Water water everywhere. Just who are we kidding

This year we have been able to send Young Eco Champions as well as Young Farming Champions into schools as part of a Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry supported Archibull Prize

This has been particularly rewarding for me as I know just how much our farm has benefited from working with natural resource management professionals and it has given me great joy to be able to partner our Young Farming Champions and the next generation of consumers and decision and policy makers (school students) with these bright young minds.

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Clover Hill paired with Next Gen to look after the farm’s scarce natural resources

Whereas our Young Farming Champions have their individual food and fibre industries behind them our Young Eco Champions don’t have an umbrella organisation that supports them financially and/or provides them with the type of personal and professional development Art4Agriculture offers and it’s been mind-blowing for me to see how they have flourished under the Young Eco Champions program.

Going into schools the Young Eco Champions have discovered that the knowledge base of students about natural resource management varies widely from school to school from almost nothing to exceptional and seems dependent on the culture within the school with some primary schools in the Archibull Prize 2013 leading the way.

They have found in the main that urban schools have their heads around sustainability in the context of reducing personal carbon footprint through recycling, reduced waste etc. because that’s what is driven through a lot of local council initiatives and some of the students with a rural background understood weed management issues and why it is important to manage weeds however knowledge of what it takes to farm sustainably and wider catchment management issues where almost non-existent.

Last week I joined Young Eco Champion Megan Rowlatt who returned to one of her schools to conduct a bush regeneration workshop with the students.

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Young Eco Champion Megan Rowlatt and students attacking the evil asparagus fern 

I was recently reminded just how important it is for us all to have a wider knowledge of what is happening to our scarce natural resources beyond our front fences when I came across this article Where the world’s running out of water, in one map by Brad Plumer in the Washington Post

Brad asks the question

And with the global population soaring past 7 billion, this is one of the biggest questions the world is now facing. Can better conservation practices and new technology enable farmers to keep feeding the planet without depleting its most important water resources?

Its pretty scary to know that approximately 1.7 billion people rely on aquifers that are rapidly being depleted and would take thousands of years to refill, according to the study in the journal Nature.

The report, “Water balance of global aquifers revealed by groundwater footprint,” identifies aquifers in the U.S., Mexico, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, India and China as crisis zones where groundwater resources and/or groundwater-dependent ecosystems are under threat because the use of water vastly exceeds the rate at which aquifers are being refilled by rain.

The underground reservoir in north-western India, for instance, would need 54 times more rainfall to replenish the water that’s currently being used by farmers and the local population.

In the map below, the blue areas mark where rain can replenish the amount of water being used by humans. Orange or red areas indicate places where people draw out more for irrigation and drinking water than rain can refill.

The grey areas show the extent of the “groundwater footprint” by representing how much water people are drawing from the aquifers compared with how much water each holds.

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When we know Australia

  • is the driest inhabited continent on earth, with the least amount of water in rivers, the lowest run-off and the smallest area of permanent wetlands of all the continents.
  • and one third of the continent produces almost no run-off at all and Australia’s rainfall and stream-flow are the most variable in the world.

And then you see the big picture problem the world is facing due to an ever increasing scarcity of our precious natural resources its very rewarding to be able to work with and share our Young Farming Champions and our Young Eco Champions and their knowledge diversity and expertise with our school students

Its also very rewarding to be able to provide the schools they visit with the amazing resources our food and  fibre industries are creating to show how farmers are doing their bit and striving to do it better and inspiring the next generation to look beyond their front door and get actively involved as well

Examples of some great industry resources can be found on our web page here

In particular

Target 100 http://www.target100.com.au/Tips-resources

Cotton Australia Education Kit http://cottonaustralia.com.au/uploads/resources/Cotton_Australia_Education_Kit_-_Secondary.pdf

A Wool Growers Guide to Managing Streams and Creeks

http://www.wool.com/Content/en-GB/lww_Rivers_Managing-rivers-creeks-streams.pdf

Bringing Arthur Boyd’s vision to life

I just love working with bright young minds who grab life with both hands and run with it. Rachel Walker is one of those young people

I have reblogged this from Art4AgriculutureChat as I am confident Rachel’s journey will inspire you just as much as it does me

Background

Art4Agriculture’s Young Eco Champions have each identified a farmer they want to work side by side with to get best environmental outcomes for Australia’s natural resources 226A5485.JPG.Still001_HIres

Art4Agriculutre Young Eco Champions (right) with some of our Young Farming Champions and members of the Art4Agriculture network

We were very excited to have the opportunity to pair Rachel Walker with Bundanon Trust.

