Dianne Haggerty & Stuart McAlpine – Leading innovators in the WA farming landscape #RAWA19

Dianne Haggerty, with her husband Ian, are world renowned for their
approach to regen ag by working with native pastures for their live stock, which complements their biological cropping program of over 13,000 hectares. Di is regularly travelling nationally and internationally to share her knowledge
and experience with the natural intellegence farming approach to regen ag. The Haggertys are on a mission to facilitate positive global change by rebuilding soils in semi arid regions and are essential
to the RegenWA network of regenerative farmers. Stuart McAlpine, likewise, is a Wheatbelt farmer with 35 years experience in agriculture,
who’s committed to the environmental and social restoration of his region. He was co-founder of the Liebe Group and inaugural president. He instigated the regional repopulation plan with the Wheatbelts Dalwallinu
Shire, and chaired the regional repopulation advisory committee. In 1999 he was awarded West Australian No Till Farmer of the year,
and in 2015 he recieved a Soil Health Champion Award. Stuart believes the successful food production will ultimately
only be sustainable with an integrated approach. An approach that allows for continued improvement in the health of the
ecosystem, and can be demonstrated in operating farming systems. Yes, regen ag is already happening in a big way in WA, To hear about it from two of the leading innovators in West Australian
farming landscape, please welcome Di Haggerty and Stuart McAlpine. Great, thanks very much I’m going to start off the proceedings. So I must say, it’s an honor to be here and to share the stage with
Dianne, and all the other wonderful speakers that we’ve had and I’d like to acknowledge the indigenous custodians of the land as well and particularly, the honour that we have and sort of privilege
of being care takers out there in the Wheatbelt as well. So I think we’ve heard a lot about regeneration today and it’s very, very important that we start respecting food production, we’ve
already heard that we’ve probably been getting it wrong for 10,000 years so it’s time to really start building that natural capital resource and hopefully we can
inspire you and share our stories with you on how it is really possible to do that. It’s very important I think, we’ve heard a lot about health and wellbeing as well. So again just reiterating it because I think it’s important for me to share
some of the drivers that have forced me down the this pathway as well, and we all know about these things that have been mentioned today that
you see up that you know, we just keep walking away from land as we farmed it, and we’ve been doing that for 10,000 years as we’ve said. So yeah we look back and how’s that happen? It’s because basically we’ve
had an economic system that’s maximised that return on investment and it has just lead to ecosystem degradation, it’s as simple as that.
In exchange for financial input. So it does have to be a financial change, it’ll do that and
hopefully by the end of this conversation you’ll see that that can be done. You know and we know about all these things, you know
all these things, we’ve seen information from Richard [George] today, You know we’ve been farming but we keep dealing with these issues
and we keep applying bandaids to them to make them work. You know Richard mention all these things today so I’m going to stick through them, but they’re big numbers you know, and we’ve been farming
for 120, 130 years in Western Australia and all these issues continue to proliferate and are costing us a great deal of money. So if we look at that, we’re doing something wrong. We have to change that. Acidity, salinity, all those big numbers that were there that Richard mentioned earlier on today, that total up are just extreme so if they’re not drivers to start looking at the way we’re
doing in a diffrerent way, then I’m not sure what is. So this is a great, great picture, you know we are one of the
world’s recognised 30 biodiversity hotspots in West Australia which is really important. And if you can look up at that picture up there, that picture up there is the water ways on my farm, we have heard a bit about that today. You know that’s what our pristine environment looked like,
and that is a picture taken a few years ago. You know, my dream has always been to try and restore my property
to where that is, and you know I’ve still got a long way to go, but hopefully if I dont see it happen, then it will happen but I’m pleased to say that I am starting to see areas of the landscape rehydrating and this year in an area that we planted trees in about 35 years ago
there’s fresh water now coming to the surface again. so it’s just really exciting, so hopefully that rapid
problem that we see that exponential curve, hopefully us regenerative farmers will see that restoration
happen quite quickly once we get it going. And that’s the good news isn’t it, you can look at horrible
figures like that, and say wow, what a terrible job we’ve done, but hopefully if you get nothing out of today, is that there is a
pathway forward where we can regenerate our landscapes, and produce food more meaningfully, and turn the world
around and all these problems that we’re talking about. And there are alternatives and I’m a great advocate
