Winter 2024 Newsletter

Protecting the environment, encouraging productivity, engaging our community to ensure sustainable farming for current and future generations.”

Table of Contents

    June 2024 President’s Report

    Jack Tucker, President 

    Welcome to the Winter edition of our newsletter! I wont harp on about the weather but it hardly feels like Winter, given the excessively warm and dry conditions…

    Thanks Nick once again for compiling our quarterly publication, you have done a great job!

    The last 3 months has been reasonably quiet in terms of group events (for no apparent reason). Last week our group, in conjunction with Project Platypus, hosted around 110 primary students from the local primary school cluster comprising Buangor, Maroona, Moyston, and Willaura. The day was based around investigating and identifying healthy soils, and the different factors that may, or may not lead to healthy functioning soils. Shepherds Hut Sanctuary at Maroona was the chosen location for the event, and a large part of the day was spent discussing the critters that live within the sanctuary and investigating the effect they have on soil health and structure. At the beginning of the day students were asked to draw a typical ‘farm scene’ on a piece of paper, and at the end they were asked to repeat the process. There were some excellent artists and some big changes in the second drawings!

    A big thank you to our own Nick, and Elia from Project Platypus for making this day happen!

    Autumn-Winter is the traditional time for the planting out of tube stock in this area, and I have had several enquiries recently around which species are good to plant. I thought in this newsletter I would list some species which I feel are really important in any reveg work, but which are sometimes overlooked.

    Melaleuca Decussata (Totem Poles): In general Melaleuca’s are sometimes avoided in farm reveg work as they have a reputation for growing really quickly either falling over or dying or both. Decussata will grow happily in most soil types from dry granite hills through to wet volcanic soil. It is not as fast to grow as some of the other Melaleucas and forms a small dense, rounded shrub. The foliage is soft (not prickly) and it has pink-purple blossom. It is creates excellent shelter and small birds absolutely love it. If you quietly approach an established M.Decussata you will hear Wrens/Thornbills/Firetails nearly every time!

    Allocasurina Verticillata (Drooping She Oak): Like the Melaleuca decussata the Drooping She Oak will thrive in most local soil types. Pre colonisation the Drooping She Oak was one of the most common tree species in the area, particularly on the hills. It was largely removed from the landscape very early on due to its excellent firewood quality and ease of chopping down. The young plants are extremely palatable to stock and rabbits, hence there has been little natural recruitment since initial clearing.

    Bursaria Spinosa (Sweet Bursaria): Until recent years it has been reasonably hard to source Sweet Bursaria tubestock, but they seem to be more readily available these days. Sweet Bursaria is a relatively slow growing large shrub/small tree. Seedlings are spindly and prickly, and I think that is one reason they are often overlooked. As the plant grows the thorns reduce and they tend to ‘bush up’. A mature Sweet Bursaria in flower is spectacular, and you will likely smell the nectar and hear the buzz of insects before you see the tree. Sweet Bursaria is a prolific nectar source and is known to host native bees and native predatory wasps. As the name implies it is extremely sweet and palatable and rabbits and stock will walk past 100 other trees to eat one, hence they need to be well guarded.

    Acacia Implexa (Lightwood Wattle): Lightwoods are a slow growing, long lived species of Acacia more suited to lighter well drained soils (light and dry = Lightwood, heavy and wet = Blackwood). Like all Acacias they are a legume so have the added function of providing Nitrogen to other species growing immediately around them. Unlike most other Acacias which rely on fire to stimulate seed germination, Lightwoods have a habit of suckering from the roots, which can be advantageous as they can naturally fill gaps in reveg work.

    Banksia Marginata (Silver Banksia): Silver Banksias were once common and widespread throughout this area. They are very palatable to stock, and even the trunks of mature trees are easily ringbarked hence they disappeared very early on. The only remnants that remain are in areas totally excluded from livestock. Silver Banksias are now extremely rare in the local farm landscape so its important to include them in reveg projects whenever possible. Their large yellow cone shaped blossoms are loaded with nectar and attract all manner of nectar eating birds and insects. The cones themselves are a delicacy for Yellow Tailed Black Cockatoos, who seem to find them wherever they are!

    Acacia Mearnsii (Black Wattle): This well-known Acacia may be a bit controversial! It has been well documented that it grows fast and dies fast (usually on a fence creating a big mess…) Around 15-20 years is a good innings for a Black Wattle. If used strategically this wattle is excellent at serving its purpose as a ‘pioneer species’. It fixes large amounts of Nitrogen to facilitate it fast growth as well as creating shelter for slower growing species to establish. Another side benefit of this wattle is that its sap provides an out of season food source for Sugar Gliders, a species that has quietly spread through our district.

