COVER CROPS & CARBON FARMING
Having a successful bid in the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) auction, we are implimenting a soil carbon project.
Soil core samples have been extracted & analysed, and a soil carbon baseline has been established. The objective of the project is to sequester atmospheric carbon in the soil, by using a combination of mixed species cover crops, perennial pastures and rotational grazing.
By capturing atmospheric CO2 using photosynthesis and storing it in the soil, the fertility of the soil is improved, increasing water infiltration, water holding capacity and nutrient cycling. Although we are experiencing lower but more variable seasonal rainfall with more severe frosts, we are managing to grow more biomass to feed sheep, lambs and the soil.
Working with people such as Graeme Hand & Colin Seis, I am experimenting with planting multi-species mixes at different C:N ratios to achieve specific management goals; whether to feed soil biology, for animal productivity or increased water holding capacity and nutrient cycling. Longer term, my goal is to regenerate perennial pastures to maintain permanent ground-cover.
After seeing the positive result of including turnips, radishes and peas in the seed mix, I would like to add traditional ‘vegetables’ in the years to come.
With an observed decline in annual and growing season rainfall, and a lengthening of the frost season, a number of non-traditional crops have been trialled for their drought and frost tolerance.
Success of each crop has been variable, sometimes dissapointing and sometime surprising!
Camelina has been one of the standout crops. Not only is it an oil bearing herb, it is quite tasty and palatable, and also a high source of omega 3, making it useful for grazing and feed rations (presscake after oil extraction).
Following on from the success of mixed species cover crops, I am also experimenting with companion planting - growing two crops together which complement each other. From this I have found that growing mustard seed and field peas is a good mix. Not only does the mustard acting as a trellis, but the higher glucosinolate content also appears to act as an insect deterrent.
More experiments are to follow...
Making the decision to reduce risk, due to crop failure, has seen the Farm enterprise mix move to more livestock.
However, running more sheep requires more labour, and lets face it... watching DVD's on a tractor that steers itself is a very attractive (but expensive) option! Doing sheep work brings back bad memories - stubborn sheep, sore toes, noisy dogs and a husky voice at the end of the day.
However, with the help (insistence?) of Graeme Hand and the assistance of the Victorian State Government (thank you Jaala Pullford), I built a sheep work station in the yards and installed a Combi-clamp in conjunction with an Auto-drafter. Not in my wildest dreams did I ever think I'd be able to draft, crutch and do the sheep work on my own in a low stress way!
If you don't believe me, watch the short clips below (note the lack of yelling and barking!). The dog sits in the "dead" corner of the yard in the shade, while I open the gates to keep feeding the sheep up to the auto-drafter. Sometimes I even go get a drink for myself while the sheep keep sorting themselves out! It dosn't take the animals long to get the idea!
Data is now being collected on every animal including: weight, weight gain, wool cut, fertility, pregnancy and lamb percentage. Although not quite perfect, every animal is ranked, making it possible to select and keep the high profitability animals. I was VERY surprised when I discovered that the spread between the highest and lowest performing animals is $240! This means that in response to the impacts of climate change on pastures and crop growth, I can acually reduce my sheep numbers, grow more feed, maintain more paddock cover and increase profit.
Weighing and collecting data on lambs - this is their second time through the Auto-drafter.
Weighing and drafting ewes prior to joining.
Weighing and adding data on lamb traits at marking time, using a 'RollaMaster' modifed with load bars.