GRASSROOTS INPUT TO ENVIRONMENTAL DEBATES
Input to Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper
Submission from Kachana Pastoral Company PL, Kimberley WA
To the Decision-Makers
Agricultural Competitiveness Taskforce
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
PO Box 6500
CANBERRA ACT 2600
Please let me draw attention to some obvious points which we often ignore. Facts and
processes that underpin sustainable agriculture and thus the future of agriculture in general
1. Nature runs on Sunshine.
- 2. Modern Agriculture in its broadest sense has become the inter-phase between human societies and our planet
3. Human societies are dominated by human thinking and human-made regulations that will change.
4. Our eco-system, Planet Earth, is dominated by the laws of Nature. These do not change.
5. It has become the challenge of Agriculture to extract nutrients from one area in order to transport them other areas where people cannot or do not sustain themselves.
6. The bad news is that in Australia, humans have a history of mining nutrients for a very long time. This comes at the expense of landscape-health and productivity.
Arguably initial major landscape-dysfunction on this continent dates back to about when the first humans
arrived in Australia, i.e. the disappearance of our mega-fauna many thousands of years ago – most were herbivores. The recycling of annual growth of vegetation could no longer take place at the scale required and human-lit fire helped maintain some sort of a fragile balance.
8. By the time of European settlement, Australia’s landscape productivity had become largely a function of human inputs.
9.Remove these human inputs from many of our landscapes, add unmanaged fire, poor pastoral practices and extractive modern Agriculture and the net result over time is: As a continent, we lose more energy each year than our landscapes are capturing.10.For the purpose of agriculture, Australia’s “fuel tank” is now dangerously low.
11.The good news: the sun still shines, rain still drops out of the sky (most places) and we have a whole new lot of introduced mega-fauna to choose from.
12.Sound pastoral practices favour healthy vegetation, rainfall capture and retention, carbon-capture and retention and the re-cycling of nutrients into the soil (away from fire).
13.Healthy vegetation supplies energy to soil-organisms below and to herbivores
14.Well managed herds will prove to be the key to:
- Providing environmental services
- Rebuilding landscape health and productivity
- Revitalising much of Australia’s agricultural production-potential
15.In order to rebuild and strengthen the foundations for Australia’s agriculture, political leaders need to take note; public support needs to be visible; appropriate incentives for pastoralism to step up to the challenge need to be created.
Please find below a vision for the sort of Pastoralism we need to support Australia’s Agriculture.
Chris Henggeler, Kachana, February 2014
Pastoralism: Problem or solution?
A vision for Pastoralism in the Kimberley and other regions in Northern Australia?
By Chris Henggeler, Kachana Pastoral Company, August 2013
Pastoralism, when given the chance to reinvent itself, has the immediate potential to create new self-employment opportunities, new businesses and new jobs.
Pastoralism can also create genuine new wealth for the Nation in a sustainable manner.
Why would somebody make such a statement?
Why is what I say not happening as fast as it could/should?
It is safe to say that in the Kimberley we do not run anywhere near the numbers of livestock that the country could support. The reasons are many and varied.
Hey, but should there not be many, many, many more animals (wild as well as domesticated) in the Kimberley to support the health of the country?
There is an accepted industry view: Produce and/or sell animals with a high gross margin.
This means we wish to: Maximise the return on our annual in-puts.
That is fine.
That is what the industry is good at.
Many people in the industry are doing just that.
There is another view.
(It is worth mentioning that the two views do not exclude each other…)
This other view is not new by any means.
It has, however for many years, been a minority-view.
A minority-view is seldom a vote-catcher, and therefore easily overlooked at political levels.
This other view is like that of a natural capitalist.
We view the land and its natural resources as our Natural Capital.
We invest in building an increasingly stronger capital base.
Our aim is to live off the interest that this capital base can sustainably generate.
The focus is on producing “valuable acres” instead of “valuable cows”.
We focus on increasing “Kilos of Beef / Hectare” rather than on increasing
“Kilos / animal” whilst hoping for more “$ / Kilo”.
Today we have a whole industry where the pay-off hinges on “$ / Kilo”.
We saw how a ministerial knee-jerk reaction can bring such an industry down onto its knees.
Some are still feeling the pain.
