Soil health in Australia
Sustainable practices lead to resilient crops and businesses for two Australian farm operators
Healthy, well-managed soil is a vital part of sustainability and productivity in any agricultural system. Sustainable soil management means different things to different operators in different environments, but in a row crop system it ultimately comes down to the use of agricultural practices that support the health of both the crops and the ecosystems in which they grow.
Two Westchester-managed properties in Australia embody these beneficial practices, with techniques of minimum or no-till farming, compaction management and variable-rate nutrient application serving as examples of the daily customs used in their farm operations.
Paul O’Meehan: Reducing soil erosion, conserving moisture and limiting carbon impact in Western Australia
Paul O’Meehan is a grain and oilseeds grower in Western Australia. For the past 25 years, he has run his farm business as a no-till operation, setting the pace for a sustainable-farming practice that has become increasingly popular in the region and across Australia.
We don’t have a culture that’s about blame — it’s about learning what to do better. You have to enjoy it. Crickey, you have to get out the other side of it and still be laughing, enjoying it and looking for the next 20,000 acres. We’d love to keep growing, and there’s nothing out there that’s stopping us.
For Paul and his team, no-till farming is key to managing the arid climate and some of the lighter soil types in Western Australia, where maintaining soil structure and conserving moisture is critical to their farming system. By leaving the earth minimally disturbed, the soils that O’Meehan farms can retain more water and are more resilient and fertile. Additional water is conserved by leaving the previous season’s crop residues in place — they form a protective cover over the soil, reducing evaporation, minimizing run-off and erosion, and sequestering carbon.
Machinery selection is a key part of the equation for Paul and his staff, with the design and width of all his equipment carefully considered to achieve optimal timing of key cropping operations, even application of inputs across a field, efficient retention of crop residues and minimal soil compaction.
Along with its many environmental benefits, no-till farming with the right machines ultimately results in less equipment for the business to own and operate, making for a more cost efficient farming operation. Sustainability and business success make a perfect couple.
A vital element of O’Meehan’s farming approach is continuous growth, which includes optimizing the employee experience. Transparency, attention to detail, reflecting on challenges, and celebrating successes are all practiced on the O’Meehan farm. Such a culture, combined with a strong focus on training, is allowing O’Meehan to cultivate the next generation of young professionals in agriculture, all while he builds on the sustainability of his farming system.
Reinaudo family: Reducing soil compaction and limiting nutrient run-off in Queensland
Brothers Michael and Darren Reinaudo — together with their wives, father Nelson, mother Vicky, uncle Victor, and Michael’s son — own and operate RFC, a fourth-generation family sugarcane farming business in the Australian state of Queensland. The Reinaudos have been working methodically for a decade to improve sustainability outcomes for farms they own and operate by addressing soil compaction and nutrient management challenges.
Soil compaction has become a greater problem over the years as farm equipment has become larger and heavier. To address this, the Reinaudo family is widening crop-row spacing on their farms, which means changing implements and increasing tire width to spread the load and reduce stress on the soil. It took the family seven years to implement these practices on their own properties and they are now in the process of making the same changes for properties they operate under their lease relationship with Westchester.
Now that everything is under one roof with Westchester, we can run our operation more efficiently. Working with them has given us the ability to focus on scaling a sustainable business — it’s changed our world.
The Reinaudo family looks for opportunities to network and learn with sustainability-minded colleagues. The family are members of a local sugar industry Best Management Program, Smartcane, and are among 80 cane growers participating in Project Catalyst, a partnership between the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the Coca-Cola Foundation, a number of local natural resource management groups, the Australian Government and Queensland sugarcane farmers. Project Catalyst supports a network of farmers who are testing, incorporating and promoting innovative farm practices that improve the quality of water running off cane farms and minimize industry impacts on the Great Barrier Reef. The Reinaudos are drawing on this experience to pilot their variable-rate application approach and are ultimately working with the group to demonstrate that more efficient farming practices and improved water quality are the same sides of the coin; they are complementary, not conflicting outcomes.
Protecting threatened fish species in California through rigorous land management
More than 2,000 acres of Westchester-managed vineyards across Napa and Sonoma Counties in California are certified by the Fish Friendly Farming (FFF) program, which helps farmers pursue land management practices that improve water quality and restore and sustain fish habitats on farmed properties.
Administered by the nonprofit California Land Stewardship Institute, FFF has assisted Westchester in pursuing sustainable land management practices with its vineyards that reduce soil loss, prevent stream-bank failure and reduce contaminant run-off into waterways.
Read this article on page 21 of the full report.