Small Talk Winter 2020

In this issue

Thriving Women Conference – a case of the right place at the right time

Native vegetation recovery after fire – helping the landscape recover

Regenerative farming on the Fleurieu – an inspirational farming model

New landscapes boards – partnering with government and communities 

Events - coming up in your area

Handy hint – ifarmwell 

Things to do in winter – get your property ready for the season

Thriving Women Conference

By Sarah Barrett.

Thriving Women's Conference - Sarah Barett

Before COVID, when we already had a crisis

Skip back to late February 2020. Just over 12 weeks ago. When the only thoughts in our heads were of how to rebuild after drought and bushfire, and spur on economic, environmental and community recovery. When we were shedding tears for livelihoods completely upended, communities grappling with a bushfire disaster, and the tragedy of lives lost. 

Yes that was just over 3 months ago, and I was in recovery mode. Soaking up strategies and ideas at the Thriving Women 2020 conference after gratefully receiving sponsorship through the Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges Natural Resources Management Board to attend. 

Among the attendees were hundreds of women, connected to primary industries, working and living in rural communities across the state and beyond. The theme - growing and inspiring women’s connections through agriculture.

Accommodation was also included, and I shared digs with a farmer from Kangaroo Island. This meeting of chance was probably my most sobering insight into the crisis that we had just lived through. An incredible, strong woman, still living through the shock from her experience of the 2020 fires and the continuing fallout for herself, her family, and her community. No need to explain why you couldn’t sleep. Along with many other attendees from across fire affected areas, each with their own story, farms burnt out, homes destroyed, dreams shattered… we already thought that the world had fallen apart. How could we possibly imagine anything worse?

New crisis - new skills

At the conference I attended a session with Dr Kristin Alford, a futurist whose job is to peer into the future using a range of techniques to instigate foresight. We used unfathomable and unprecedented realities in an effort to motivate our minds to innovate, and conceive new ideas completely out of the realm of possibilities – sound familiar?  I don’t think anyone thought of a global pandemic, but you get the picture.

And innovate we did. If you surveyed the Thriving Women 2020 participants now, I doubt you would find anyone who has not dug into their Thriving Women’s toolkit of tips, tactics, and networks to pull out some inventive disaster management recently. From juggling home schooling to crisis economics, from self-isolation to the constant change management of dealing with yet another new normal. 

Thriving Women's Conference - whiteboard

Just in my own patch since the COVID crisis, I’ve been forced to rethink communication. I’ve moved from traditional face-to-face methods to reach farmers, vignerons and agri-business to digital platforms. I’ve branched into new media, setting up my own YouTube channel, and recorded a series of nature missions for primary-aged children in isolation. I’ve supported my community by setting up a website - Barossa Cares - to monitor our mental health and well-being. I’ve used my social media skills and networks to help spread the word and support countless local businesses who are exploring new direct-to-consumer delivery mechanisms, and seen pop up cooperatives emerge. Like many consumers, I have a renewed commitment to source food locally through the #supportlocal #lovebarossa campaign.

So just over two months ago, I was being upskilled in resilience, innovation, leadership and learning how to not just survive, but thrive. I listened and learned from rural community advocates like Nat Traeger about how to leverage support to act and make change. Catherine Marriott told me to be brave and lift other women up. Climatologist Darren Ray inspired me to move forward with carbon reduction action. Here’s a snippet from one of the panel discussions:

Communities are renowned for pulling together in times of adversity. Much can be achieved by working together particularly when times are tough.”

What more can I say, but what great timing?

The financial support of NRM in this initiative is about paying it forward. Women have tremendous skill and experience, however, they are also underrepresented in agricultural management and decision-making arenas. Women account for about 41 per cent of the agricultural workforce, but just 18 per cent of management. They hold only 2.3 per cent of CEO roles (The Ag Wrap 25/2/2020). Interestingly, 37 per cent of women employed in agriculture participate in volunteering, much higher than the national average (ABARES, 2016).

Investing in developing confidence and leadership among women translates to women being active participants. They can further utilise their knowledge and skills to mentor and motivate others to engage in sustainable agriculture and NRM programs. We learn from others, develop new innovations and broaden our skill sets. What follows is the probability of inclusive, positive outcomes for natural resource management.

Sarah wishes to sincerely thank Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges Natural Resources Management Board for supporting her attendance at the Thriving Women conference, and their continued support for rural women’s leadership initiatives.

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Native vegetation recovery after fire

By Elisa Sparrow, District Ecologist, Natural Resources Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges.

Native vegetation recovery

Helping the landscape recover 

Fire has been a natural part of the Australian environment for a long time and most of our native plants have evolved strategies to recover after fire. Signs of these adaptations were evident in native vegetation in the Cudlee Creek area only weeks after the fire.

Eucalyptus species are normally one of the first seen to be recovering, with new vegetative growth emerging from the trunk and branches (epicormic shoots) or from the base (lignotuber). Other quick responders are Xanthorrhoea species (yaccas), and their new leaves and flowers are one of the first observable signs of green growth post-fire. In obligate seeders, such as some Banksia species, fire triggers the release of seeds. While the original plant may perish in the fire, new plants can germinate from the seed bank.

