Going from a more conventional farmer approach to one with a more sustainable farmer focus requires education, involvement, and action, according to GrainGrowers Deputy Chair Nigel Corish.
Addressing the Australian Summer Grains conference on the Gold Coast, Mr Corish walked delegates through his journey from being young and confident in his farming practices to being told he had no future in farming and to his current focus on sustainability.
Mr Corish said farming has a conservative reputation, but there is a huge opportunity to create real change in the area of sustainability.
“The first step is education. There are many great tools and resources available through organisations like GrainGrowers.”
“There is also a wide range of on-farm educational opportunities, including carbon farming courses.”
He recently completed a short carbon farming course through the University of Melbourne with Prof Richard Erkard and highly recommended the experience.
“The second step is to get involved. Seek out like-minded people and get involved in farming groups, like Vic No Till, Macintyre Ag Alliance and AgForce and GrainGrowers, and share and learn from the experience of others. Attending and talking to people at conferences like Summer Grains is essential.”
Mr Corish said gaining knowledge and getting involved were important and using this information to make changes – however small that may be –can make production more sustainable.
“Small changes make a big difference over time, so try cover cropping, improve workplace health and safety, start collecting farm records for chemicals, fertiliser, and fuel, and ensure your chemical shed is up to legal standards.”
Mr Corish outlined various changes in his farming operations designed to lift efficiency, profitability, and sustainability. This approach includes:
- A five-year rotation program growing barley, chickpeas, wheat, sorghum, or cotton, followed by a cover crop of millet, before planting barley again.
- Deep ripping after a summer crop to a depth of about 40cm to remove the compaction layer. Combined with spreading cattle manure at 10t / ha this has delivered yield improvements of around 30%.
- Achieving a 90% drop in chemical use by adopting a camera sprayer over fallow paddocks, allowing improved control of difficult weeds like fleabane and feather top Rhodes grass.
- Using NVDI satellite imagery across paddocks to identify and manage nutrition deficiencies and waterlogging.
- Mapping paddock soil surfaces using Lidar and EM imagery to allow re-levelling, contouring and constructing waterways across the farm.
Mr Corish said he has also recently engaged Carbonlink to examine the opportunity for a carbon farming project.
‘While I am not looking to sell carbon credits, the project will benchmark my farm over the next four years. Essentially, it will look at the carbon cycles over a 25-year period to determine the carbon emitted and sequestered levels.”
“The program will examine farming practices like cover cropping and the use of biological fertilisers to see the impact on levels of carbon in the soil.”
He said the collection and analysis of data provide a way of determining what is happening on the farm and is also an essential part of showing sustainable credentials and meeting the social license to farm.
Mr Corish said the Australian grains industry is big business, with 22,000 grain farmers managing 4% of the Australian land mass.
“We need to get our approach right, and grains industry sustainability framework – Behind Australian Grain – is a great initiative that identifies sustainability pillars and underpinning goals.”
“The framework’s three key themes - responsible stewardship, building capacity and wellbeing and consumer confidence helps identify where there’s industry improvements needed and gives customers and other stakeholders confidence that we are meeting their sustainability expectations.”
Mr Corish said sustainability is about doing things well and evaluating and adopting new technology and working with the environment, to produce more with less.
“We are looking at that next leap into the future of farming,” he said.