Newsletter

November: 2010

Annual General Meeting

Our AGM was held on a sunny Sunday in October at Christine and Peter Forster’s property south of Ararat. The day began with a cup of tea followed by James Drew (the Forsters son-in-law) taking us on a tour of several of the grazed pasture paddocks (as a small part of the Victorian Volcanic Plains) before inspecting a major biodiverse carbon offset planting on granite outcrop on the Great Dividing Range a few kilometres to the west.

This granitic part of the property was purchased in 2002 and much effort has been spent in controlling rabbits and improving native vegetation on very steep and rocky land. Wet conditions dictated inspection on foot, but the perfect weather and great views made it all worth the effort.

Granite Hills

A magnificent lunch spread augmented with classy Grampians Estate wines in the homestead garden set us up for the more formal part of the day.

Andrew Bradey is our new Chair. He is a farmer from Ullswater in the west Wimmera. He is also a member of Kowree Farm Tree Group and involved with the formation of the H141 Biolink proposal west of the Grampians. Other executives are John Pettigrew (Vice Chair), David Cummings and Mairianne Mackenzie (web site), Peter Forster (Secretary and Public Officer), Christine Forster (Policy Editor), Ross McDonald, Darren Cribbes and Mary Lush.

lunch

Membership activity on behalf of EFN.

On November 11th five EFN members attended a “Farming into the Future” workshop organized by the Department of Primary Industries at Hamilton, Victoria. It was titled “Increasing productivity and reducing farm emissions”. The Commonwealth Agriculture Department  and the Meat and Livestock Authority sponsored the day.

Richard Eckard of Melbourne University started the day with an overview of where emission reductions are possible and where future reductions are likely to come from. He outlined the latest Australian Government initiatives to assist with abatement of greenhouse gas emissions including the Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI) where farmers can opt in to carbon schemes with land care plantings that are Kyoto compliant and the development of a National Carbon Offset Standard (NCOS) for non Kyoto compliant offsets such as soil carbon sequestration, non forest revegetation and biochar. He stated that any non Kyoto compliant schemes would probably attract a lower price for carbon.

Agriculture contributes 16% of GHG emissions, (mainly methane and nitrous oxide). If we reduce these energy losses from our farming activities it is an opportunity to make our farming activities more efficient.

Using best management practices known today we can achieve large abatement of enteric methane (20 to 40%) in commercial farming situations, for example, improving: animal health; animal genetic base; fertilizer usage; and nutritional management. Other examples of best practice include: using cover crops to use residual soil nitrate; avoiding excessive nitrate use especially in wet, waterlogged and cold conditions and also in warmer and windy conditions; avoiding excessive nitrogen use; applying nitrogen only when plants are growing actively and there are no other limiting growth factors; balancing energy and protein in stockfeed to get less nitrogen loss through urine and improved nitrogen conversion to saleable product; and, avoiding high stocking rates that require higher fertilizer use and cause increased pugging which in turn causes anaerobic soil conditions and nitrous oxide emissions.

Research on dietary supplements and rumen manipulation are expected to give further reductions in emissions.

Natalie Browne of Melbourne University, has studied the sources and amounts of emissions from typical farm enterprises in western Victoria. Dairy farms produced the highest emissions per hectare (8.4-10.5 tonne CO2emission/ha), followed by beef (3.9-5.2), sheep (2.8-4.3) and grains (0.1-0.2). Emissions per tonne of product give different rankings eg beef self replacing is highest with 22.4-22.8 t CO2emission/t of beef carcase weight whilst grains is even lower at 0.04-.15 CO2emission/t grain.

Brendan Cullen of Melbourne University has studied the resilience of pasture based systems with various climate scenarios. Winter production is likely to improve as temperatures rise and frost frequency decreases. This may affect when animals are best timed for joining. Whilst the resilience of pasture based systems is evident, the persistence of individual pasture species with extreme climate events is an issue for farmers.

Gary O’Leary of the Department of Primary Industries stated that yield gains are likely with cropping in the south west but yield losses are also likely in the north west if crops are sown outside the June window. Sowing times will need to be adjusted with increasing temperatures and reduced rainfall.

Fiona Robertson of the Department of Primary Industries summarized research findings to date with soil carbon. The story has a long way to go before we fully understand how to improve soil carbon levels for agricultural and environmental benefits. The Victorian Soil Carbon Project is part of an Australia wide soil carbon research project intending to fill knowledge gaps.

Web site

We are working to keep the EFN web site regularly updated with references to items of interest plus posting our latest submissions and press releases. Please revisit at www.environmentalfarmersnetwork.net.au . All comments and contributions welcome.

Productivity Commission Report on Rural Research Organisations

In our last newsletter the demise of Land and Water Australia, a research body was primarily concerned with broader natural resource condition issues, was noted. The latest report from the Productivity Commission recommends the establishment of a new research organization (RRA) that will fund research that benefits Australians generally rather than particular agricultural industries. 

We will be making a final submission to the Commission later in the month.

Murray Darling Basin Draft Report

It is likely that two EFN representatives (Andrew Bradey and John Pettigrew) will team with ACF representatives to jointly meet the Minister for Agriculture, Tony Burke, in Canberra later this Month. The meeting will discuss the Guide to the Draft Plan.

We recently made a press release on the Draft Plan, available on our web site.

Newsletter Material

I know many of our members are active in environmental and farming areas and I would appreciate a summary of your activities for future use in our newsletters.

Peter Forster Secretary EFN

 

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