No. 14 EAAA | March 2013

Editorial

Hi to all on the EAAA distribution network which totals around 300. We seem to grow with each edition and may that continue. The newsletter has a new (temporary) editor to start the year. Adrianna Marchand has pioneered the editorial role for the past 12 months but is needing to find some room in her life for study, work and special events. She will continue in various capacities within the EAAA network. I would like to publicly thank Adrianna for the dedication shown towards the establishment of the newsletter to a point where it is receiving high grades from those who receive it.

Other developments on the EAAA front include (a) the approval to develop a new website that is more adaptable and accessible to being changed by those who are not tech-heads, (b) the development of a new newsletter format that will be aligned with the style of the new website (c) and, acceptance of the Farmer Endorsement Program that David Savill and others have created. More about that in the next edition of the newsletter or in a special edition to follow.

The other important moment in the life of the EAAA is its AGM.  A date hasn’t been fixed but it is likely to be in late April early May. We seek   members who are prepared to get involved in developing policy around our main pillars – ecology, education, ethics, farming and food. We also are forever seek members to help out with secretarial work or newsletter development. If this interests you then please get in touch.

This edition carries two important stories and others that might be categorised as ‘background’ material.

The first major story concerns the formation of the Australian Carbon Cooperative at Bathurst. There are strong links between the ACC and the EAAA in that I am a Director of the ACC and President of the EAAA whilst the Chairperson of the ACC Johannes Bauer is also on the board of the EAAA. The ACC has had its application for cooperative status accepted and next Thursday at 1 pm will hold its inaugural meeting. It is our hope that the two organisations will work together to further the ecological agenda which is our mission. The ACC and the EAAA recently submitted a joint application for Climate Change funding to DAFF. We await the outcome of that submission. A brief article by Johannes is included in this edition.

The second story is from Rosemary Hook. Rosemary has critiqued Paul Newell’s paper on Landmanship. I urge you to access this paper on the EAAA website and to then read Rosemary’s comment.

If you have any stories you would like covered or stories that you would like to submit please do make contact (kcochrane@ecoag.org.au)

The Australian Carbon Cooperative (Bathurst Based)

Statement from the Editor: The Australian Carbon Cooperative based at Bathurst is on the verge of registration and by the time this newsletter arrives on your desktop it should be registered. The driving force behind the ACC has been Johannes Bauer a (former) senior lecturer in ecology at CSU. Johannes owns a farm at O’Connell near Oberon where he practices applying ecological principles to land management. The EAAA is aligned with the ACC and its principles and together the two organisations represent two distinct methodologies for carbon offsetting/sequestration.

The ACC focus is on-farm carbon sequestration through forestry and natural regeneration of marginal agricultural landscapes in the broadest of geographical locations.  While soil carbon is important for the reasons of soil fertility, it is not a focus of ACC.  ACC aims to act as an aggregator of individual landholders’ project areas to develop economies of scale to market the accrued carbon credits to the broader community by turning CO2 into wood, essentially.  Depending on location, this can be done by up to 6 tonnes of carbon per year per hectare, a much greater level of productivity than soil carbon accumulation. Other points of distinction regarding the ACC are:

* ACC will provide the expertise landholders may need to help them take advantage of the carbon market.

* ACC aligns well with EAAA as its focus is conservation farming (of forest), regeneration, and it aligns well with farm economics as through ACC farmers have the opportunity to seek out a potentially more rewarding income from the carbon market.

* The market for carbon credits is not dependant on Australian government policy (tax) as there is an established world market seeking carbon credits.

Statement from Johannes Bauer:

In order to introduce a new permanent landuse around a new virtual mineral, Carbon, one has two choices. One can start running and try to get into the new market as quick as possibly, to make as much money as possible for as long as carbon lasts, or, one can sit back and think clear and hard  about what type of markets these should be, what regulations and ethical foundations they should be subject to, and what kind of frameworks they would require. If we had done this, for example, with GM, we would now have a stronger filter to ensure that the agricultural environment would not be subjected to risky food products, the effects of which are largely unknown.

