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
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
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
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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