Rachel’s shares this wonderful opportunity with you today through her guest blog post …

Bringing Arthur Boyd’s vision to life – by Rachel Walker

As a Young person with a love for Australia’s wonderful landscapes and a deep respect of how scarce our natural resources are and the opportunity that young people have to pay an active role in protecting and enhancing them

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Rachel left participating in a Face to Camera to camera workshop at a recent Young Farming Champions/Young Eco Champions workshop 

I also believe that Australia can play an integral role on a global scale by setting good examples in the management of our scarce resources.

I have learnt that the majority of the Australian landscape and its resources, are managed by our farmers, and much of that includes privately owned areas of native bushland. Hence our farmers also have a very important environmental role to play

As a Young Eco Champion, I have been able to spend some time with the Bundanon Trust in the Shoalhaven. The trust has the unique challenge of rehabilitating and maintaining a large area of native bushland as part of Arthur Boyd’s gift to the Australian people.

The 1,100 ha of river front land was generously left to the people of Australia in 1993, by renowned Australian artist, Arthur Boyd, and featured in much of his artwork. Since the gift the properties have been under the care of the Bundanon Trust, which has preserved the natural and cultural heritage, and developed a fantastic artistic educational experience that is adaptable and applicable to all levels of knowledge. It hosts school children year-round, as well as artists in residence

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The Riversdale Property regularly hosts workshops for young people

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As well as guests from all over the world who see views to die for

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and enjoy fine Shoalhaven Produce prepared by local chefs

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Including local wines

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And beef grazed on the property

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On Friday I was fortunate enough to be taken on a personal tour of the four properties that together form the Bundanon Trust. A stipulation of the bequest was that Bundanon was to always remain a working property in some capacity, and to be accessible to the people of Australia. Today the properties have reduced their beef cattle production in favour of restoring native forest, a tribute to the inspiration in many of Arthur Boyd’s artworks.

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Arthur Boyd, Peter’s fish and crucifixion, 1993 Copyright Bundanon Trust Reproduced with permission of Bundanon Trust 1993

 

During my visit to Bundanon, Riversdale and Eearie Park it became apparent to me what a fantastic job the Bundanon Trust has done in caring for and managing this magnificent resource combining farm, education and culture, and also what an enormous responsibility they have for the environmental management of the properties for the people of Australia. This is particularly so given the length of Shoalhaven riparian zone (boundary between the land and river) that the properties border.

My ever-enthusiastic guide and Bundanon’s education manager, Mary Preece, has been utilising her photographic skills to catalogue the diverse plants species present across the properties, in order to contribute to the understanding of the biodiversity across the 11 vegetation communities in the landscape.

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Mary Preece Bundanon’s Education Manager works with local school students at Riversdale

However the management of 1,100 ha of diverse, native landscape has its challenges, and the Bundanon Trust is using theirs as an opportunity to learn and educate others by setting a great example of natural resource management.

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Mary Preece is photographing and cataloguing the diverse plant species on Bundanon in order to contribute to the understanding of the biodiversity across the 11 vegetation communities in the landscape.

One of the most apparent ongoing battles that the Bundanon landscape faces is the infestation of Lantana, particularly along the 15km riparian zone.

Haunted-Point-100_4507Pulpit Rock viewed from Bundanon Property

.As luck would have it, Bundanon’s caretaker Gary, who is also the longest serving resident of the properties, was happy to take me up to a place called Haunted Point, where the battle against invasive Lantana has been ongoing for a few years, and threatens the properties’ biodiversity and ecosystem health.

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This aggressive weed has been removed from the properties once before, and so there is a strong push to remove it again – this time for good! Landcare Australia, Greening Australia and the Southern Rivers Catchment Management Authority are partnering with the Bundanon Trust to orchestrate the enormous task of removing Lantana from all the properties. Even from my brief tour around Haunted Point, the difference between cleared and uncleared areas was incredible! The cleared areas looked unburdened in contrast to the dense weed that seemed to be choking the understorey of the uncleared zones.

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This task is expected to take 3 years and to be completed by 2015. The removal of Lantana however is not a once off job, and will require constant management once the initial removal is complete, to prevent reinvasion. With so many knowledgeable people on hand, and the enthusiasm of the people that I met on my trip to Bundanon, I’m sure it is a labour of love that will lead to the eradication of this weed and the rehabilitation of the region. I am looking forward to seeing the progress as it continues.

