As part of a Rural Women’s Bus Tour organised by CCMA we visited Andrew and Linda Whiting’s Whitfield Dairy Farm to observe and learn about their alternative approach to farming which is not only increasing their farm production but saving them money.
Whitfield Dairy Farm is part of five farms that now sells their milk under the brand name of Green Pastures. This group is producing milk via a more sustainable farming method than the traditional high input dairy system, and believes their milk is almost the equivalent of an organic product but without the price tag. They cannot obtain organic certification as they use non-organic grain which is half the price of organic grain, and their silage is wrapped in plastic not permitted in organic practices, but their methods of composting and creating healthy soils is equivalent to an organic farm.
The Whiting’s commenced sustainable farming practices approximately 7 years ago, when issues began to arise in their high input system. They found grass didn’t grow due to a lack of root growth, and they also found a failure of species to persist over summer. Investigating their soils they discovered there wasn’t a worm to be found. This poor grass growth was impacting production, and Lynda and Andrew began searching for alternative solutions.
They came to suspect that synthetic chemicals and fertilisers was the cause of the problem; they believed there had to be a better way to farm but economics and overheads made changing from a traditional way of farming scary and it took them a lot of courage initially. With some other farmers they undertook an intensive four day course in Queensland which they said was a sharp learning curve but everything seemed to fit, so they came home and remodelled their system to include compost as a key component of their fertiliser regime.
Was it successful? Well for this couple and others who also took the course they have found they have reduced their costs considerably while maintaining production. Some of the benefits include the significantly reduced cost of nitrogen fertiliser and chemical use, reduced vet bills per cow, and re-sowing far less frequently.
Not only are they reducing inputs and costs but their soils now contain microbial activity that allows their grass to grow and their stock to thrive. The dairy farm is now milking 300 cows on 300 acres, with an average of 30 L/cow produced per day. The couple believe the benefits of their switch to sustainable farming practices with a focus on animal health, decreased chemical use and improving soil health has reduced their costs without impacting on their production.
The farm now produces its own compost, using manure from the dairy and calf sheds, this effluent is washed off into settlement ponds and about every six months is cleaned out and carted to a prepared area where it is mixed with wood chips, not straw or hay which breaks down too quickly. It is turned three to four times over its life cycle of about a year, and is also nutrient mapped and if necessary micronutrients are mixed with it. The aim is to move the compost from a bacterial stage to a fungal dominant mix, if this doesn’t occur weeds will grow. To ensure weeds are destroyed the mix is held at a temperature between 55 – 60 degrees Celsius for 3 days. Depending on how much compost is made, when ready it is spread onto paddocks at a rate of 1-5 tomes per hectare.
Linda and Andrew feel farmers would benefit greatly by changing to a more sustainable system and are happy to speak to any other farmers wishing to learn more about composting on their farm. Also, Jade Killoran from Southern Farming Systems is keen to speak to farmers interested in learning more about this process. She can be contacted on 0352 651 666 or 0409 707 847, or email at email@example.com.
The day was supported by Corangamite CMA’s Regional Landcare Facilitator project, through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Programme.
Also if people are interested in being involved in further events they can contact Karen O'Keefe at the Corangamite CMA or look up the Corangamite Rural Women’s network: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1385082135141750/