Introducing our Future Drought Fund Node Leads

You’ve probably heard the term “Node Lead” floating around a bit through our NACC NRM publications. NACC NRM is part of this initiative of the Commonwealth Governments Future Drought Fund by supporting the GGA as a Regional Node lead. We are assisting through local consultation and feedback about what is important in the Northern Ag Region.

Through this project, we are following 11 farmers’ journeys with drought and understanding what is important to them and how their views change over a period of time. Craig Forsyth is one of the 11 farmers involved in the project and has his own very interesting views on drought and drought resilience. Our RALF, Shannah, has prepared the following case study for this project. Please click here for more information about the Node Lead project.

“The fear of going broke is the mother of innovation” is what Craig Forsyth described as his primary driver for change after watching his topsoil blow away for decades. He decided that his current way of farming wasn’t going to be sustainable long term for the water-repellent sandplain that he farms on, so he changed from predominately broadacre cereal cropping and merino sheep for wool and meat production to solely running cattle. Then, he set a goal for a growth rate of 1 kg of live weight gain/hectare/ mm of rain/ year, which he is continually working towards every year and is beginning to see promising results.

Craig farms with his wife Donelle and son Nathan on their 3600-hectare beef-producing property, “Avoca”, within the Shire of Irwin. Along with breeding his herd of 200 Angus x Black Simmental cattle, Craig also backgrounds up to 2500 head of predominately pastoral cattle throughout any given year. Craig says that proper grazing management is the key to keeping his cattle fat and happy without compromising the integrity of the soil. Craig uses cell grazing combined with low-stress stock handling, perennial grasses and scrubs, and the ability to match the feed demand with the feed supply to achieve a sustainable beef production system.

Over the past 20 years, Craig has trialled and explored different vegetation, grazing methods and various other practices that suit the sandplain that his family farms on. The main issue that Craig faces with sandplain is the inability to retain the topsoil over the windier periods throughout the summer and the soil’s weak water-holding capacity.

He has conducted multiple of his own trials over the years. He now includes a mixture of annuals, including serradella to his system and most years, he plants 10,000 Anemeka Saltbush seedlings to add further diversity. He has also included some small areas of land planted with Rhagodia, as it is beneficial for its anthelmintic properties and a natural way to reduce the impact of worms if animals become infected. On top of this, a large portion of “Avoca” has been sown to perennials, particularly Gatton Panic and Rhodes grass.

On the back of the harsh year that was 2019, the May 2020 windstorm caused devastation to Craig’s farming system. He was shocked by the amount of damage that natural disasters can cause and was devastated after losing the little feed that they had left. Craig already had to supplement feed cattle to keep weight on, but that soon became feeding cattle almost the entirety of their diet due to the little remaining ground cover being blown away along with the topsoil. The only feed left was the highly damaged perennials and scrubs, but the soil around them had almost completely been blown away. Craig knew from this moment on he would never let the ground cover get so scarce again. This meant accepting fewer cattle and moving the cattle more frequently to allow the feed to grow back quicker. Craig also planted more perennials and scrubs in paddocks with greater erosion issues. He found that the clover under the perennial grasses is improving after a change in practice.

In 2021, Tropical Cyclone Seroja caused devastation within the Northern Ag Region. Avoca was fortunate and did not see some of the detrimental effects that other producers and families did, but he still had significant losses throughout his production system. Craig says that although TC Seroja was more devastating to the wider community, it did not cause the losses that the 2020 windstorm did on his farm, solely because the ground cover they had was significantly higher when TC Seroja hit. This was due to better grazing management and greater vegetation density on the ground after a year of high rainfall and climate.

He described a key way to reduce inputs on sandplain is to allow blue lupins to grow on soils that lack nitrogen. Blue lupins are a natural N fixer and a simple way to fix soil nitrogen without the huge expense of buying artificial fertilisers. Craig has found that his cattle will only eat blue lupins when there is a lack of other food within the paddock, but as he continuously rotates his cattle, this does not cause problems that it would in large paddock systems.

Craig believes that although his way of production is more labour-intensive, the growth is significantly higher for all cattle. This also improves the cattle temperament as there is “less setting and forgetting”.

When Craig was asked what he is doing to manage and cope with drought, he stated that the most important thing he could do was “keeping the grass around the house green” this is due to the not so much discussed mental health aspect of drought. Craig was told this at a drought management course over ten years ago, and it has stuck with him ever since.

NACC NRM is engaged through the Grower Group Alliance and supported by the South-West WA Drought Resilience Adoption and Innovation Hub, through funding from the Australian Government’s Future Drought Fund. 

Shannah Kanny – Regional Agriculture Landcare Facilitator

Related Posts

Leave a reply