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As we drove down the rocky road away from Haunted Point, we were able to identify a variety of vegetation that is inherent to the Shoalhaven region – red cedars for which the area was first colonised, figs, gums, banksia’s and bush lemons were all found along the way, not mention some petrified wood from a rock that had recently been split in half by a falling tree!

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Another environmental issue that Bundanon faces is the threat of bank erosion, which is unfortunately exacerbated by the removal vegetation (yes, even lantana) from the riparian zone. The property has taken many steps forward in reducing the impact of their practices on the riparian zone, by fencing off livestock and reinforcing vulnerable areas with local rocks to slow erosion rates. The awareness of such issues and the dedication of the Trust towards developing management strategies not only benefits the local region, but by sharing these experiences with visitors and students as part of the educational experience, Bundanon sets a great example of achievable goals, and such knowledge is passed on to the public where is has no boundaries!

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Bundanon Homestead

To add a great end to a fantastic day, I was shown around the sandstone homestead of the Boyd family, completed in 1866. Walking through the homestead was quite a personal and unique experience, with no ropes or barricades to keep you from getting a close up look at the displayed art collection, which includes artworks from Arthur’s childhood and throughout his life, and from all members of the family.

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Arthur Boyd’s studio at Bundanon

My favourite things were that children were allowed to play the family’s grand piano, and that the studio light switches were still covered in paint!

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Bundanon Trust is in a unique position where they have the opportunity to involve the public and educate students on the impacts that they are having through their natural resource management choices. It was a great day in the Shoalhaven, and a a great example of how the team are integrating the exploration of the artistic heritage of Arthur Boyd and his family with response to landscape and immersion in the natural environment.

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Riversdale – Spectacular scenery teamed with an award winning building designed by Glenn Murcutt in association with Wendy Lewin and Reg Lark

Cotton Pickin – the Boggabri Blog

Today’s guest blog post comes from Heather Gow-Carey one of our Eco Champions

But firstly a little bit from me to put it into perspective 

One of the things that still fascinates me is despite the vastness of our country just how little of it we can grow food on and how precious our natural resources are to sustain our standard of living now and in the future.

Yes we all know Australia is a pretty big place and what most of us don’t realise (including me until recently) is believe it or not over 60% of it is owned, managed and cared for by Australian farmers. To put this into perspective the white bits on the map below are the 40% of Australia that are classified as non agricultural land.Agricultural-Land-in-Australia_thumb,

What’s even harder to believe is that only 6% of our agricultural land is suitable for growing food. This means our 134,000 farmers have a huge amount of land between them that doesn’t generate an income It therefore goes without saying that Australian farmers are at the frontline of delivering environmental outcomes on behalf of the Australian community and they have a very big unpaid gardening/park keeping gig in any man’s language. I was as flabbergasted as most people when I found out these statistics that overall 94% of what farmers own and manage returns them no direct in your pocket benefit. As one of those farmers of which 50% of our farm is pristine rainforest it does however give great satisfaction and warms your heart to see it support diverse native vegetation and wildlife.

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Can you just imagine what its like following the cows home through this – I can tell you its doesn’t get much better

However its very clear as many of our farmers readily admit they don’t have the skillsets nor the time to do all of this gardening alone. Luckily Australia has a whole team of very special professionals called natural resource managers who partner with farmers to help them get the best outcomes for Australia’s scare natural resources.

Last year with support from the Australian Government’s Caring for our Country Initiative Art4Agriculture accessed funding that would allow our Young Farming Champions to train and work side by side and go into schools as part of the Archibull Prize with Young Eco Champions. The outcomes can only be described as phenomenal. Today’s guest blog post comes from Heather Gow-Carey

The Boggabri Blog……………………………..

As part of the Young Eco Champions Program I have developed a strong interest in agriculture and learning more about our industries that feed and clothe us. Even though I grew up in a rural area, I have found my knowledge of agricultural production is quite limited – so I decided that if I wanted to follow a career in natural resource management and agriculture, I really should get some inside knowledge of what is involved on the agricultural side of things.

My first farm visit was cotton!

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I was lucky enough to have the help of Sophie Davidson from Cotton Australia in tracking down a working cotton farm that had been improving both their on-farm efficiency and the health of the surrounding environment. She arranged for me to visit John and Robyn Watson who have been farming since 1979 on their farm “Kilmarnock” at Boggabri in Northern NSW.

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When John began farming here it was the first cotton to be grown south of Narrabri, along the upper Namoi River. 

