Update from Down Under

Touring the vast country of Australia has showcased its diversity. We have ridden on a bus over 4000 km. And seen only a fraction of this vast country. From citrus farms where we tasted fresh table grapes as they were picked to crocodiles farms where we were served crocodile soup, and many, many Kangaroos. We were privileged to visit with a number of Nuffield scholars from Australia who shared their agricultural practices.

The citrus farm grew 4,000 acres of mandarin oranges and green seedless grapes. This massive operation had 28 permanent staff and used large numbers of seasonal workers that go through training programs. They have a product tracking system that is able to trace back to the individual picks with computer scanning bar codes applied to the boxes by the picker.

Grazing operations vary from being extensive with cattle out all year, mustered 1-2.5 years to sort. Cattle maybe seen 3-4 times a year. To rotational grazing on 60 inches of rich black topsoil with 90 day rest periods. More intensive grass management in more reliable rainfall areas. Many producers stock and destock as a common practice.

At the stockyards cattle are in pens of 10 head. Electronic tags are read after cattle are in their pens. If an animal does not have an electronic tag the yard charges $25 for tagging ($50 for bulls). They uses a 10-12 foot tagging tool from the catwalk. Cattle are weighed after being sold.

Michael Inwood is a 2012 Nuffield scholar focused on using natural solutions to build soil organic matter and therefore soil carbon.This is achieved through targeting levels of ground cover, encouraging litter and organic matter through grazing management and appropriate sowing techniques. Water control and utilization in this plan improve water quality both on farm and downstream in the catchment.

He challenges the agricultural community by asking the question “Should there be cheap food for all? or moderately priced food for high interest in value?” and concludes “The transition to future farming will be achieved through a hybrid mix of soil biology and inputs. One day we will all be farming biologically. Soil biology is half the equation and we cannot afford to ignore that.”

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