“Nambrok” Regenerative Agriculture Field Day – 15th October 2011admin | January 27, 2012
The Field Day was facilitated largely by Global Land Repair, represented by Matt Kilby – an active self-educated, ‘learner through observation’, who grew up on an organic dairy farm and who undertook military service before committing to his admitted passion – returning trees and biodiversity to both the landscape and farm scape, successfully; and Nicholas Huggins, a Permaculture consultant and designer.
The presentation provided by Matt Kilby centred on the real cost of losing and regaining biodiversity, planting trees, what trees require for healthy and successful establishment, and the physical process of bringing life and viability back to the land.
Nicholas Huggins’ presentation focused in greater detail on the integral elements within the project, identifying the Permaculture, water harvesting, Keyline farming design principles and functions that are being enlisted or developed.
Other speakers included Gerhard Grasser, Managing Director of AgriSolutions, who spoke about the link between soil biology and sustainable regenerative agricultural, quantifying and utilising total nutrient reserves, and a discussion around carbon, phosphorus and nitrogen; and Ben Falloon, co-manager of Fusion Farms, an education enterprise located on Taranaki Farm and home of the Australian Polyface Project. Ben spoke enthusiastically about the management and role of animals in facilitating regeneration and prosperity (moving beyond design into economics).
The project, farm walk and focus of the Field Day consisted of a 100 acre previously utilised bull paddock suffering from 30 years of drought and hard times, now undergoing regeneration under the guidance of Global Land Repair. The land in form was undulating, running from a mild ridge down onto lower country , significantly of sandy – gravel nature, and representing a little over 3% of the total property land holding.
The project was discussed in principle as a ‘demonstration’ that components and methodology from could be utilised by land managers, and as an undertaking that could be moderated to individuals financial and physical restraints, over an extended period of time. Not necessarily as a realistic undertaking in entirety (cost weighted – result effective).
Most of the degradation of earth, land, water and air can be repaired by trees, our mission is to instigate and inspire the planting of as many trees as possible on planet earth as quickly as possible with the maximum survival, growth rates and simplicity of care.
Global Land Repair products have many uses including forestry, orchards, small crops, civil and domestic applications as well as
landscaping and regeneration projects.”
In a matter of minutes of ’viewing’ the potential project site, and with the convenience of a contour map provided by the land owners, Matt Kilby generated his concept of the project. This was them developed and expanded in design by Nick Huggins. The details toward which were then reviewed and rediscussed with the landowners over an initial period until a common agreement was gained.
The project balances significantly on the process of installing ‘swales’ into the landscape that then provide a vehicle for regeneration – facilitating tree planting and establishment, acting as a carbon, moisture and nutrient trap and wick. The trees themselves engaged to act as ‘living edges’, habitat, fertility & shade providers, wind elevators, food and potential income opportunities, stabilisers, lungs, and in part, to serve as pioneers
The Project in Greater Detail:
The project is being initiated and managed in successive stages. The first physical step being the deep ripping of the entire area with a Yeoman’s plough utilising the Keyline principle. A process repeated and again under review. The first pass gaining a depth of approx. 300mm, significantly reduced at the locations where old cattle tracks were intercepted. The second ripping generating a depth of approx. 400mm. The point made being that the initial ripping to help activate biology was in place six months prior to the arrival of the first trees – not at that time.
The ’swales’, as defined within the project, are earth constructions created with three grader passes, forming a loose earth embankment on the lower side of a depression with a metre or more wide level based that functions on a continuing level contour within the landscape, displaying no gradient or Keyline characteristic.
The swales have been strategically positioned to tie into potential dam sites, existing reservoirs and other natural features within the environment, and at regular intervals of approximately one hundred metres – as the form of the land suggests. In this case, additional water storages other than the existing dam at the bottom of the landscape have not to date been introduced. The potential for which continuing to be diminished under new water storage policy. Header tanks instead being left as a consideration as the project is further developed.
