What helps the environment, saves money and feeds the soil at the same time?

Did you know that each year, Australian households generate around 13 million tonnes of organic waste and that about half of that ends up in landfill?

With so many of us spending more time at home due to COVID-19 it’s a great time to pay closer attention to what we put in our rubbish bins. Typically, about half of what we throw away could be put to better use.

Compost is not only a valuable organic resource (plants love it and it helps to build healthy soils) but also it reduces the volume of material going to landfill, the associated detrimental environmental effects and makes economic sense too.

Diverting organic materials from landfill and properly composing them can help in the effort to mitigate the effects of climate change by reducing methane emissions and contributing to soil carbon storage.

Organic materials such as food scraps and garden waste breakdown to methane when decomposing without air in landfill conditions. Methane, a greenhouse gas, is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide so reducing its emissions is an important factor in combating climate change.

Using compost as a fertiliser or soil conditioner returns carbon into the soil, where it can be locked up or utilised for plant growth, rather than being emitted into the atmosphere.

Landfill is the most expensive form of waste management and while it’s free to drop your rubbish off at the Mid-Western Regional Council waste stations, don’t be fooled – as ratepayers we fund the operation and maintenance of these facilities.

The existing landfill cell at the Mudgee Waste Depot will reach capacity within 10 years. As space runs out and alternatives need to be sought, costs are likely to increase. So reducing the amount of organic waste going in will prolong the life of the existing landfill site and reduce the costs long term.

Composting reuses food waste and nutrients are recycled into fertiliser. By applying compost to gardens, farms and other land uses, nutrients are returned to the soil to feed diverse soil life. The bacteria, fungi, insects and worms in compost support healthy plant growth, rather than letting organic waste rot away in landfills.

So start a compost heap (or worm farm or get a few chooks to take care of the scraps), reduce waste and your carbon footprint. With spring just around the corner, your garden will love it. Happy composting!

Quantifying the benefits of multi-species pasture crops on animal performance and soil health

Through the Landcare Excellence in Sustainable Farming Grants, Watershed Landcare have been working in collaboration with farmer, Colin Seis, to establish a grazing demonstration site to gather empirical evidence to compare animal performance and environmental benefits on a multispecies pasture crop and barley crop.

Growing evidence from the USA and Australia has shown that multispecies crops and pasture diversity increase soil carbon, nutrient cycling, and improve soil biology and farm ecosystems. However, data in the grazing context is limited and this project will build on this understanding. This is particularly relevant in our region as fodder crops are often utilised to supplement pasture during the winter feed gap.

The project was funded through the Meat & Lifestock Australia (MLA) Landcare Excellence in Sustainable Farming Grants, a partnership of Landcare Australia and MLA as part of their community focused Australian Good Meat initiative.

The demonstration site was set up at ‘Winona’, located 20 km north of Gulgong, NSW. ‘Winona’ consists of 840 ha which runs 4000 merino sheep for wool, merino lamb, and mutton production. The property’s pasture is restored native grassland consisting of 50 native grassland species.

The trial site was split into 2 sections, ~10 ha each, to compare animal performance and soil health indicators on single species and multi-species pasture crops.

The single species plot was plated with barley and the multi-species plot planted with a mix of barley, field pea, faba bean, Winfred forage brassica, tillage radish and turnip. Both plots were grazed heavily and treated with a knock down herbicide prior to zero till cropping into dormant native grassland in early March.

Two mobs of lambs were put onto the trial plots in early May. Initial individual weights were recorded and monitored throughout the trial.

Soil chemistry (including trace elements), pasture species composition, crop biomass and soil structure indicators were also monitored throughout the trial. The data collected will be used to compare lamb weigh gains and environmental benefits on a multispecies pasture crop and single species (barley) crop.

Data and results from the first year of the trial are currently being collated and will be presented at an on-farm field day later in the year.

The grazing trial will be extended for 5 years to provide a sufficient time frame to show meaningful trends in changes in soil carbon and nutrient cycling.

Boost to Landcare in the region

As part of the NSW Landcare Program 2019 – 2023, Landcare networks in the Central Tablelands LLS region will have enhanced capacity to improve their governance, communication, partnerships and ability to coordinate on ground activities.

The $22.4 million investment co-delivered by Landcare NSW and NSW Local Land Services will continue to employ 72 Local Landcare Coordinators as well as 12 new Regional Landcare Coordinator roles across NSW.