of Commonland, I know that are sponsoring today and their economic model, becuase it has to be economic, and it has to be part of the solution. And there are lots of examples, you know Charles talked about a few today and his
book is just a wealth of information of so many great people that are doing great things, and another great book is one by David Montgomery, Growing A Revolution, I urge you if you haven’t read either of those books, to read it, because there’s lots of different ways of doing this regenerative agriculutre, and one of the greatest explanations I believe is if you
look at it that what we have been doing is a death economy, an economy that’s basically, we’re killing the earth you know, we’re killing ourselves. And we need to create this life economy, or this regenerative economy and it’s a great description that John Perkins gives in
the Economic Hitman, which is also a great read. around the financial system and stuff like that. And then you know it’s really important to recognise that you know,
we can, all these things meet some of the sustainble development goals, you know, with landscape restoration which is really really exciting. and that’s a great marketing tool for us in the regenerative space
to market our food prodution which we’ll talk a bit about later. So, you know, it is about rebuilding natural capital focusing on soil health, you know and it’s appropriate you know, we’ve had this reductionist thinking,
where we’ve done, we’ve just wasted so much money on short term trials you know So you know the Minister said earlier we need to look at things in a
longer period and the interaction of things which are really complicated. and create this supportive network for change, not just for us as growers, but for the research community, because that can be
a bit lonely if you start thinking a bit differently as well. and the consumer, so it’s about education and doing
the appropriate amount of research to do it all. And here is the solution and here is the problem you know,
we’ve concentrated just on the physical and chemical properties of the soil ignoring biology or the focus on the good side of biology, which can’t happen, it is the interface that makes that makes true soil health happen,
that’s that sweet spot in the middle where we start building natural capital. And it’s a very very complex environment and they interact and if you think about trying to do trials to encompass all
those factors that actually build you to that pillar of success, no wonder we struggle to do the trial work you know.
But that’s what’s actually holding us back as a society as well. And it is a bit like climbing a mountain you know, as you start moving on that
functionality in the soil and increasing soil health through improving soil matter, all those things that we need to happen start happening, but you’ve got to climb the mountain first, before you start coasting
down the other side, and I think that it does take time, and Lynne Abbott’s here, wonderful proponent of soil biology, and it takes time as you can see, in that great list of things there, you know
these things don’t happen over night, they take time, so we need to give them time and that’s actually assuming a linear response, but I think once you start stacking up all those things that are important you start getting, leveraging and that incremental transformation starts getting faster and faster. So just bringing it back to the farm, just to some trial work, which you know we just struggled to get funding, and just an example of why it will happen, it can be a very profitable system, regenerative farming, because you start
utilising those natural functions in your soil, everything starts becoming more efficient, and you know just looking at the most profitable trial here which I mean this was run after I had been running a biological system for 8 or 9 years, so it’s quite activated but the highest yielding and the most profitable have not a great deal of difference in yield potential, but actually if you break that down and look at it, and this is the driver
I think that’s going to bring more people into regenerative agriculture is that an investment of ¤13 instead of ¤73 dollars is a
huge investment in an area where we have a lot of climate risk, and we’ve always had that there anyway, so that’s ¤60 a hectare more that I’ve invested in actually making less return. So you know that’s a lot of capital risk in a risky environment for agriculture so it is really about trying to make your system more efficient and the more you improve soil health in situation rather than
bringing in expensive chemicials to replace that decline in soil health, it just makes so much sense. Now another great example of a four year trial
where there was no significant difference in yield, was virtually none at all over that 4 year period,
from the farmer’s normal 100% fertiliser rate, 75, 50, so there was no difference in yield for four
years with different crops; lupins, wheat, barley. but when you actually start looking at the natural capital accounting and you look at the underutilisation of that amonium
based fertiliser and what it has done to the soil pH, it’s huge. The cost of remediating that pH from the higher rate of fertiliser
to bring it back up to where the biological systems buffered it, and hasn’t allowed that acidification to happen, is just fantastic stuff. so that’s the sort of stuff that you start seeing, like you