At ACC we have tried to get it right. We have developed a set of rules for the members of this organisation, which will ensure that opportunities will be developed to reduce risks, maximise  income, and ensure there are significant benefits for the environment and society.  Each future member will need to think clearly if s/he wants to participate in the new landuse, if it is worth the required investments for the particular type of land she/he owns, and if she/he wants to do it in a cooperative fashion where we are beholden to high ethical and environmental standards. What this highlights is the removal of the middleman, which of course is of benefit to all subscribers. We are not the only one and not the first ones who believe that in matters carbon and climate it is essential to go the co-operative way. There is, for example, the ‘Carbon Aggregation Offset Co-operative’ based in British Columbia  with its “unique fuel and carbon reduction program [which] helps companies and organizations that operate trucks or equipment reduce their Greenhouse Gas emissions, reduce fuel consumption and tap into the carbon economy”. There is also “The Co-operative Bank [which] goes one step further and offsets 10% of its emissions to address legacy issues; the first, and only, UK bank to do so [and aims] by 2014, to achieve carbon neutrality ……. across all the businesses, including The Co-operative Food. And there is even a diocese in the State of Washington, U.S., which has developed its own co-operative model where its diocese members can offset directly, and voluntarily, their emissions in community plantations in the Philippines. The ways to co-operate are endless.

At ACC we have tried to apply the co-operative model to ecosystem based carbon sequestration for Australian farmers but not restricted to those. We have worked to get the framework and obligations right, for almost two years now, because we are convinced that nothing less will do. And we are in full agreement that only the co-operative business model will ensure that this new landuse, which after all we expect will save us from a changing climate will do what it is supposed to do and not turn the whole process into a speculative business bonanza we CANNOT afford any longer.

The EAAA farmer endorsement proposal

This will be covered in a special edition of the EAAA newsletter

How can you tell if the landscape is healthy

by Gus Whyte from Whydham Station, Wentworth, NSW

While the environment is seemingly just a bunch of plants and animals, the interaction/interrelationship between all the species the soil and the climate is exceptionally complex, many times more complex than the human body, so that the description of health is not an easy subject.  At the same time with a basic understanding of some of the major components of the landscape you can put together a description of the relative health of your environment.  So I’ll just go through what I see as the major indicators of landscape health:

  • Levels/storeys of vegetation: How many levels of vegetation does the landscape have?  Ideally you should have plants that range in height from mosses, forbs, grasses, sub shrubs, shrubs etc. right up to the large trees, the more height ranges you can fill the better.  I take a wide look over the whole landscape and see if I can identify levels of vegetation that are missing, then go for a closer look.  I like to see lots of woody vegetation on the rises, with grass down the slopes into the valleys.
  • Groundcover: How much bare soil can you see?  What sort of groundcover do you have?  I like to see no bare soil at all and the groundcover made up of plants and litter with the litter at differing levels of decay, this leads into the next section on water infiltration.
  • Water infiltration: How much rainfall in an hour can permeate into the soil?  Are there signs of erosion, are the edges sharp/angular of the gullies?  How hard is the soil, is it easy to push a shovel into it when dry?  How far down do the plants roots go?  The better the soil permeability and not only less runoff, the slower the pace of the overland flow, the better.
  • Species Diversity: How many different species do you have (flora & fauna) in the area?  How many age groups are covered?  What percentage of the vegetation is dead?  The aim here is not simply the higher the number of different species the better as that may signal change, there should be many different age groups of the species and also a percentage of dead flora & fauna.  The higher the species diversity the greater the chance of maintaining green plants through the landscape at all times, to harvest dews and small rainfall events and to maintain soil activity and moisture for the insects and soil microbes (bacteria & fungi).  Also high species diversity leads to a more robust/resilient environment that can deal with disease outbreaks and/or natural disasters.
  • The little helpers: How much insect activity is there in the landscape?  Do you have dung beetles, termites or other “garbage disposal experts”?  Do you see fungi often?  What is the colour of the soil, what does it smell like?   I like to be able to pick up a handful of soil under a green plant and smell a “beautiful” musty, earthy smell, then see plenty of root matter in the soil, that feeds all the bacteria and microbes.
  • Animal Health: How healthy are the animals that live on the land?  What does their dung look like?  It should be firm, hold together and a nice dark colour with a hint of green.  The animals shouldn’t need any supplementation or any assistance to deal with internal (or external) parasites.  The animals will be healthy, not too fat or overweight though this will be a sign of the management.

