the global warming potential and effective contribution of a greenhouse gas to global warming. Created over 30 years ago, and based on best available knowledge at that time, this model estimates the warming potential of methane to be 28 times that of carbon dioxide. It is this estimate that powers calls for drastic and rapid actions to reduce global methane emissions, with reductions, if not elimination, of ruminant animal agriculture as an easy target. An action whole heartedly supported by the vegan movement.
The carbon-equivalent-100 assumes all greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere will continue to exist in the atmosphere, contribution to global warming, for 100 years. Using research data, his own and other sources, Dr Mitloehner explained methane readily reacts with hydroxide free radicals in the atmosphere. It is now accepted that atmospheric methane was relatively short lived, with a half-life of around at 10 years. Carbon dioxide which can remain in the atmosphere of 1,000 or more years. As a result, the global warming potential is around a quarter estimated under the carbon-equivalent-100 method. Meaning, the contribution of methane to global warming is about 4 times less than currently estimated. He argues that, whilst there remains good reasons to reduce methane emissions, this response need not include the decimation of the ruminant livestock or wholesale shift to a vegetation or vegan diet.
I was encouraged to learn that the IPCC, in their 2021 report stating, ’CO2 equivalent emissions using GWP-100 overstates the effect of constant methane emissions on global surface temperature by a factor of 3-4’ (Ch 7, p1016), and Dr Mitloehner was working closely with the IPCC, UNFAO and other experts to review and revise the carbon-equivalent-100 method in light of current knowledge.
He went on to argue that only 1/3 of all arable land on the planet was suitable for forms of agriculture not based on ruminant livestock and, this area of land was insufficient to generate the quantity of food required to feed a global population.
Presenting case studies from his home state of California (USA), Dr Mitloenher provided examples where dairy farmers were reducing or capturing methane emissions on farm. Actions included, additions to feed such as seaweed, genetic selection for animals that produce less methane and capturing of methane for use a fuel. Supported by government and integrated with other industries, innovative approaches to methane management were shown to provide farmers with a net cost benefit through improved meat and milk production, or by creating an additional income stream. In 2017, California had set an ambitious target of reducing methane emissions from 2017 levels by 40 percent by 2030 across all industries. The California dairy industry is well on the way to achieving that.
Meanderings and reflections
This is the last time that I will “meander with purpose” around the Hopkins River and Fiery Creek catchments. I always enjoy getting out and about to survey EC at sites that have been monitored over the past two decades. Thanks to Una Allender for kick-starting the project, and for the support of Joel Owins (Upper Mount Emu Creek Landcare Facilitator) and a series of wonderful volunteers who have helped with the surveys over the years.
And it’s also the last time that I will be editing the Upper Hopkins LMG newsletter. It’s always a pleasure to share the news and updates from our friends and partners across the region. In fact, it’s been a real gift to get to know Landcarers and collaborators who live and work in the region over the past four years. I know I’m going to miss it, but I’m not going to be too far away and I may even pop up again at future Landcare events or in the newsletter.
Thank you to everyone who has supported me in my role as Landcare Facilitator – and that includes all of the Landcare members, even if I haven’t met you directly. It’s a great organisation and I’m sure they’ll continue to do more great things in the coming years.
Water levels are finally beginning to decline after the wet spring, which means that EC levels this month (blue dots) are higher than when we last surveyed in late November (grey triangles).
EC levels for livestock water supplies. Values for each type of livestock is the EC level at which production decline begins: beef cattle (6,200 EC μS/cm), lactating ewes and weaners (6,000 EC μS/cm), dry sheep (9,300 EC μS/cm)), horses (6,200 EC μS/cm), pigs (3,100 EC μS/cm), poultry (3,100 EC μS/cm).