start bringing all those components of soil health together, and it does start self-fixing itself. So I’m going to hand over to Dianne now to tell her part of the story. Thanks very much Stuart, and I’d like to say that if there’s
anything that I say today that’s a bit eyebrow raising, we’ve got Walter Jehne at the end of the day who’s
going to be part of the question and answer session and he’s far more qualified than I am to answer any particular questions. Just following on from what Richard was saying this morning, and looking at that list of things that are probably some of the major
production constraints that are happening within the West Australian wheatbelt, I find it really exciting but also just like to raise the question that
the answer to all those issues is as simple as what’s under our feet. The report on that was recently released about the
level of salinity throughout Western Australia the auditor general said that about 80% of it probably
needs to be revegetated to try and combat salinity so where does that leave us from a food security perspective? I’d like to perhaps propose after listening to Terry, earlier on today saying that we can probably get away with 20-30%
of the landscape being revegetated for other reasons, and that it’s those parts that we can incorporate perhaps indigenous
bush foods and all that kind of thing back into the landscape, making better use of what we’ve got out there, rather than
perhaps the same old mind set that we’ve been operating on, and we can really look at then diversifying a lot of the
food and fibre production capacities within our state. But for the answers I guess to some of those degradation
problems that we’re constantly seeming to be dealing with, as farmers in West Australia, there’s an awful lot of money being spent on lime
and deep ripping and process like that to try restore the productivity of the land. For us though, I think the key clarification came from
Dr Christine Jones who described to us some years ago, the liquid carbon pathway and how possible that
is to make signficant change within your soil. and it’s not a very expensive manner, those microbes there once
you can start to facilitate their environment so that they can thrive. and reach a point of quorum sensing, where there’s enough of the different microbes there that they can actually perform functions that we probably haven’t really understood very well at all. some of the things that we’ve been able to see on our own farm have been
quite mind boggling and certainly against what we would of thought possible and I think just thinking of what some of the people have been talking about earlier on today with points of change and there’s been the talk about
I think from Ingrid [Cumming] and Terry [McCosker] and Charlie [Massy] this morning about mind, heart, and spirit and perhaps taking out the mind part of it might be the best part of the solution because I think when you think from a spiritual and a heart perspective
sometimes your decision making might be a bit more on the money particularly when you’re working in a biological system,
which we are only part of, a small part of a very dynamic system and I think yeah we can probably work in a lot better way with that. but back to the liquid carbon pathway and the whole rhizosheath,
if you look at that little grain of wheat there, it’s put out 3 major roots and doing a lot of work investing a lot of
energy into supporting the microbial population around that root system. even before the plant has actually got a shoot out to start photosynthesising, so that seed has decided the most important thing for me,
is to get the microbial community functioning and the upper photograph clearly showing a very high root to shoot ratio whereas typically we used to think that what you saw
above the ground was what was happening below the ground but once you start getting into a more naturally intelligent or biological
farming system you can see that that root structure is far higher prioritised I guess because the plant realises that it needs to be able to make
itself more robust to deal with whatever climatic situations are going to unfold whether it be prolonged dry seasons,
which we seem to be having a fair few of these days, but also an opportunity to seek nutrition and protect itself against any soilborne predators and build the immune system function of that plant by having a higher root to shoot ratio. So under the microscope, we are very lucky to have a gentlemen by the name of Phil Lee who has a marvellous microscope to take some really good clear photographs of what is happening in that rhizosheath and showing
the microbial populations and what they can actually do. So once you get a rhizosheath so when it comes down to affecting soil pH that rhizosheath is a neutral pH so if you think of that surface across that whole root system, when you’re developing larger roots systems, you’ve got a
large surface area of soil that’s being impacted at a neutral pH so you’re not, no longer driving acidification processes with the plants that
you’re growing. They’re actually driving the soil pH back to a more neutral level. So, and the fact that you’re not necessarily needing to use synthetic fertilisers within this system, means you’re not driving the acidification process either, so it really
