Member publication

This article (with accompanying photographs) appeared in the Winter 2011 Issue 52 of the Victorian Landcare and Catchment Management magazine. The original can be seen as a pdf here

Sustainability on the farm By Ross McDonald
Ross McDonald farms in the west Wimmera and has been active in Landcare for many years. He shares his thoughts on running a sustainable farm business.

Our family has farmed in the Kaniva area since 1879. My wife Fran is a secondary school teacher, our daughter Grace is at the University of South Australia and son
Joe is doing his VCE at Kaniva College. We have 800 hectares – 600 hectares are
cropped annually and 200 hectares are set aside as remnant vegetation.

There is evidence of Aboriginal occupation on our farm, with scar trees and stone artifacts. This serves as a reminder to me that even though we own the land, I am
really only the caretaker.

Our aim is to run a profitable farming operation with the least negative impact on the environment. Everything we do on the farm is considered with this aim in mind. Some of these actions on the farm come at a price, but they leave me with a clear conscience. I still have to compromise, but ultimately I am here to run a profitable business or we will not survive.

Minimum tillage for maximum benefits
We don’t burn stubble on the farm and will not use urea because it damages the atmosphere. Tractor usage is kept to a minimum with sowing done usually in one pass without cultivation. We grow mustard for a local bio fuel producer with the intention of running all our farm vehicles on bio fuel. Care is needed with spraying operations close to vegetated areas to avoid off-target damage. We don’t use crop dusters to apply chemicals or fertilisers for the same reason.

All of our paddock trees are protected and will be fenced off over time, no matter how inconvenient they are to the farming operation. All of our remnant vegetation has been fenced to exclude stock and is under protective covenants with Trust for Nature. We are also attempting to link these areas with revegetation corridors.

By the end of 2012 we will have completed 30 hectares of revegetation work on the farm. We have BushTender agreements on these remnants and receive payments for the management work we carry out. With the carbon market about to start, we also hope to be able to sell carbon produced in the revegetation areas.

We have developed a small wetland on the edge of some remnant vegetation using piped groundwater. This provides habitat for frogs and birds when there is little water around.
It’s been great to see the vegetation respond and some of the birds and animals return with the wet season of 2010. We didn’t quite get enough run off to fill our wetlands which have been dry for 14 years, but most of our dams filled up. Our son, at 17, had his first swim in a farm dam – something I did every summer when I was a kid.

The climate change challenge
Farming has been very challenging for the last 15 years, which I think is largely due to climate change. We all need to consider the impact we are having on the planet. As a farmer I am in a position to do more than most people, but I also have more to lose. If the worst climate predictions occur, I will not be able to continue farming the way I do now.

Many farmers have left our district in the last ten years. Our small town is struggling. I have invested a lot in our farm and sometimes find it hard to remain positive about our future.

But it is not all bad. I like what I do and I am proud to be a farmer. I also enjoy the work I do with Landcare. Sometimes when I’m out looking over a nice crop, I turn the other way and see some healthy trees, some tall native grasses or a Wedgetail Eagle overhead – well, that just makes my day. I want people to be able to see these things in 100 years time.

I am currently President of the Kaniva District Landcare Group, a member of the Victorian Landcare Council and on the Board of the Hindmarsh Landcare Network. I am also a member of the Environmental Farmers Network. Farming doesn’t happen in isolation. Being connected to the wider community and learning from each other is very important.

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