In construction, the swales were accurately surveyed, pegged out and graded to create an ‘as close to level’ flowing form as practical, with some natural settling and variation expected. The embankment was then reworked to create openness and consistency of structure, before being seeded with active grass species and heavily mulched with rolls of conserved hay or fodder, ensuring that it established as a living entity As a feature, the swale and plantings to either side have been designed and dedicated to never be exposed to or impacted by livestock, other than possibly in a closely managed way. Allowing pigs access to acorns being one principle discussed, however even then with reservation as to how that might impact the ability of the feature to function in the landscape once exposed to that compaction and disturbance.
A critical component within each swale, at designated locations, were 250mm height level spillways, the combined width and number of which was calculated mathematically from catchment area and potential rainfall. The spillways are designed to initially protect the swale from breaching uncontrollably and being damaged under heavy rain fall, however also enable excess water to be distributed to drier or more desirable points in the landscape.
As the one dam within the project site was located very low in the paddock, not high up as would be ideal, the existing lower areas of the dam wall were built up, and a swale was introduced to intercept at the new overflow level on the top side, allowing the swale to both backfill as the dam overflows, while additionally transferring the overflow water to a drier zone well away from the dam and associated gully.
In continuity with that process, the barren dam bank has been similarly seeded and mulched, as well as being planted with clumping bamboo so as to very quickly establish a tall screen to reduce wind initiated evaporation
The Bamboo was also discussed in terms of a stabiliser in locations like spillways, and additionally as a fodder source, acknowledging though the potential to trigger abortions in livestock.
A specific point within the project is the care that goes toward planting each individual plant. Each approached ‘as if a pet or child’, generating additional initial inputs, expense and labour.
Something potentially offset through minimal losses, limited ongoing care, and high growth rates. The site demonstrating trees of a uniform 1.5 metre growth within six months of being planted out, and losses placed at around 4 or 5%, (allowing it was a kind season).
Considered integral to the planting and establishment process are a number of treatments or inputs that have been developed or refined by Global Land Repair – integrated as the plants are planted out into holes prepared by a similarly self-developed
auger that is designed to crumble the dirt in the hole with little displacement, and without generating glazed sides in clay soils.
The general planting process involves adding a naturally based rock dust tree starter that is worked well into the hole dirt, adding a moisture retaining gel, and then dusting the plant roots with a Mycorrhizal blend.
Trees are generally planted in a distinct depression even if a larger raised mound is also employed when planting into a wet area – performed so that general rainfall and initial watering are fully retained.
If planting on steep terrain a ’Bull horn’ gutter is created to channel additional rainfall to the plant, where required. A recycled paper eco mat is then placed around the tree, the funnel shape depression allowing the join in the mat to overlap . A single timber stake is utilised to hold a triangular corrugated plastic ‘Pink tree guard’ in place. Several other tree tonics and boosters have also been developed for use during the growing process, each product largely natural and linked to and guided by leading international research. The light refracted by the pink guards tested to provide the highest plant growth rates.
In preparation, each plant location is sprayed with herbicide combined with a neutralising agent to help combat the bacterial rich grass domain, supporting the transition to a primarily fungal environment under trees.
Only one days’ planting in hole numbers are generated, preventing the soil from drying and clodding excessively, and each tree is watered in actively with seaweed and fish emulsion infused water to support hardiness and frost resistance.
A generous amount of compost mulch is then heaped around the sides of each individual tree guard .
A component of the initial planting is made up of pioneering or nutrient retaining species, utilised across the first eight years or more to jump start and underpin the greater planting and establishment process.
Although traditional fence line or perimeter plantings represent part of the project plantings, the point was made that as project scale increases, their requirement is negated, allowing the wind and shade attributes of the contoured plantings instead to achieve their full potential. An additional benefit of the swale design being that if, or as adjoining areas are developed, the swales are simply continued, maintaining and enhancing their function.