For the landscape to be truly healthy then you will need to address all of these areas, just addressing a couple won’t necessarily mean the landscape is really healthy.  I also don’t expect any land to be perfect in all the areas so no matter how good condition your land is in it can always improve, that to me is very exciting as if we manage for the landscape we can increase productivity markedly.

Landsmanship with Paul Newell

Reading the landscape seems  a straightforward skill but it is far from that. Not all farmers can do it and those who do it have spent years empathising with the landscape in order to understand it. Paul Newell of Canowindra is one such person. In this paper Paul along with Professor David Goldney formerly of CSU outlines their thoughts on the skills involved. The eleven points mentioned in the paper will be critiqued below by Rosemany Hook.

Rosemary Hook’s Critique of Paul Newell’s Paper

Letter to the editor (Kerry Cochrane)

I very much appreciated the Landsmanship paper – on the whole, very much my own sentiments.  I think Paul’s “reading the landscape” is, in essence, very much the same thing as “land system survey”, with land processes underpinning both.  In the science world, land system survey has generally been discarded although NSW still has their soil-landscape mapping which is similar…..a major difference between NSW mapping and the land system work with which I was involved in Victoria, is that NSW tends to have one person responsible for mapping an area whereas in Victoria the aim was to have a team.  Together, team members had expertise in geology, geomorphology, soils and vegetation…..this was an excellent approach.  Digital terrain mapping has become the norm these days and while I appreciate some of the advances, I think there are some losses. Reading the book by Charles Eisenstein “The Ascent of Humanity”, has given me the notion that, while digital mapping may be more “accurate”, it is also separating us more from the land.  I think it is understanding the landscape and landscape processes that is the essential part if we are to manage the land properly……why the landscape is as it is and how it is functioning……maps of landscape properties alone do not give us any “story”, any bigger picture, about the land and most importantly, how these properties are inter-related.  It can lead to management by manipulation rather than management by understanding.

The eleven dot points in the Landsmanship paper

If I remember correctly, I think you asked me to comment on the eleven dot points.  Generally I am in agreement with these, though I would possibly organize/express some differently.

– I am not sure if in places the aim is optimize or maximize…..this is really tricky with respect to biodiversity/habitat diversity.   Also, do we try and optimize/maximize this on an individual farm or within a wider a bigger landscape?

– I think the need is to understand how natural ecosystems function and then how agriculture can change the structure, pathways and rates – this needs to be both general as well as specific for the particular landscape in which an enterprise sits.  My own view is that agriculture needs to leave the natural system intact as much as possible and where this is not possible, then it needs to try and mimic the underlying processes where possible.

– Carbon loss (in exports) is mentioned, but not nutrient loss.  I think this is a really big issue because most nutrients/minerals can only be transferred, not produced.  If they are exported, then at some stage they will need to be replaced – why on earth are we still sending them out down rivers and out to sea? (a bigger issue than just farm management).

Needed research

Some issues I see:-

Paul Newell mentions the need for a 30% return of carbon to the system.  Does this vary for different landscapes, and if so why and by how much?  Does it vary depending on seasonal conditions (from wet to dry years)?  Also, what would be the effects of a larger return of carbon……would it be immediately oxidized or can it be utilized by the ecosystem?  What mechanisms favour conversion of plant biomass to humus?  How does the type of organic matter, including lignin content, influence humus formation (given that humus will probably be the best form for soil carbon sequestration)?  What are the trade-offs between carbon export and return – i.e., if more is returned in the short term, does this mean that long term the harvest will be greater?  Would it be possible for our higher rainfall grazing properties to revert to multilayered systems with shrubs – what are the palatability and nutritional/toxicity values for our native shrubs?  Our sheep seem to like some of them (particularly the garden variety!), so presumably they have some benefit.  Do we actually know the effect of deep rooting plants on nutrient input from lower soil layers?  (I know of Peter Attiwell’s work in Eucalypt forests, is there the same sort of study for an agricultural system?)  These are the questions that come to mind quickly…..but the list could be very long!