    All these species are indigenous to this Upper Hopkins region, and form only a small part of the species list that can be used around here. I wanted to mention these ones specifically as they are species that often get left out of projects for various reasons.

    Hopefully by the time the next newsletter comes around we’ll all be splashing around with good crops and grass, and all the trees we’ve planted will be growing!

    Happy Landcaring!


    Healthy Soil, Productive Pasture and Native Animals in Harmony at Rhynie Pastoral 

    Elia Pirtle, Landcare Facilitator

    The Ararat Rural School Cluster (representing students from Willaura, Maroona, Moyston, Pomonal, and Buangor Primary Schools) recently participated in a unique hands-on learning experience at Rhynie Pastoral, the farm of local farmers Jack and Celia Tucker. 

    This trip was the second in a series of field trips organized by the two Landcare facilitators working with the five schools in the cluster. Our topic for the day was “Healthy Soil and Native Biodiversity on Farms”. 

    The Tucker family welcomed nearly 100 students to their farm, which is not only a hub of agricultural production but also a sanctuary for native animals, named Shepherd’s Hut Sanctuary. Their farm blends conservation with farming, nurturing the health of the soil, landscape, animals, and people to ensure long-term sustainability. 

    The day began with the students gathering at the edge of the Sanctuary, located on a hill in the heart of the farm and protected by a “floppy top” predator-proof fence. Armed with clipboards, paper and coloured pencils, they were asked to ‘draw a farm’ with no further prompts. This exercise aimed to capture the students’ initial perceptions of farming before they delved into the day’s learning activities. As expected, tractors, sheep, cows and crops were the most depicted items in the drawings. 

    Jack Tucker then introduced the students to the concept of combining profitable farming with conservation efforts. He explained the significance of beginning with the installation of the predator-proof fence, which was essential for protecting native animals like bandicoots and bettongs from cats and foxes. The first bandicoots were introduced 6 years ago, and since then, the Sanctuary has seen a huge resurgence of these native species, contributing to healthier soil through their digging activities. This has led to lighter, less compacted soil rich with biological activity. The Sanctuary also now has a healthy population of native bettongs and swamp rats. In fact, as Jack told the students, the native mammals did so well that they were faced with a new question – who is going to eat all these little native mammals, to keep their numbers in balance?? And with that, Shephard’s Hut entered its next, and extremely exciting phase, as not just a sanctuary for small native herbivores like bandicoots and swamp rats, but also for larger native predators. Jack was thrilled to tell the students about their recent introduction of quolls into the sanctuary, a native predator that is extinct on the mainland!  

    Now that they had learned a bit about this unique farm, dedicated to balancing production with habitat preservation, it was time to go out and explore. The students participated in a scavenger hunt to explore above-ground biodiversity and signs of soil health. Guided by their teachers and armed with bingo cards, they discovered various elements supporting biodiversity, such as rock piles, tile grids for reptiles, and tree hollows. Some of the most popular finds included an echidna, a dead snake, dead rabbits, and various bones, with every group completing their bingo cards. A few lucky groups even spotted bandicoots active during the day!

    After lunch, the focus shifted to below-ground exploration. Students, in teams, dug up small soil samples from different areas to compare soil characteristics and signs of biological activity. They were excited to see the onion grass bulbs, having learned from Jack that they are a favourite snack of the swamp rats (and a bulb or two may have been sampled to see what all the fuss was about!). 

    Finally, the day concluded with a reflective drawing activity. The students were asked to draw a farm again, this time thinking about what kind of farm they would most like to live on. The transformation in their drawings was remarkable, and while tractors and sheep still made it into the top ten most depicted things, this time the leader board was shared by native mammals! The second-round drawings were dominated by beautiful depictions of farms making space for both production and native species. There were several things that only appeared in the second-round farms, including depictions of riparian fences, underground bug diversity and burrows, and native animals like lizards, quolls, bandicoots and sugar gliders.  

    After counting the times that sheep appeared in the before and after drawings, we found a 46 percent reduction in the appearance of sheep in the students’ drawings, making room for all the native animals they included.

    The number of times different things were depicted in the kids’ drawings of ‘What’s on a farm?’, before and after learning about the Tucker’s farm and its balance of production and conservation of native species. You can see the kids traded some of their enthusiasm for tractors and sheep to make room for quolls and bandicoots! 