The species planted along the swales is left largely undefined, utilising primarily endemic natives, nitrogen fixing, and insect and habitat species on the outer edge, with the balance potentially a mix of exotic deciduous species as well as eucalypts and other native plants. A proportion of which is desired to perform in a harvestable or resource – permaculture context, introduced species generally already endemic. The deciduous leaf fall in itself intended to add to any manures and nutrients that are captured by the swales, generating a humic bloom that then filters back into the soil, providing continuing, controlled, self-developing fertility and biological function.
Although the contour plantings are currently unfenced, electric fencing is designated to bring the now parallel aligned pasture back into increasing utilisation. Ben Falloon discussed how after an initial revival, the system will potentially regress without the inclusion of livestock. The pivotal point being how the livestock are incorporated and managed, with a strong emphasis on creating short term ‘herd effect’. ’One cow grazing over 100 days creating greater compaction and species pressure, than 100 cows present for one day’. ‘Without any of the regeneration or nutrient distribution benefits’.
As well as being designed as the cornerstone to allow carbon to again return to the environment, capture water and nutrients, rehydrate and re-mineralising the landscape, the swales and plantings are also intended to trigger both biology and biodiversity, bringing with it again additional nutrients, recycling and ecological balance, as a whole, acting as a significant buffer, limiting ’Boom & Bust Cycles’, generating ongoing long term use of the land in a sustainable, multi-generational progression.
Rather than in a limited, degrading, unsustainable drive.
In addition to potentially integrating crops and variability, both within and between swales, the swales were also identified as a
way of achieving other strategic outcomes – like providing a vessel to move water around the property to desirable locations. Or more simply, as a passage way to align infrastructure, like running piping for troughs.
Costs and Maintenance:
Although detailed costing’s were not provided, it was suggested that $3500 or $1.65 per lineal metre was spent toward the grader over two days, that thirty plus hours had gone toward each ripping process, and that in entirety, each tree planting involved expenses of $15 or greater.
The Pink guards were said to be able to be reused up to four times before being recycled, the timber stakes also capable of use more than once.
Fencing off each swale and associated planting was integral to the systems success, instigating that cost plus ongoing maintenance costs in some part, it could be assumed. Electric fencing predominantly to be used.
Weeding and additional waterings were not highlighted as an ongoing item beyond the point of planting, the system design
generally left to provide the ongoing shelter, nutrient, water and biological requirements of the plants, with additional plants potentially being added as the primary vegetation becomes established and succession takes place.
As a key feature, it was suggested that the level spillways were an element that did require ongoing observation and maintenance as a safe guard across time.
Outcomes & Observations:
It was quoted that of the items – speed, quality, and price, only two were attainable at any one time. The hovering potential, already noticeable change in environment, and establishment success of the project, appearing to respect a significant aspect of the time and resources that have to date been committed. No less if undertaken as described, ‘where broader outcomes are achieved over future generations and not within just one lifetime’.
In principle the swales appeared to be already functioning strongly, planting holes on the lower side displaying consistent levels of moisture, moisture appearing evenly captured across the landscape with easily observable changes in ecological and biological make up.
Equally the care in planting each plant, and the use of a Mycorrhizal blend in combination with the environmental effect of the swale, requiring little if any follow up work after the initial planting process, does easily contest future thought.
As do many of the other included elements within the project.
Whether individually, combined, or in principle for other designated goals or projects.
Gerhard Grasser spoke both about developing access to total nutrient reserves, not just currently available ones, and also the use
of tools like the microscope and penetrometer to guide and monitor your actions and results. With best practice highlighting the
benefits of controlled grazing and holistic animal management, the project did display good potential to align to and provide both
change and opportunity, unlocking both reserves and regeneration, while yes also requiring, support, inputs, monitoring and
management commitment, from day one, to privilege any or all of that potential.
© Stephen Cross – Personal Nambrok Field Day Notes
All photos: Stephen Cross