Man on a mission

MAN GOES ON A MISSION: Mike Smith of Mororo – helping people in the Pacific with organic farming and soils.

INSPIRED by a mutual passion for organic farming, Clarence Valley couple Mike and Cheryl Smith have devoted themselves to helping farmers in the South Pacific to build strong, resilient and sustainable communities.

Two years ago the pair relocated to Samoa to establish the Organic Matters Foundation, a not-for-profit enterprise aimed at empowering Pacific Islanders through education and practical, hands-on skills.

“Essentially it’s agriculture from a biological perspective… teaching farmers about sustainability as well as looking at what added chemicals do to the soil,” said Mike.

He describes it as “grass roots education”.

“Soil School is the keystone to the Organic Matters Foundation,” Mike said.

“It teaches resilience and self- sufficiency in a practical way.”

Once the basics are covered, students are instructed on techniques to improve the soil using locally available and low-chemical options.

“It’s a three-step process – educate, innovate and generate.

“Our goal is to make ourselves redundant as local networks take over and come into effect.”

Partly funded by the United Nations development program, the program has already put more than 300 farmers in Fiji, Samoa, and Tonga through the Soil School Training course in soil biology, adapting existing traditional farming knowledge and enhancing it with a scientific approach.

“We have been working with Southern Cross University in Lismore. Part of the program involves soil testing and once the results come back, that’s when the real engagement happens,” he said.

“We look for the shining lights and put together a master class; hoping that these people will become leaders in their village… biological soil experts who will themselves become the centre of local farming groups.”

You could say the Smiths were a match made in heaven.

The couple, now based at Mororo, met and married 25 years ago.

With a shared passion for organic farming and a vision to help others in less-fortunate circumstances, they have been leading the way to a more sustainable future in the South Pacific for the past 10 years.

Mike’s connection to the Pacific goes back generations – his ancestors are from Tonga – and he and Cheryl have travelled extensively throughout the region.

Having recently returned to the Clarence Valley to establish their own organic farm at Mororo, Mike and Cheryl plan to continue to share their knowledge and experience through a partnership with TAFE.

“We’re currently in discussion with TAFE which will hopefully see our farm become a practical farm in organic agriculture, offering students the opportunity to undertake both short workshops and cadetships,” he said.

They will also be offering short courses and workshops on composting, Soil School, compost tea and many more topics in the Clarence Valley.

“Our aim is to see both Pacific Islanders and Australian students study under a cadetship program, learning about sustainable ecolo- gical agriculture in a different region.”

Ecologically-Based Weed Management

By Av Singh

Ecological Agriculture believes that ecology comes first second and third in any decision making process. We are more tolerant than organics towards chemicals and agricultural production providing there is adequate evidence that a farm in moving towards a non-chemical future (or even a greatly reduced chemical future). The following story has relevance therefore given the need to work out how to manage weeds on any ecological or organic farm.

Read on

http://www.oacc.info/NewspaperArticles/tcog_2012/tcog_many_little_hammers.asp

Compost: all you need to know

The creation of large piles of compost is becoming more common in broadacre agriculture in Australia. The following link doesn’t investigate the Australian scene but provides some useful general knowledge on composting. Take a look and see what you think. Read on.

http://www.extension.org/pages/18567/making-and-using-compost-for-organic-farming

Decomposing chemicals via composting. Does it work

Does composting decompose pesticides, antibiotics, and other chemicals? Rodale Chief Scientist Dr Elaine Ingham answers this question.

EAAA board member David Hardwick demonstrates the value of role plays in informing farmers about soil science and soil management.

Imagine a group of farmers standing around a soil pit listening to an expert tell them about the soil OR imagine the same group of farmers playing the role of the components of the soil. Which technique would impart the most knowledge? David Hardwick believes that role plays are a fun and stimulating way of getting the message across.

The future of environmental history

From the Ecological Research Blog of Ian Lunt comes an excellent piece about our ‘Grand’ national narrative and how this has shaped our relationship with the environment. Our approach and land management has been guided by our perception of what came before, but as this Blog reveals, we can look at our environment from a different understanding of patterns.

[Story researched by Adrianna Marchand]

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