    Jack Tucker wrapped up the day by answering the students’ questions. While he expected a group of very tired students with a question or two, he was inundated with a stream of very thoughtful and practical questions from the kids. They were particularly keen to get into the gory details of the quolls diet, inspired by all the bones and dead rabbits they had seen during their scavenger hunt! They had so many great questions, if we hadn’t cut things off, we all would have missed our buses home! 

    We were all thrilled with the success of the day and can’t wait to get together again for the next Landcare cluster day! The Ararat Rural Cluster’s biodiversity education program continues to provide invaluable learning opportunities, fostering a deep appreciation for local habitats and sustainable farming practices among young students. 

    Farmer Insights on Managing Nature On-Farm – Survey

    Elisa Raulings – Woop Woop for Nature

    **Attention farmers and rural landholders, we need your invaluable insights**

    We understand that you’re under pressure to run a profitable business and manage nature at the same time.

    So when it comes to the practical aspects of managing nature- weeding, planting, soil condition, fencing, water quality etc – we want to understand your pain points and motivations, so that together we can design farmer-centric solutions that make life easier for you.

    By completing our 4-minute survey, we can address these challenges in ways that work for you

    Woop Woop for Nature is a biodiversity consultancy committed to catalysing action for nature. By supporting farmers, businesses and organisations on their biodiversity journey their mission is to catalyse action for biodiversity to build a brighter future for everyone. You can learn more about the organisation and what they do at their website here.

    Managing Gorse Infestations

    Victorian Gorse Taskforce

    The Victorian Gorse Taskforce, formerly Ballarat Gorse Taskforce is encouraging land managers to inspect their properties now for gorse infestations. The best time to control gorse is when the bushes are small and before they flower. Late autumn is a good time to find new seedlings as the grass height is usually low making weed discovery easier. Spot spraying or cut and paint are probably the quickest and most effective ways of killing gorse. You can use a back pack or hire the Upper Hopkins spray unit if the job is larger than you anticipated. Local stock and station agents will advise on appropriate herbicide selection and use.

    Gorse has a hard seed that is viable for decades. If you fail to control gorse and let it seed it will continue to spread and the soil seed bank will build. Every time you let a gorse bush set seed you are creating a problem for yourself and future land managers. Gorse devalues both farm land (reducing grazing area and creating fire and access issues) and native vegetation areas (impacting on native fauna and flora).

    If you are averse to using herbicides, small plants can be dug out using a maddock. Likely infestation sites are along waterways and in plantations or where you have previously controlled the weed.

    To make your own weed work more effective, when you are travelling about your local district keep an eye out for roadside infestations and report them to your local Council. Every Council has a budget for controlling a range of declared (regionally controlled) weeds on rural road sides and they are responsible as the land manager.

    If the roadside is a major road or highway, Regional Roads Victoria (Department of Transport and Planning) is most likely the responsible Authority.

    To get total control of gorse in your area you must make time to monitor for weed emergence twice a year (preferably in autumn and spring) and take steps to eliminate any seedlings you find.

    Significant Milestone for the First Nations Landcare Working Group

    Karen Walsh, Landcare Australia

    Landcare Australia is thrilled to announce a significant milestone for the First Nations Landcare Working Group (FNLWG). The group has recently formalised its Terms of Reference and unveiled a strategic plan spanning 2024-26.

    These steps are vital for laying down the groundwork, and now with our infrastructure solidified, we’re ready to dive into the crucial work of integrating First Nations perspectives into landcare practices.

    We extend our heartfelt gratitude to all FNLWG members and supporters who’ve contributed to reaching this pivotal moment. Every day brings new insights, and we’re eager to seize the opportunities ahead, continuing to learn and make a tangible impact on the ground.

    You can read more about this exciting milestone here.

    Victorian Gorse Taskforce Community Grants Now Open – Closing 12th of July

    Just A Farmer – Now Streaming

    You can now stream Just A Farmer online for just $10!

    JUST A FARMER has been crafted to serve as a milestone in reshaping the dialogue around mental health within farming communities, while also highlighting the profound sacrifices farmers make daily to sustain global food supplies. With life growing increasingly challenging for farming families, the ripple effects extend across the entire nation. It’s imperative that we rally behind farmers, rural communities, and the agricultural sector, not only for the present workforce but also to secure a brighter and healthier future for generations to come.

    Click here to stream or view the trailer.

    Events, Events, Events! – See upcoming events, courses and webinars of interest below

    Precision Agriculture Trial Field Day

    The Precision Ag Trial Field Day is coming up on Friday the 14th of June 9:30am – 3:30pm at Lake Bolac & Nerrin Nerrin.