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Both John and Robyn live and breathe cotton. When I first got to the farm, we jumped in the car and started driving around their property. I was amazed! To be honest, I had hardly seen any form of broad-scale cropping before. While John and Robyn have had lots of visitors to their farm, John mentioned that it was very rare to have someone like me who had almost no knowledge of the industry. So at least I didn’t feel too stupid asking the basic questions! I chatted with John about the production of cotton, right from the beginning when they sow the seeds all the way up to harvest – and even about the ginning and export process.

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Their property is 1500 hectares plus extra land that they lease from adjoining properties. It is a mixture of cotton, grain and cattle grazing, with about half of it under crop (both irrigated and dry-land). Kilmarnock was one of the first farms to take up the Best Management Practices (BMP) Program and John chaired the Australian Cotton Industry Council’s BMP Committee for three years. 

BMP Cotton

He also played an active role in the implementation of BMP in the Boggabri area, encouraging other local growers to get on board with the program and John and Robyn have been active members of their local Landcare group. Robyn has even written a paper titled Restoring the banks of the Namoi on ‘Kilmarnock’: Success arising from persistence

In 1995, they started a program of improving the riparian areas because they were concerned about bank erosion and pesticide contamination of the river. From this time they have revegetated more than 20kms of riverbank, stretching alongside their property, along with encouraging neighbouring properties to undertake similar work. Robyn has been the driving force behind the Landcare work on their property, she would collect seeds and propagate them in a small nursery that she had set up. In talking to Robyn, she mentioned that there had recently been a few fish surveys undertaken along the Namoi River and there was a sharp increase in both the diversity of species along with the overall counts of fish along the revegetated sections. So not only has their work stopped the erosion of their property and loss of fertile soil, it has improved the environment in a number of ways.

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From a farming perspective, the Watsons have been improving the overall efficiency of their production which means they are using less water, pesticides and herbicides and getting higher overall yields. There are a number of ways that they have been doing this:

  • Having designated dry-land cropping areas, which rely only on rainfall reduces overall water consumption, along with having extensive channel and dam networks to recycle flood irrigated areas. They have also recently got an overhead pivot irrigation system which moves slowing down the crop rows to prevent extra water loss.
  • All cotton is GM so as to be resistant to round-up and cotton pests. This means that they have reduced the amount of pesticide that is used, so they very rarely have to spray at all. Being resistant to round-up results in reduced soil cultivation and lower amounts of herbicide required on cotton crops to control weeds and facilitates healthier soils through less soil disruption and reductions in residual herbicides.
  • They ensure that there is always a few ‘refuge crops’ (usually pigeon pea) sown each year, so this allows insects that would be affected by GM cotton to have the ability to persist and not alter their population structure or effect the birds that feed on them.

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Robyn is also very talented at spinning cotton, and generously taught me how to do it. I found out firstly you have to pull the bolls away from the cotton plant and pluck out the cotton seeds. This is essentially what happens at the cotton gin, though on a much larger scale. You end up with a bowl full of fluffy cotton balls and from here you can start to spin.

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Using an ordinary spinning wheel, it is possible to end up with a range of different thicknesses of hand-spun cotton which can be dyed and then knitted or woven just like wool. I was very impressed and even got to take a few bolls so I could give it a go at home. Robyn is one of the few people who spins with cotton and I think she may be going to go to the Royal Easter Show to do some demonstrations – she is one talented lady!

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While I was up north, I was also able to visit the Namoi Catchment Management Authority (CMA) at Narrabri and go out in the field with Lauren Wilson and Megan Davies to conduct some vegetation surveys. One of the target areas that the Namoi CMA is working on is the protection of riparian areas that are not in poor condition, though need some assistance (eg. through fencing out livestock) to ensure that their condition does not worsen. I found this a great experience to have a look at regions that are so climatically different from down on the South Coast of NSW, and find out about the challenges that these regions are facing from an environmental perspective.

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‘I really did have a great time visiting Boggabri and Narrabri, even though it was only short, I learnt so much and had such wonderful experiences. Coming into this program, I had the opinion that most people hold about the cotton industry – that it used huge amounts of water and sprayed chemicals all over the place.

From learning from the other Young Farming Champions and this visit to Kilmarnock, I really have changed my perspective of the industry. It is a vital industry to Australian agriculture and is one that is innovative and always changing to promote efficiency and ensure overall productivity.’

 

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I now know the story of cotton – it is how this little plant turns into the pair of socks on your feet.’

*Heather has just finished an International Bachelor of Science (Geoscience) (Hons) and gone to Canberra to join the DAFF Graduate program

You can share stories with Heather on Twitter here  @HeatherGowCarey