is helping to achieve some of those figures that Stuart was presenting You can also see in that picture, some of the air spaces that Charlie was talking about earlier so enabling the capacity of that soil to allow water to infiltrate and be retained. That plant sample there is actually off a Wadjul piece of country. It was a dry soil sample so that fact that it all held together when it was dug up just is an indicator of how much of the natural glues
from the microbes there were holding that soil sample together Also enables an opportunity for decreasing weed competitiveness, so we’ve got a wheat plant there, alongside a radish plant,
which we both dug up on the same shovel full of soil. Once again in a Wadjul soil type, you can see the plants hit a compaction layer but being able to push through that and got a far greater root system that was the radish plant is so you can see which one’s actually going to compete for nutrition and water. Yeah, certainly root systems that you wouldn’t commonly attribute to modern breeds of wheat. Another example, rhizosheath can also help overcome subsoil constraints such as compaction so that microbial system there enable that root to push
down deeper into the soil without the need of deep ripping that soil there is highly compacted and we dug it out as part of a soil pit. and the roots actually penetrated down to about 700mm even though you can see clearly that it’s highly compacted
and also had a very acid subsoil pH, less than 4. and so it also provides those opportunities then for carbon sequestration at depth,
which is what Christine Jones talks about with the liquid carbon pathway. We had some deep soil testing done on our farm and we
were able to then demonstrate that carbon sequestration at depth and the further down the testing went, the higher the
change was between ours and the neighbours farm, on the same soil type, with the amount of carbon that had actually got into the soil, so that whole root system being able to penetrate down deeper
and formed that long lived carbon was what was occurring. but alongside with that is also the capacity to bring nitrogen
into the system, so being able to build no cost fertility, we’ve actually put all our crop in this year without any nitrogen fertiliser at all, and it’s interesting when they’re looking at what’s happening in Western Australia,
The Minister was talking this morning about low protein levels, and that’s really quite contradictory to the fact that Western Australia’s
also had some record usages of nitrogen fertiliser in the last couple of years, so what’s going wrong, why are we not able to transform that nitrogen into protein into the plants. and so our plan has always been on trying to raise the
bottom line as opposed to aiming for the best of the peaks, we’re wanting to make sure that the lower opportunities of
production are raised all the time to improve our profitability long term. and one of those things has been fertiliser use and by adopting the system of building that microbial community in the cropping plants, we’ve been able to harness the use of the free living and associative nitrogen fixing bacteria and archaea so yeah its been a really exciting space to see crops growing
under those circumstances and not requiring the nitrogen but also building it up within the soil at the same time. This is probably one of the key parts is just seeing the change in that soil ecology then with the unfolding summer native grasses coming back into the farming system so really setting up opportunities now for us to be doing
pasture cropping which I didnt think would be possible. After first seeing Col Seis many years ago I thought well perhaps that might not happen in Western Australia but certainly
those summer grasses have been returning and returning in numbers, so it certainly showed us an opportunity to have a green landscape year around, and if there’s some summer rain we can capitalise on that,
and continue that carbon sequestration process over the summer and those plants actually can grow into the salt land so I think that’s part of where we can look at not only having a microbial protection
system on the wheat plants or barley plants that might be sown into saline effected soils, but then in the summer the paspalidiums and windmill
grass and so forth are coming back into the salty areas you can have that longevity of green cover and start to restore those small water cycles A key part of our farming system is using the livestock to
transport the microbes around the farming system and the nutrient cycling and that taking it from those areas of high nutrition that
might be in a salt pan and then back out to the farming land. Seeing the restoration of different plants coming back naturally
as Charles talks about that self-generating system, and seeing the wildflowers actually coming out into the cropping paddocks away from the bush and yeah just returning to a more natural system. so ideally we’d like to see landscapes where the animals are able to graze pastures and deposit their manure but then having your cropping lands,
the native perennial lands and then the reveg lands also Which might have fodder shrubs or indigenous bushfood plantations throughout as well so we’ve got a lot more diversity there. but the main plan with that too is also to help with fire prevention because that’s one of the most damaging things that unfortunately
a landscape can have which is fairly possible in Western Australia and certainly throughout the country, if we can try and manage that a lot better.

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