Cattle grazing uses 88 per cent of agricultural land in Byron Shire, and an education program for local cattle farmers is helping to stop long-term recurrent use of glyphosphate for weed control. Locals, Chris Moyle, with 25ha, and Will Bourke, with 40ha in Myocum, say the program is working well for them, with neighbours saying the new approach is making their land ‘look the best it has in 20 years’.
‘Weeds exist because there’s a problem, it’s normally related to overstocking or soil compaction, which can come from set stocking cattle, but glyphosphate only treats the symptom (weeds), not the cause. If you just focus on killing weeds you will have more and more weeds, and spend your time on the symptom. It’s about managing for what you want, not managing what you don’t want,’ says local farmer, now educator, Andrew Cameron. ‘People have their reasons to use glyphosphate, but it’s better, if we can, to work with nature and its natural systems rather than adding chemicals to the system.’
‘Rather than just attacking weeds with chemicals, with a regenerative approach we are actioning weed control for the long term and getting a host of other benefits – that will not only reduce weed generation in the future but also improve soil fertility, improve pasture production and also carbon sequestration, because by running cattle this way we can actually draw down carbon into the soil.’
Andrew Cameron is the Agricultural Extension Officer for Council, a role created just over a year ago by a federal grant to keep agricultural production in the Shire going in the most sustainable way possible. Being a local regenerative farmer himself for the last eight years or so, he was ideally suited to help local landholders and farmers to develop regenerative agricultural practices, which are a key way to have a positive effect on climate change, our environment and biodiversity.
One project that Andrew is working on right now is to offer a more sustainable approach to pest and weed control using cattle as the tool with rotational regenerative grazing.
‘The goal is to increase soil fertility and increase agricultural production on the land whilst reducing weeds’, says Andrew.
‘Our agricultural land in the Shire is 88 per cent grazing, so it’s a very important starting place as this is a big chunk of land on which there is the opportunity for it to be farmed better, and so far we have assisted on 482 hectares with this particular program, and 2,247ha in total via onsite farm consultations – we’ve hosted numerous field days with local farmers, and brought them together to share knowledge. The Byron Farmers Network has been created, a database consisting of 270 local landholders and farmers, who are contacted fairly regularly about various grants and field days, and with resources that can help them.’
One of the ways to achieve better outcomes is by rotating cattle through smaller paddocks. ‘The easy way to rotate your cattle is to not do it – but there is a better way than to just leave them to wander in a huge paddock. But it takes some extra planning, effort, extra time and knowledge to move your cattle and manage your land’, says Andrew who helps farmers to move along this path.
Chris Moyle and William Bourke are two farmers who’ve attended the Holistic Land Planning workshop and developed a regenerative land plan for their farms, and they are looking at the sort of equipment needed, for which some funding will be provided, to allow them to action their regenerative approach.
Will has been the manager of his parents’ 40 hectares in Myocum but took over from his parents about a year ago. ‘We were spraying on and off for 15 years on the farm, as that was the common practice,’ he says. ‘But now we are changing direction, from three huge 30-acre paddocks, we’ve gone to 30 paddocks; from 1 to 2.5 hectares each in size, one of which is planted with trees, and we don’t need to spray for the non-woody weeds. They are still there, but the animals are not eating the toxic weeds like privet or fireweed.’
‘There is also a lot less fireweed than we saw on other farms; most weeds thrive on no grass or low grass, but with our longer grass we are seeing less germination of weeds as the grass barrier is stronger. It’s a long-term project, and we are noticing the changes in where the weed clumps are, so we are identifying what’s wrong with the land in each weed patch. Rather than worrying about the weeds, we are worrying about what we want, and farming for what we do want, like good grass species.
‘Using smaller paddocks, we move them as a herd, as the cattle would do in the wild,’ says Andrew. ‘They graze, they fertilise, and then they move on, allowing the land to rest and recover. As land managers, when we facilitate this natural process, the land responds incredibly well. Ideally, I’d like to see all pasture land managed this way.’
If you’d like to have a talk to Andrew about whether this method would be suitable for your cattle farm, give him a ring. You can also to sign up to the Byron Farmers Network and access farming resources on the Council website.
Contact: Andrew Cameron. Ph 6626 7223 or