Australian Farms: Where REAL Climate Action Happens
Stuart Austin, General Manager of Wilmot Cattle Company, notes subtle changes in the landscape each time he shifts cattle to fresh pasture at the 1854-hectare-property on the Ebor Plateau of Northern NSW. Native plants are emerging and the pasture biomass and ground cover continue to flourish, following a shift in grazing management nine-years-ago.
Since switching to a soil health focus in 2012, soil carbon results have increased from 2.5 percent to 4.7 percent at Wilmot.
Stuart, 39, demonstrates the importance of farmers in restoring ecological function alongside building a profitable and robust business. The Wilmot Cattle Company team take a regenerative approach across three properties Wilmot, Woodburn and Morocco – spanning 5,665-hectares in the New England region – to produce grass-fed beef and sequester soil carbon.
“Our role is to provide food and fibre for the world but also to preserve the environment we manage,” Stuart says.
“As farmers we manage so much of this landscape on a percentage basis and a full ecological system includes animals. If we manage those animals in a positive way that benefits the environment, then we can have a huge positive impact on the landscape, which is what’s required for us to have a really significant impact on the climate.”
Grazing management is the primary tool used to increase biodiversity, soil health, animal performance and profitability. Feed budgeting, continual monitoring and recording means stocking rate is matched to carrying capacity and animal density combined with frequent shifts, improves the mineral cycle and allows pasture recovery.
Data from every aspect of the business is recorded to assist with decision making.
The introduction of these low-cost grazing principles has dramatically transformed Wilmot from the set-stocked, high-input monoculture of just a decade ago.
Stuart says the first steps to regenerate are accepting that our landscapes have become degraded to some extent, along with challenging paradigms about the way we farm.
“We had blurred the lines a little bit over the past few decades where in a quest to make a solid return, have become focused on higher production which included high inputs and higher costs at the detriment to our ecology. In the cropping sector, we have largely removed animals from the landscape and over-used chemicals and synthetic fertilisers over decades. We need to take a step back and look from the outside and reconsider our management practices and whether we are in fact improving the ecology or whether we are just focused on production and profits.”
Stuart refers to the Resource Consulting Services analogy of a three-legged pot with the environment, animals and financials, underpinned by people. If one of the legs is unstable, the other functions are at risk.
“At an operational level, we are continuing to challenge the parameters within the business and have a strong continuous improvement philosophy. We look at production, graze yield, animal performance and business performance. How our people are going and what further skills they need to improve.”
Wilmot Cattle Company has a goal to reach soil carbon of six percent by 2023 at Wilmot, while at Woodburn they are aiming for four percent and three percent at Morocco.
The landmark sale of 41,000 carbon credits with Microsoft has sparked a larger conversation.
“The carbon piece has become a big focus and in my role as General Manager I am looking to build on this at an industry level. It’s actually encouraging producers to focus on natural capital and the rewards and opportunities that may be there.”
“One of my fundamental goals in life is to help other people which is why I have never been shy about sharing what we do, without claiming to have all the answers. We have learnt so much and will continue to learn every year for the benefit of the business and landscape. I like to think in 20-30 years’ time, we’ll be able to look back and because we were open and willing to share, others have implemented things on their land and so had an impact across a much bigger landscape, rather than just the ones we manage.”
Claire Mactaggart, Australian Farmers