    Come and discover the Precision Agriculture experiences of local crop farmers aiming to enhance productivity while preserving their natural capital for wetlands. Attendees can expect brief presentations on implemented PA strategies, along with guided paddock tours. Check out this short video to learn more about the trial.

    Whether you are exploring the idea of adopting a Precision Agriculture approach or are already on your PA journey, this event is perfect for you!

    RSVP here by Wed 12th June here to secure your spot.

    BestWool/BestLamb & BetterBeef 2024 Industry Conferences

    Tickets are now on sale for the BestWool/BestLamb and BetterBeef Conferences being held in Ballarat on the 19th and 20th of June. The event is a partnership between Agriculture Victoria and AWI Extension VIC, supported by Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) and the Australian Government Farm Business Resilience Program.

    For more information, to check out the program or to book tickets click here.

    Natural Capital Forum 2024

    The North Central CMA is holding a Natural Capital Forum in Bendigo from 9am-5pm on Thursday the 13th of June. These are a number of excellent speakers lined up including one of our valued members, Sarah Whinney from Chatsworth House.

    The Natural Capital Forum aims to bring together farmers, Traditional Owners, land managers and experts to explore the emerging opportunities of Natural Capital in the North Central CMA region.

    Discover how you can harness the power of natural capital to drive success. Learn about the wealth of natural assets like soil, air, and biodiversity that provide essential benefits to humans and see how you can make natural capital work for you. There are only a few spots still available.

    To learn more about the event or to book tickets click here.

    Improving Nitrogen returns in the HRZ Economics & Diminishing Returns

    Register here.

    2024 Young Farmers Upskill and Invest Scholarships Now Open

    The program offers scholarships to young people aged between 18 and 35 who are currently working in a farm business. Recipients can receive up to $10,000 to undertake training or study, and to invest in putting your new skills into practice.

    Applications close Monday 17 June. Visit Agriculture Victoria’s website for more information and to apply. 

    Survey on Renewable Energy in Regional Areas

    Australian Community Media, who own a range of local newspapers across Australia, has released a survey to gauge community views on climate and energy in regional areas. 

    The survey takes about 5 minutes to complete and is a great opportunity to show support and highlight the benefits of renewable energy in regional Australia, and to raise the need for climate action.  

    To complete the survey, follow this link.

    Perennial Pasture Systems Group Update

    Perennial Pasture Systems

    The Perennial Pasture Systems (PPS) independent farmer group was formed in 2007 with the aim of researching and demonstrating best practice pasture management. PPS believes that it is achieving this aim with projects that have improved the knowledge of members and seen adoption of productive and sustainable practices on farm. PPS also has an extension program including an annual conference, annual study tour and on farm events PPS also facilitates training courses for members.

    The PPS farmer group consists of 150 member farms covering over 200,000 Ha in the Upper Wimmera, Upper Hopkins and Central West area of Victoria. Group members farm over 800,000 sheep, 35,000 cattle and also have cropping as part of their farm systems. PPS aims to promote productive, sustainable farming and works closely with Catchment Management Authorities (CMAs), Landcare Groups and Agriculture Victoria. PPS conducts R,D&E projects which include an annual conference, study tour and on farm events. Farm family health makes up part of the focus of PPS.

    best practice techniques in their farming systems. An annual survey of members has shown increases in perennial pasture establishment and improved practices that increase the persistence and productivity of them.

    PPS has current and completed projects which add together to enhance productive, sustainable systems and provide specific information to members and other farmers to help them deal with the increasing variable climatic conditions. As an example, PPS has a network of 21 soil probes, 14 with automatic weather stations, the information provided is directly available to members.

    In addition, the data is used along with BOM forecasts and CSIRO pasture growth predictors (Grass Gro) to produce pasture growth decile forecasts during spring which allows producers to set trigger points for stock sale, supplementary feeding and stock rotations or containment.

    A feed quality project, funded by MLA, is also providing vital nutritional information for spring and summer management of livestock.

    The combination of the projects along with the PPS extension program, including an annual conference, quarterly newsletter, annual study tour to another region, project update, training programs (e.g. Gra$$ to Dollars) and other on farm events contribute to an ongoing upskilling of group members.

    PPS has a policy of sharing information and events are always open to guests, project updates and final reports are included on the PPS website and a closed Facebook page has 295 members.

    This year the PPS Annual Study Tour will be in Tasmania in early August and the 15th Annual Conference will be in Ararat on September 17th.

