Changing A Mindset Is The Key To Further Use Of Sustainable Farming Practices
November 7, 2019
Cameron Laurie grew up on land inherited and managed by his father, Jock, just as Jock’s father, grandfather and great grandfather had done before him. The family farmed traditionally, adopting new practices as they became available.
When Jock passed from a heart attack, each of his children inherited part of the land, leaving Cameron and his wife, Emma, with approximately 600 acres. But it was Cameron’s heart attack in 2007, on the same date of his father’s passing, that caused Cameron and Emma to rethink how they were managing their land.
“I realized that our farm was becoming less and less profitable, with ever-climbing input costs required to maintain the same level of productivity,” said Cameron Laurie. “I then attended a course run by Elaine Ingham from the Soil Food Web. It was mind-blowing and started my journey into sustainable agriculture.”
Cameron and Emma Laurie are part of the OSI Sustainability 365 Farmer Recognition Program. This program encourages and recognizes farmers like the Lauries who make sustainable farming practices their top priority by embedding sustainability within their business and bringing their peers along with them on their journey.
THE LAURIE’S JOURNEY IN SUSTAINABLE FARMING
For the first few years into his journey, Cameron was open to new practices. He targeted different challenges on the farm, but soon realized that he was merely treating the symptoms and should instead focus his attention on where those challenges were created: his traditional, conventional land management practices.
“Sometimes the hardest thing to change in farming is your own mind,” Cameron said. “Once done though, you are able to see things that cannot be unseen. Holistic Management helped us see the big picture among the details.”
Now, Cameron, Emma and their three sons are implementing a range of sustainable farming practices on their farm, not least of which is an innovative grazing strategy called rotational grazing. Rotational grazing breaks land into smaller portions and uses a schedule to determine which paddocks rest while other paddocks are grazed, each within designated intervals. The smaller paddocks allowed them to manage their land better, creating more nutritional grass and providing the cattle with a stronger source of food early and throughout their lives. This strategy and diet, ultimately, was better for cattle’s grazing and health, resulting in better cattle and increased profit.
“Within 12 months, the ability of that 85 hectares to carry stock had doubled,” said Cameron. “This [improvement] was achieved through our rotational grazing plan and monitoring with the help of the local land services to check soil and nutrients, so we could make necessary adjustments to optimize the land.”
This approach to farming makes the Lauries and farmers like them become more of grass farmers than ever before. It caused them to look at things a little differently than in the past. Their perspective focused on encouraging the right kind of grass to grow and, in the Lauries’ case, introducing an off-stream supply of fresh water.
The off-stream water supply needed to be installed because of the intensity of the grazing, but it also helped strengthen existing vegetation. As an added bonus, the new water source regenerated new kinds of grasses, especially on river banks where plants play a part in decreasing erosion, increasing biodiversity and reducing the loss of nutrients downstream.
The Lauries are also using biological enhancements to stimulate soil organisms, which builds soil carbon and allows them to avoid chemicals where possible, even when dealing with problem weeds.
THE COMMERCIAL CASE FOR SUSTAINABLE FARMING
The Lauries embarked on this sustainable farming journey because they were considering the long-term plans for their farm, and wanted to reduce the ongoing input costs they’ve known in conventional farming. They can see their three sons potentially managing the farm one day and want to ensure that they are leaving a sustainable and profitable business to them. They believe this will happen because of the methods they have been employing on the farm as well as their overall approach to farming now being one of openness and adaptability.
As a product of their efforts, the Lauries’ pastural acres are showing a marked improvement in diversity and vigor. Their livestock are also healthier, with far less parasite burden. The water that is running in their streams is of higher quality now that they have reduced erosion on banks and minimized the loss of nutrients downstream. The fenced off creek lines are seeing greater diversity of flora as well as allowing a return of fauna that had been absent for almost two centuries.
The case for sustainable farming is stronger as hotter and drier climates are recorded in many areas around the world. For instance, a changing climate has reduced the average rainfall in Australia significantly, with some reports highlighting a reduction of approximately 50 percent of its average. These conditions require practices that maximize the soil’s ability to capture and store rainfall. With greater groundcover and more soil carbon to act as a sponge, the improved grazing pastures are able to capture more of this rainfall. The Lauries believe that their rainfall water usage efficiency is approximately 80 to 100 percent improved and have even seen a doubling of soil carbon in one year.
BEING RECOGNIZED FOR SUSTAINABLE FARMING PRACTICES HAS ITS OPPORTUNITIES
With an increasingly educated market and a growing demand for sustainable beef throughout the world, the Lauries are able to differentiate their business from those that have not yet begun their journey. Part of this differentiation comes from the recognition and certifications they have received as a result of their sustainable farming practices.
Because of the different programs the Lauries participate in, their beef has been accepted into markets that require the highest levels of traceability and visibility into on-farm practices. In particular, the Lauries are eligible for customer-led programs that require strict protocols on animal husbandry, use of animal medicines and specialized diets. They also utilize the Meat Standards Australia scheme to provide feedback on the performance of their animals.
These types of accreditations create the mechanisms for accountability that a sustainable-minded market, customer, and consumer each want to see when they are purchasing beef. But these accreditations are the result of hard work, dedication, good management practices and sustainable impact, all of which are key components to the Laurie farm.
THE BEGINNINGS OF A SUSTAINABLE FARMING TRADITION
In the 1840s, ten thousand acres of land were granted to a Scottish immigrant settling in Australia. Generations later, Cameron Laurie is now operating a world-class farm with his wife and three sons on that land. While they are now being recognized for their efforts, choosing a sustainable farming journey that will continue into future generations is not necessarily easy.
Multi-generational farmers are fortunate to benefit from the knowledge of many before them. They might be able to change a fence without having to think twice. But when it comes to implementing sustainable farming practices, the hardest thing to do is to change a mindset, particularly if that mindset depends on traditions developed over generations. That makes the Lauries’ journey and the successes they have already achieved much more impressive. And who better to spread the word about sustainable farming than a multi-generational farmer with a brand new mindset and a mission to prepare his farm for the future.