Sometimes a unique range of herbs may appear en masse, temporarily, after a fire. These are known as fire ephemerals. They occupy the gap between fire and when the obligate seeders move back in.

Rates of vegetation recovery will vary on each property and depend on factors such as the size and condition of the native vegetation patch, grazing pressure on regrowth, intensity of the fire, age of the vegetation, and time since last fire.

Some of the best activities to aid in the recovery of native vegetation are:

  1. Keep dead trees and fallen timber. Unless a safety risk, dead trees and fallen timber provide habitat for wildlife (insects, reptiles, birds and mammals) which will assist in returning ecosystem function. This woody debris also protects emerging seedlings from heat, wind, and grazing; reduces erosion, and provides nutrients to the soil.
  2. Reduce total grazing pressure. Emergent seedlings will need protection as fresh green growth will be a tempting food source to herbivorous species. Examples of protection are fencing or control programs.
  3. Weed control. Fire can stimulate the long-lived seed banks of weeds so targeted control now can go a long way to depleting the seed bank. The fire may have also provided opportunity to open up areas that were once difficult to access.
  4. Strategic erosion control. Reducing grazing pressure and leaving woody debris will aid in this, however additional mitigation strategies may be required in some places. Things like coir logs can be used to help reduce erosion in areas of concern.

The landscape needs time to recover, and often it may take numerous years to re-establish and determine what has recovered from fire and what has not. This is where planting local native species may help fill those gaps.

Fire-affected bushland will recover, and it can even improve some habitats and bring life to a bushland patch. Species that were dormant in seed bank may be triggered to regenerate. And nationally endangered species like the southern brown bandicoot (Isoodon obesulus obesulus) or the chestnut-rumped heathwren (Calamanthus pyrrhopygius parkeri) actually prefer dense habitat that regenerates several years after fire.

With heavy rainfall over the past weeks, more growth will start appearing. If you require any help with identification of plants, expertise in weed control or pest animals, or questions about revegetation, please contact your local Landscape Officer.

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Regenerative farming on the Fleurieu

By Jeff Edwards, Sustainable Agriculture Officer, Natural Resources Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges.

Regenerative farming on the Fleurieu

Holistic Grazing consultant Dick Richardson talks with Ben Ryan and Natural Resources Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges staff about the benefits strategic grazing has on the soil health and pasture ecology. Photo: Dan Bovalino.

An inspirational farming model

As you take the turn down towards Deep Creek, you get a glimpse of the rugged coastline in the distance looking towards Kangaroo Island, and it takes your breath away. The rolling green landscape, still well covered with large pockets of native bushland, makes visiting this area very special. 

For Sustainable Agricultural Officer, Jeff Edwards, a trip to the southernmost tip of the Fleurieu Peninsula to take soil samples at the Ryan Property can hardly be considered work.

"I have to pinch myself sometimes to know how lucky I am," said Jeff. "With mobile phone coverage sketchy at best, I get that real sense of the remote beauty of this area every time I come here."

Visiting the Ryan property at Deep Creek is also significant to Jeff for other reasons. It provides him an opportunity to study the effects of regenerative farming methods on soil health, ecology and the business of running a family farm. 

Ben and Julianne Ryan are sheep and cattle farmers operating on 760 hectares, approximately 100 km south of Adelaide. In the last 20 years, Ben and his family have transitioned their approach to farming from conventional methods to regenerative agriculture methods. 

For the Ryan family what makes their system different is how they concentrate on the energy systems on their land. The core concept to use the energy from naturally occurring resources they already have, removing the need for external inputs.

"The farm aims to operate and prosper without the need for any external energy - except that provided from nature - sun, wind, rain, air, animal, plants and human ability," explained Ben.

By practising regenerative methods, the Ryans have been able to increase their overall awareness of the land they live on, and farm in. This has led to strategic decisions that strike a far greater balance with the natural patterns of their environment.

Practices such as holistic grazing management, creating smaller paddocks with optional rest periods, and maintaining constant ground cover rather than always sowing new plants, are methods that Ben has adopted as he transitioned to regenerative farming.

"A diverse ground cover is really essential, it protects our soil and that’s good for the environment and our production," said Ben. "Good pasture management is about maximising the growth and diversity we have now and using grazing to optimise the opportunity for new species, including deep-rooted perennials, to prosper."

Inspired by the work of his friend and colleague Eliza Rieger (Regional Agriculture Landcare Facilitator for Natural Resources Murray Darling Basin), Jeff Edwards has been on a journey to better understand regenerative farming. He is particularly keen to see this farming model challenge others to re-think how they farm, ecologically and socially. He hopes others will be inspired to learn what regenerative farming methods can do for a healthier landscape and farming community into the future. 

"Based on Eliza’s work, we have included Ben Ryan’s property in a study across the Fleurieu and Murray Darling regions," said Jeff.

