Australian farmers go underground to regenerate their farming systems

July 19, 2016

More than 500 cropping and livestock farmers from across Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and New South Wales are rethinking their farming systems after the 14th annual Vic No-Till conference.

The Underground conference in Bendigo, farm tours in western, northern and southern Victoria and workshops in Dunkeld and Horsham centred on regenerative concepts, where we look to nature as a guide when trying to find the right balance in our farming systems.

Three international guests from the US and Canada spent a week with Vic No-Till, sharing their world research into farming systems improved diversity and build organic matter through companion planting, diverse crop rotations and multi-species covers to cover the soil and feed biology for improved soil health and ultimately production.

Vic No-Till president Paul Oxbrow said the conference and associated events looked at farming systems as a whole, demonstrating that no-till is just one facet among many.

“This conference week, more so than any other, has shown us there are many elements in our farming systems that need our attention. It’s not just decisions about the machinery we use or spacings or stubble retention; it’s a whole lot more than that. From placing seed in the ground as gently as possible to having a living plant in the ground for 12 months of the year and having diverse habitat for insects around and in our crops.”

International guests were award winning agroecologist Dr Jonathan Lundgren from South Dakota, Canadian Conservation Hall of Fame inductee Dr Odette Menard from the Ministry of Agriculture and Food in Quebec, Canada, and certified educator of holistic management Joshua Dukart from Bismark, North Dakota.

Paul said the three internationals saw many farms during their visit and were able to put their overseas learnings and experience in context of an Australian setting.

He said their regenerative concepts such as pollinator plots, using less synthetic inputs and rebuilding soils through increased diversity struck a chord with farmers.

“It is hard to describe just how valuable it was to all 500 people who came into contact with our international guests during the week, and due to the incredible response we are looking at ways we can get them back here again.

“For example, Joshua Dukart ran one-day workshops in Dunkeld and Horsham and the overwhelming feedback from the 160 participants was the need for more time with him to help achieve more balanced farms, not just from an economic perspective, but socially and environmentally as well.”

Paul said participants were also rapt to hear from Australian growers Tom Robinson from SA and Scott Blurton from Streatham at the conference. One hundred farmers also visited the family property of Victorian Farmer of the Year Grant Sims and a further 100 were involved in farm tours around the state.

“We just had the best week and it’s a very exciting time to be involved in agriculture. We are on the verge of great change and Vic No-Till is looking forward to learning together and sharing what we learn together. We will continue our genuine approach to farmers helping farmers – our next challenge will be how we can top Underground next year.”

IMG_2297 (Small) Vic No-Till Stills 8.07.2016 029 (Small) Vic No-Till Stills 8.07.2016 024 (Small) Vic No-Till Stills 8.07.2016 007 (Small)