Last month, Rangelands NRM hosted three field days with Agricultural Pioneer and author of the book “Back from the Brink” Peter Andrews in the Murchison, the Pilbara and the Kimberley. Peter presented his theories on sustainable agricultural systems to interested landholders and nearly 80 participants attended.
Peter is acknowledged as having converted his degraded high-salinity land at Tarwyn Park in NSW into a fertile, drought-resistant estate, using his process known as ‘Natural Sequence Farming’.
Tim Wiley, Pilbara Coordinator for Rangelands NRM who organised the workshops said there was a great deal of positive feedback from the pastoralists. The landholders could see why problems had developed on their properties and what to do to stimulate rehabilitation.
Peter was able to simply demonstrate how water can be held, diverted and distributed across the landscape using small scale interventions of contours and ridges and ripping on flat land. The water runoff is slowed down, reducing erosion and enabling greater infiltration of water into the soil surface. Plants are encouraged to grow on the rip lines and contours either by planting seed and seedlings, or from regeneration of existing seed in the soil.
During the demonstrations, Peter was keen to emphasise the difference between small contours which spread water out across the landscape versus dams designed to block natural water flow and drains designed to move water rapidly out of the landscape. Erosion gullies also work to drain water from the landscape. Contours that spread water results in more of the land being wet after rains and results in less run off. In turn, better plant growth and more plant cover leads to less run off.
The benefits of incorporating mulch and humus into the soil as a way of restoring the nutrient balance and return minerals that are accessible to plants back into the ecosystem was also discussed. Plants also have the ability rejuvenate soils through building up soil carbon, improving soil structure and increasing water infiltration. These natural processes work best when there is a wide variety of plant types and having mixtures of both edible and none edible plants enhances the biodiversity benefits.
The pastoralists in the DeGrey Land Conservation District Committee are keen to develop a catchment plan and prioritise where to start working on the ground. The Mt Magnet group are about to go out and seed some natives perennials and Peter’s talk has given them some good ideas on where to sow these perennials to get the best effect in terms of managing the hydrology / runoff from their demos. In the Kimberley, the day at Liveringa resulted in some interesting discussions about the use of fire and how alternative fire management strategies might work.
Rangelands NRM is working with the landholders to follow up on these projects.
For more information, contact Tim Wiley.