Building on the Local Landcare Coordinator Initiative 2015-2019, the funding will provide continued support for employment of Local Landcare Coordinators in the Central Tablelands Landcare, Lithgow Oberon Landcare, Little River Landcare, Mid-Lachlan Landcare and Watershed Landcare networks.

The Central Tablelands Landcare Network has also welcomed Sharon Cunial into the newly created Regional Coordinator role. The position will provide a key resource to boost the capacity of grassroots landcare and provide opportunities for regional project development and delivery.

“I’ve been extremely fortunate to come to the Central Tablelands region where the five Landcare Networks and volunteer groups are highly capable and achieving meaningful outcomes in their communities and on the ground.” said Sharon.

“As a Regional Landcare Coordinator I aim to support the networks but I’m also here to provide support for smaller Landcare Groups to build their capacity and participate in Landcare activities in the region.” she continued.

Sharon has a technical background in river management, has worked as a Landcare Coordinator with Macleay Landcare Network in the Kempsey Shire Council and most recently as a soil health project officer in the North Queensland Dry Tropics. But she’s no stranger to the Central Tablelands, coming home to live on the family farm near Orange.

“I appreciate the diversity of Landcare activities across this region from grazing support to bat surveys and tree planting. It’s a real reflection of how Landcare nimbly responds to the needs and interests of their local community, particularly during hard times.” said Sharon.

“COVID-19 and social distancing rules have certainly impacted my ability to get out into the regions and meet with groups on the ground however, I believe we’ve all discovered amazing opportunities to connect with each other, learn and collaborate from the comfort of our homes.”

The additional support the role will bring to networks and groups in the region will further strengthen regional partnerships and empower community action on local problems and deliver outcomes across local and regional issues.

“I really appreciate collaborating with our project partners, particularly the Regional Agriculture Landcare Facilitator, Liz Davis at the Central Tablelands Local Land Services. Together we’re able to bring more resources and opportunities to the Landcare community in the region. We also collaborate with our equivalents in the Central West region.” said Sharon.

“For me and the RLC role, the next three years is about supporting Landcare networks and groups to build skills, resources and opportunities to participate in environmental and sustainable agriculture activities. The future is about telling the Landcare story so that the broader community can see and value the contribution that Landcare makes to securing our future.”

Positive rainfall outlook for spring

The latest Climate Driver Update released by the Bureau of Meteorology suggests an increased chance of above average rainfall across much of Australia during spring. Climate models are indicating a 50% chance of La  Niña forming in 2020 and the possibility of a negative Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) developing by early spring.

The forecast for spring is looking good, so how do we make the most out of all that water?

One of the best places to store water in our garden or on our farms is in the soil, where it will be available for plant growth long after the rain has stopped. But how do we make sure it gets in there?

Barren soil impedes the infiltration of water into the sub-soil layers. Soil which has been left bare forms an impervious layer on the surface so water runs off rather than soaking in.

The resulting run off causes erosion, washing valuable top soil into dams, creeks and rivers.

Ground cover, a layer of mulch or living plants, increases infiltration of water into the soil. In turn this reduces erosion by decreasing the amount of run off and slowing the flow of water over the surface.

In grazing systems, native grasses provide one of the cheapest and most effective ground covers.

In most instances, native grasses do not need to be sown as they either already exist in a pasture or the seed bank is there. They are perennial so not only provide feed for livestock year round but also have deep root systems which are capable of reaching deeper water.

This means native grasses can sustain active growth, providing green pick and good ground cover, longer than their introduced counterparts.

Native pastures are also relatively easy to manage for ground cover simply through grazing management.

Additionally, native grasses do not require fertilisation, in fact some are hindered by excessive nutrients, so native pastures are cheap to maintain, requiring little inputs other than some consideration from the land manager.

Wallaby Grass: native grasses provide effective ground cover and are easy to manage.

As we move into spring and the temperatures warm up maintaining good ground cover becomes even more important.

A good layer of ground cover prevents the suns rays from directly hitting the soil and lower soil temperatures mean less evaporation.

Evaporation is also reduced by creating a humid environment on the soil surface. Whether that is a layer of living plants or mulch, that humid barrier reduces the flux of water from the wet soil environment into the dry atmosphere.

As much as we all like to see our dams full, before the next time it rains consider the following: Do you want all the rain that falls on your place (and the top soil it takes with it) to end up in a dam where its unavailable for plant growth and exposed to evaporation? Or, deep in the soil…