A “Kilos of Beef / Hectare” focus, however, can help pastoralism reinvent itself.
- When we turn off livestock, we still get “$ / Kilo”
- But on top of that we also produce environmental services for the broader community and for the benefit of those who pick up where we leave off
- we build soil
- we increase biodiversity
- we reduce the impact of flooding
- we mitigate the impact of droughts
- we also capture and store carbon
- we can manage fuel-loads to lessen the impact of wild-fire
- we can create and maintain low-fuel-zones as firebreaks
Generally these environmental services go unrecognised or society takes them for granted.
But it is when such environmental services are no longer performed that we get fiascos like the flooding on Weber-Plains Road Kununurra.
(A 3.1 square km small eroding catchment leading to all sorts of costly attempts at stop-gap-solutions.)
It is when upper-river catchments are regularly denuded and soil is exposed that more water runs off quicker and we end up with the need to rebuild
a township like Warmun (Turkey Creek).
I am told that over $ 200 million has been spent to date???
… and we have not even addressed the root-cause of the problem!
When more water runs off quicker in upper-river catchments we also find Main Roads needing to build ever bigger and stronger bridges.
Was it $ 60 million a few years ago for a new bridge over the Dunham River?
Does there ever come a point in time where communities run out of public funding?
This is what Allan Savory means when he says that deteriorating land inevitably leads to poverty and eventually to violence.
(Do we have any communities in the Kimberley that experience poverty and violence?)
The good news is that by mimicking nature we can use livestock as a tool to make our landscapes increasingly productive.
We use managed herds (tightly bunched animals) to mulch, evenly fertilise and prune vegetation.
This changes raindrops from bomb-shells to mist-irrigators.
Increasingly more rainwater is soaked up on site and has time to percolate down through the soil-profile.
Aquifers are replenished and moisture remains in the soil long after it rains.
The many little things that live in the soil can continue their work long into the dry season without being exposed to radiation from the sun and a daily
range of extreme temperature fluctuations.
As natural soil-building and soil-rejuvenation speeds up, more vegetation is produced and the country can support more people and animals (wild as well as domesticated).
We are not talking about silver bullets or quick-fixes.
Cutting-edge pastoral practices and planning techniques are the key.
In some instances the responses are immediate, in others it may take years to reclaim former levels of productivity.
We learn as we go. Each situation is unique.
We monitor for signs that tell us if we go off track and we correct.
This is about blending local knowledge and experience with new and proven techniques backed by up-to-date science.
We suggest that political leaders take note, and that without public support and appropriate incentives, pastoralism may not be given the opportunity to step up to the challenge in time.
Those who have not yet seen it, I encourage to view Allan Savory’s TED presentation on u-tube.
http://on.ted.com/Savory or Simply google: ted allan savory
To those that intend to retire, get old and to die in Northern Australia (as I do), I suggest you listen to Allan’s message more than once and also to forward it as appropriate. J
Personal observation and research. Research sections of: www.kachana.com
The Savory Institute. World leaders in practical responses to desertification and associated challenges: http://www.savoryinstitute.com
Dr Elaine Ingham’s work on the Soil Foodweb: www.soilfoodweb.com
Flash water cycle demo (850 K) demonstrates the commonest causes of flooding, drought, and desertification.
How do we prepare our landscapes for rain? A visual appreciation of the challenge: http://www.kachana.com//environmental_management/pp_prepare_for_rain.php
Animal Impact: a "Power Tool". A fact-sheet describing the most important tool at our disposal to stabilise the world’s climate and to secure sustainable supplies of water and healthy nutrition: http://www.kachana.com//environmental_management/pp_animal_impact_power_tool.php
The Dunham River in “The year of the Out-Back”. A practical assessment of what is taking place upstream of Kununurra: http://www.kachana.com/environmental_management/gi_dunham_river_2002.php
Input to Kimberley Waterways paper. A grass-roots response to a departmental questionnaire:
International recognition of work conducted by Kachana Pastoral Company: http://www.managingwholes.com/kachana.htm
Case studies of landscape restoration using low-tech high-skill techniques mentioned above. http://www.managingwholes.com/--environmental-restoration.htm
The Savory Institute. World leaders in practical responses to desertification and associated challenges: