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Hi,

My name is Jamie Anderson and I manage my family’s farming property in Williams, 160 kilometres south-east of Perth, Western Australia.

I grew up in Perth with my parents and two older sisters. My dad was a third-generaCon building contractor with Mum from the bush, who moved to the city as a 13yo for boarding school and then became a nurse for several years before starting a family.

My parents were involved in a farming property in a town called York situated 100 kilometres due east of Perth with dad’s sister and her husband from the mid-1970s to the late 1980s. I was a bit too young to remember much of this as I was about 5 or 6 when they sold the property. My aunt and uncle purchased another farming property for themselves in the town of Broomehill, about 3.5 hours drive southeast of Perth and spent plenty of school holidays down there with my older cousin and his wife who managed the property.

In the meantime, my dad continued building in the city with the idea that they would work their way into purchasing another farming property in the future. So, about 10 years later they bought a farming property in Williams. For about 4-5 years the farm was leased out to a local family as the capital cost of stocking and buying machinery was too extensive financially after purchasing the property.

Dad spent a large portion of the first 2 years (1998-99) travelling down to the farm from Perth and back 3-4 nights per week patching up fences and tidying up fallen timber as the place was severely run down with very little maintenance done for much of the last decade due to family disharmony of the previous owners.

I finished school in 1999 without much idea as to where I was heading so I decided to join Dad in cleaning up the farm. At the end of 2001, I moved down there permanently as we decided to start buying merino sheep to produce wool and I took control of the husbandry of them. My holidays spent down at my cousin’s farm were the catalyst for my interest in farming and running livestock and I quickly embedded myself in the farm life and became involved in the town by joining the football and cricket teams. Life in the bush revolves around weekend sports and the local watering hole where discussions (and arguments!) centre around farming, sport, and then more farming and sports!

I was eager to learn as much as I could and was always open to asking questions to anyone and everyone to develop a knowledge base and apply it to my farming endeavour. In just my second year of playing footy there, I found out over the fence in a conversation with one of our neighbours that I was coaching the C grade junior side for kids ranging from 14 to 17. I was excited and daunted that I was thought of to take it on and it helped with my confidence and also helped me get to know people in and around the town. To this day I oTen think about the 2 years I coached and the relationships I built with the kids and people in Williams due to that experience which shows how critical the social fabric of a rural town is in keeping people’s spirits alive and connected.

Williams was traditionally a wool-growing area with a semi-arid climate and an annual average rainfall of 500mm which fell mainly from April to September. Any rain that fell during the summer was always seen as a problem as it would spoil the dry paddock feed and have the potential to cause ‘fly waves’ which brings on the need to monitor stock for ‘fly strike’.

In the early 1990s, the wool market crashed, and the stockpile of wool bales started to accumulate, resulting in oversupply and reduced demand as processing became focused on synthetics and cotton for manufacturing garments. This also caused an oversupply of merino sheep and a crash in the price of livestock which left producers no other option than to destroy their animals. Heartbreaking!

This led to several ramifications. Loss of income to farmers, hence loss of money circulating through towns meant less money to local businesses i.e., contractors, and local shops. Lack of investment into farm improvements. Capital expenditure decreased on farms, so livestock infrastructure started to dilapidate. Fencing, yards, shearing sheds, and water points, all suffered as farmers had little choice but to reduce their livestock numbers and increase the hectares of cropping.

However, the move to cropping had implications of its own. The need for machinery, reliance on pesticides, and the use of synthetic fertilisers would cause issues such as high capital costs with crop-associated machinery and grain infrastructure, eventual chemical resistance and the need for more investment into new chemicals (which played into the hands of giant chemical companies), and the increase of soil acidity and eventual nutrient deficiency which was countered by spreading lime and applying higher rates of fertlizer (which benefited fertlizer companies). So, the big winners from the exodus of sheep are the giant pesticide and fertlizer companies which earn a huge majority of the agricultural dollar.

Furthermore, one of the most negative impacts of the use of these inputs is the decimation of soil biology, which has been relatively unknown until recent years. Soil biology and capturing carbon via the liquid carbon pathway are key to increasing Soil Water-Holding Capacity (SWHC), nutrient release and cycling. By applying synthetic fertiliser, we kill and shut down the natural symbiotic relationship between living roots supplying carbon-dependent biology in exchange for the nutrients they release. This then makes the monocultures we grow solely dependent on the nutrients we supply them, which can then be at risk of atmospheric volatilisation or leaching below the root zone and eventually making their way into waterways and reservoirs.

Choosing to believe that being a good farmer means knowing the names of the chemicals and fertilizers we apply and what they do was somewhat of a trap that I fell into very early in my farming career. I’m happy to admit naivety on my part and it wasn’t until late 2015 that I became aware of RegeneraCve Agriculture through a friend in Williams when he and I were going for a drive around looking at our various crops and pastures. He took me to a paddock that he had sown to a multispecies warm season mix. This was the start of my re-education on farming and more broadly agriculture as a whole. From him, I learned the name of North Dakota farmer Rick Beiber and started to read various articles online and watch plenty of YouTube videos featuring, Gabe Brown, Ray Archuleta, Christine Jones, Nicole Masters, Charles Massy, Jonathon Lundgren, Allan Savoury and many more people around the world who were happy to put pen to paper and make videos and documentaries how it is not only possible to farm without the need for costly and harmful inputs, but in a way that is viable financially and able to repair past damage by the “Industrial Agricultural” paradigm.

In August 2015, I suffered a catastrophic Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) while playing footy for Williams. Even though not ideal for the physical demands of farming (not ideal in any sense really!), I have had a lot of time on my hands to research Regen Ag and get some sort of understanding of its nature and the positive effects it has. Ideally, I would like to go to university and study more about it but I have had a lot of emotional and mental challenges along with chronic pain and discomfort, and physical barriers to contend with.

On the brighter side, I had the opportunity to lease my farm out for a few years to my farmer friend and he has been implementing practices such as using a disc seeder for sowing warm and cool season multispecies pasture and our staple winter crops of oats, wheat, barley, lupins and canola, using biological seed dressings and foliar treatments, reducing nitrogen to 50-70 units per hectare, applying citric acid to reduce glyphosate rates, and adding humates to ferCliser to prevent volaClisaCon and minimise leaching. One real benefit I think is very noticeable visually is the effect disc seeding has with reducing the scouring that rainfall can do to paddocks compared to using knife points. The rain doesn’t hit the furrow and run-off thun destroying the soil profile. The rain soaks in a lot better also, keeping it where you want it. Since 2021 we have been operating as a share-farming setup which I feel is more beneficial from a business sense.

As I touched on earlier, Williams is a 500mm rainfall zone, which is classed as dryland farming. We have cool, (hopefully) wet winters and dry hot summers. Warm-season pastures and crops are very patchy and you have to be organised to take advantage of any summer rain. Disc seeders are imperative for this along with managing livestock rotations to keep ground cover at a desired minimum. This is one area that needs to be done better to “keep armour on the soil”. We have a small growing window that can make it difficult to preserve ground cover if we get a late break to the season. One of the things I’d like to integrate is a system of rotational grazing. However, this isn’t particularly easy running merino-breeding sheep. Traditionally, ewes are run in small mobs of 200 to 300 during lambing which they spend about 10 weeks in, at about 8.5 DSE/Ha so paddocks don’t get much opportunity to grow feed. Add to this we have also been lambing early around early mid-May when pastures are at their weakest (unless we get a very early break) and we are entering cooler months. So with coming out of Autumn, paddocks having decreasing ground cover, ewes being split into smaller mobs for lambing and likely to be this way for the next 2 months, along with mulesing, crutching, some shearing and weaning, it isn’t easy to plan a suitable rotational grazing plan with a flock of 3,500 to 4,000 ewes.

So one of the things that would help is to start splitting paddocks via way of revegetating lower-lying, salt-affected and prone to water-logging areas. A carbon project seems a good place to start and parts of these areas may be useful to hold small mobs of ewes for 2-3 weeks at the start of lambing. Pushing lambing back to June (and possibly July) and reducing the length of lambing to 4 weeks, would give pastures more growing time at the start of the season and reduce stock days during lambing. The overall goal is to condense these periods when sheep traditionally spend a lot of time on paddocks overgrazing them, compacting the soil profile and fouling them up which increases worm burdens and is another significant cost through lost production and drenching.

We have signed up for a carbon project with the Carbon Farming FoundaCon (CFF) and Wide Open Agriculture (WOA) to plant around 30ha back to naCve vegetaCon to be carried out over this year and next (approx. 25,000 stems Total), with this year planCng taken place back in July. We have yet to fence the planted areas off but this will be done in the next 5-6 weeks before harvest starts.

 

Jamie Anderson

glenorchy@live.com.au

0428 851 186

Saltbush planting August 2022

Saltbush planting August 2022

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