    For more information on PPS contact the Project Manager

    Grain Grower Survey: “Regenerative Agriculture: Understanding the intent, practices, benefits and disbenefits”

    Dr Hanabeth Luke, Southern Cross University

    Regenerative agriculture approaches have been increasingly adopted over recent years. Adherents suggest that crop and pasture production can be maintained through improving soil function, delivering more resilient farming systems with lower input costs. However, there is a lack of data to confirm the extent of adoption and range of practices.

    In response GRDC has funded a 3.5 year national project, led by Southern Cross University in conjunction with grower groups.

    The project comprises:

    Using this knowledge, the project team will establish ways to monitor the potential benefits or disadvantages of regenerative agriculture across a range of Australian cropping systems.

    Get involved! 

    We are seeking farm owners and/or managers to complete the online survey, which will take approximately 20 minutes to complete. There are 5 sections relating to your farm, goals, management practices, background information and views on regenerative agriculture.

    Survey Link:

    More Information:

    Any questions, contact

    Growers to Lead Change to Hyper Profitable Crops

    Grains Research & Development Corporation

    Field Applied Research Australia (FAR Australia) and the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) have launched a new project to transform on-farm profitability for wheat and barley growers in the high-rainfall zones of Australia.

    The project aims to close the gap between actual crop yields and the profitability possibilities in these zones.

    “Our goal is that by 2027, wheat and barley growers in high-rainfall zones will have the motivation, agronomic support and knowledge required to implement management practices that help close the yield gap while maximising profit,” said Rebekah Starick, GRDC grower relations manager – south. 

    GRDC grower relations manager – south Rebekah Starick said the new hyper profitable crops investment aims to help wheat and barley growers in high-rainfall zones close the yield gap while maximising profit. Photo: GRDC

    “The project builds on previous GRDC investments into hyper yielding crops that showed yield potential.

    “This research will put that knowledge into practice on-farm for a wide range of growers, empowering them to become more profitable.”

    To achieve this, seven innovation and benchmarking hubs will be strategically located across key high-rainfall zones including the south coast of Western Australia, south-eastern South Australia, southern Victoria, Tasmania and southern New South Wales.

    These hubs will serve as vital centres for knowledge exchange, facilitated discussions and hands-on crop inspections, not only enabling growers to learn from each other, but to also explore and implement innovative agronomic practices that will lead to increased profitability on farm.

    “At FAR Australia, we are committed to empowering cereal farmers to maximise their on-farm profitability while promoting sustainable agricultural practices,” said Rachel Hamilton, FAR Australia communications and events manager, who will lead the work.

    “As part of this hyper profitable crops initiative, 17 discussion groups will be developed across these high-rainfall zone regions.

    “While this initiative aims to boost on-farm profitability, it also aims to develop and build confidence among Gen Y growers and advisers, who, within their regions, will help form the basis of growers leading change.”

    FAR Australia’s communication and events coordinator Rachel Hamilton will lead the new hyper profitable crops research, with other partners and the FAR team including managing director Nick Poole (pictured). Photo: FAR Australia

    In addition to the discussion groups, through benchmarking on-farm paddock performance and supporting smaller specific hyper profitable crop trials, growers will also have the opportunity to fine-tune their management practices. This will not only optimise crop yields but will also lead to more profitable outcomes in the future.

     To assist with the on-farm benchmarking, FAR Australia has partnered with regional farming systems groups who will provide project officers in their respective regions to work closely with these growers to obtain input and operational data. 

    The initiative also includes the development of a comprehensive high-rainfall zone cropping manual, providing growers with valuable insights and case studies to guide their future decision-making.

    The hyper profitable crops initiative represents a significant $2.27 million investment in the future of the Australian grains industry, paving the way for sustainable growth in wheat and barley crops. With the collective efforts of growers and industry, this initiative will aim to unlock new levels of sustainable practices and on-farm profitability.

    To get involved, contact a partner organisation of the project team in your region:

    Other collaborators include Agworld and The Centre for eResearch and Digital Innovation (CeRDI) at Federation University Australia.

    About Us: GRDC is one of 15 Rural Research and Development Corporations (RDCs) responsible for planning, investing in and overseeing research, development and extension for 25 leviable grain crops. Our purpose is to invest in RD&E to create enduring profitability for Australian grain growers.

    Safe EC Levels For Livestock

    EC values for each species of livestock denotes the 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 

    Charts colour-coded: Green = Safe, Yellow = Unsafe for some species, Red = Unsafe for all livestock

    Upper Mount Emu Creek Sites

    Fiery Creek Sites

    Hopkins River Sites

    Happy Landcaring!