Our Ecological Farmer Hall of Fame interview this edition is with Rodger Shannon of NSW. The interview is designed to describe what happens on the farm and why the farmer does what he does.
For coverage of Ecological Farmer 1 refer to the last copy of the newsletter which can be found in the news section of our website www.ecoag.org.au of following this link.
Summary: Rodger is a young farmer with a young family who is sensitive to the needs of the environment and who puts ecology as a primary consideration in all that he does. He is a pioneer in establishing a different mixed farming operation in his district which comprises a conventional mix sheep, cattle and crops. There are echoes of Joel Salatin in his approach tempered by Rodgers own experiences at Marcus Oldham, Cell Grazing, Elaine Ingham, and, his own creative drive.
Farm size: 1400 acres 549Ha
Stock numbers: 450 head of cattle; 200 ewes; 1500 layers; 500 meat birds; wheat, oats, cereal rye and diverse cover crops (7-9 species) cereals grown predominately for chooks
Fertiliser: None applied in 4 years; uses own compost and compost teas on broadacre land
Pesticides: Only use chemical on sheep lice
Rodger’s background: Marcus Oldham graduate; worked on farms in Victoria and NSW before taking over at Carbeen 4 years ago.
Major influences: (1) A teacher at Marcus Oldham who said to always have an open mind and to take the blinkers off (2) attendance at a holistic grazing course (3) attendance at a Elaine Ingham course on soil biology (3) attending a Joel Salatin workshop, and (4) learning about the principles of permaculture.
Stated approach: A regenerative agriculturalist who believes ecology is primary to all decision making.
The change moment: commences conventional cropping system (wheat/canola/barley) when first taking over the farm but felt the emphasis on fertiliser and chemical application was not what he wanted to engage in -“they were killing my soil”. He believes that in vertical stacking where each enterprise engaged in should return 7 fold i.e. there should be at least 7 layers of benefit from chooks, or pigs, or whatever. He believes in symbiosis where one activity supports another.
His philosophy: A holistic thinker who understands how systems interact and support each other. A farmer who puts holism and systems thinking primary in his repertoire of approaches. Uses the three prong approach of decision making which covers (a) productivity (b) social well being including community, and (c) building the environmental base.
Productivity: Sells eggs and birds for meat to consumers primarily into the Central West (Orange, Bathurst, Dubbo, etc) and also into Sydney and the Blue Mountains; produces cereal grains partly to feed the hens; intends to increase hens to 6000.
Social engagement: Connected with Lachlan Landcare but seeks engagement with others who are producing in a similar style to himself: sells through the local community and places emphasis on creating direct relationships with customers in marketing successfully.
Environment: Has plans to plant trees on the contour and to place laneways and access tracks along the ridge lines for water harvesting and pacifying water into the farm landscape; intention of adding pigs to the program; intention to build the farms’ biodiversity; intention to develop the water cycle on the farm by introducing keyline design elements, Natural Sequence Farming processes, and by planting trees.
Major concern: The heat and its effect on hens and soil. Rodger reports a 1.5-2 degree rise in temperature for the past 7 months (Interviewed April 2016) and this included 35 days with the temperature over 35 degrees plus. Believes a more semi-desert climate is emerging with hot dry spells followed by heavy downpours.
His ecological thinking strategies to create a regenerative agriculture:
(1) encouraging soil microbes via composting to encourage the uptake of nutrients by plants
(2) uses hens on pastures and they follow the beef cattle in rotation;
(3) Intends adding pigs to the mix to enable a synergy between livestock types;
(4) will plant trees on contour and subdivide around this;
(5) is seeking to increase farm biodiversity;
(6) intends building the water cycle on the farm via keyline approaches including swales.