"It looks at investigating a number of soil health parameters over time, as well as some of the social and financial benefits associated with regenerative farming. The project uses satellite imagery for a broader view, and the skills of holistic grazing consultant Dick Richardson, to ground-truth what’s actually happening at the farm scale and see how regenerative agriculture stacks up in the region," he said.

Get more information about how Natural Resources Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges is planning for a more regenerative future.

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New landscapes boards

Landscapes SA logo  

Partnering with government and communities 

From 1 July, the Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges Natural Resources Management Board will be succeeded by two new organisations, the Hills and Fleurieu Landscape Board and Green Adelaide.

The changes are part of the South Australian Government’s reforms to how our landscapes are managed. They aim to put community at the heart of sustainably managing the state’s soil, water, pest plants and animals, and biodiversity.

Central to the changes is the new Landscape South Australia Act 2019 which will replace the Natural Resources Management Act 2004 from July.

The Hills and Fleurieu Landscape Board will be one of eight regional landscape boards that, along with Green Adelaide, will administer the Act and partner with government and regional communities.

The new boards are designed to deliver a stronger, back-to-basics system with greater autonomy and flexibility to respond to local issues.

You can find more information on the introduction of the Hills and Fleurieu Landscape Board and Green Adelaide here.

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In support of community-wide efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19, Natural Resources Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges is regularly reassessing the situation, in line with advice from the relevant health authorities, to determine the best course of action for scheduled events. Currently events have been modified or moved online. 

Please visit our events page for more information, and subscribe to the Calendar of Events.

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Handy hint – ifarmwell

Handy Hint - i farm well

Dealing with drought, bushfires and a pandemic has created a very challenging environment for many people, but there are resources available to help. “ifarmwell” is a free online toolkit to help farmers cope effectively with life’s challenges and get the most out of every day.

The website has been designed by Australian farmers to help other Australian farmers cope effectively with life’s challenges and get the most out of every day. It does this by sharing practical ways of coping with difficult circumstances, thoughts and feelings (especially worries about things you can’t control) and helping you to work out where it is most useful for you to put your attention and energy.

You can do this from the privacy of your home, tractor or shed. The site will even send you text message reminders to keep you focused, and it’s free!

The website is designed to be useful for farmers who are currently feeling down or stressed AND those who would simply like some new tools to improve their ability to cope with uncertainty associated with life on the land.

By completing the five short modules on this website you will learn new tools to equip you to take charge and reduce the negative impact stressful situations have on your life, so you have more time and energy to focus on the things that make you happy.

If you’d like to know more, visit the website to watch a short video and find out more about the five engaging modules, or register and get started now.

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Things to do – winter

Things to do

Guildford grass seed pod. Photo: Beth Kinsey.
  • Keep an eye out for Guildford grass, which is a perennial bulb. Whilst it is not toxic to livestock, it is extremely fibrous and can cause intestinal obstruction when balls of ingested plant material build up in grazing animals. Correcting your soil acidity may help control a small amount of the grass, and herbicide should only be used for control if pasture is dominated by Guildford grass. If you are in the AMLR NRM region, you may qualify for a free soil test. Find out by emailing Rebecca Tonkin, or phoning 0400 488 786. 
  • Self-isolating? Use this time to catch up on some other duties, for example develop or revise your bushfire survival plan. Use the off-season for tasks such as installing gutter-guards and sprinklers.
  • Planning paddock management is another great task to catch up on. Determine which areas to cut for hay, graze, slash or spray to set back annual weeds in early spring. If you need assistance with property management, please contact your Landscape SA office.
  • If you need to purchase more supplies, remember that many COVID-19 social distancing measures are still in place. Many stores are offering click and collect or free delivery to minimise contact. Check out the SA Health website for the latest COVID-19 updates.
  • Keep an eye on insect pest numbers, particularly red-legged earth mite and Lucerne flea in newly sown pastures.
  • Monitor mice populations, even after baiting, and follow-up if required. Look out for snail activity and bait if required. Avoid baiting snails in paddocks with high mice numbers as mice will consume the bait.
  • With recent rain, observe and monitor waterlogged and erosion-prone areas. Use temporary fencing where necessary to keep livestock out of waterlogged areas. They damage the soil and soil cover, and can develop health problems such as botulism, footrot, foot abscesses or greasy heel. This also allows time for the soil to stablise and the pasture/crop/ cover crop to establish.
  • With more rain expected, check your dam spillway is operating effectively.
  • Ensure livestock vaccinations are up to date, and worm test your sheep and calves.
  • Complete broadleaf spraying as early as possible. Cape Tulip in particular can quickly dominate pastures and is toxic to livestock.
  • If some grass weeds emerge before the crop, try to use a non-selective spray to reduce the weed pressure on the crop when it emerges.
  • Remember to keep livestock off newly emerged crops – wait until the crop is established, when it passes the tug test and the leaves provide nutritional value. If you have livestock in containment areas and are planning to put them out in the crops for grazing soon, now is the time to start planning the transition with their diet. Check out this SheepConnect webinar for more information on transitioning from containment to pasture.

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Related links