Naturally, Serengeti holds answers as graziers win battle to save the land

1 December 2011 FDI Team

FOR former governor-general Michael Jeffery, the Murray-Darling Basin plan and carbon tax debate are side issues to the urgent task of transforming how Australian farmers manage the land.
Major General Jeffery wants to prove that, done well, natural farming methods can satisfy the water needs of agriculture and the environment, improve farm productivity and lock away enough CO2 from the atmosphere to balance the nation’s carbon account.
Natural farming is much more than boutique organics and it is as relevant for broadacre cropping as it is for grazing cattle and sheep.
According to General Jeffery, there are pockets of excellence in every area of Australia’s agricultural development.
Through the Outcomes Australia — Soils for Life program, which the federal Agriculture Department will part fund with $280,000, Major Jeffery is seeking to build a network of 20 best-practice natural-method farms to demonstrate its benefits.
One such farm is George King’s 3030ha cattle property at Carcoar, south of Orange in NSW, which has doubled stocking rates, slashed input costs and repaired the environment by mirroring the natural order of the Serengeti Plains.
“We have reduced labour input and doubled the carrying capacity without any inputs except fences, water and planned grazing,” Mr King said. “Yield and profitability have improved dramatically.”
The landscape has been transformed from annual grasses with shallow roots and erosion to almost 100 per cent permanent cover. Creek banks have been restored and the cattle no longer need to be drenched for worms.
Mr King is following a grazing method pioneered by South African Alan Savory that mirrors the African plains where large groups of herbivores graze in tight groups surrounded by predators.
“Because the herbivores are held in a tight mob they graze the ground right down and whatever they don’t eat is trampled,” Mr King said. “The herd is constantly moving and won’t come back to the same ground until it has recovered. We are mimicking this exact same behaviour but replacing the predators with fences.”
General Jeffery’s vision is a network of demonstration sites.
“We want to try and show you can get to sustainable practice by weening off the chemicals and non-organics,” he said.

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