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Bathurst farmer plans ahead for an El Nino summer

With the latest reports indicating a strengthening El Nino weather system Bathurst farmer, Michael Inwood, has been watching the forecasts and climate analysis closely.
The Bureau of Meteorology reports El NiƱo conditions remain present in the tropical Pacific, and climate models are predicting warmer, drier conditions in spring and summer.

"Looking at the forecasts I'll need to make decisions about whether to sell off stock in coming months," said Michael.

The Inwood family runs superfine merinos in conjunction with opportunity cropping planted directly into pasture, at Glanmire north east of Bathurst.

In a worst case scenario Michael will reduce stock numbers and hand feed in a sacrifice paddock to maintain the core flock. 

"Once you get below 70% ground cover (30% bare ground), there's a dramatic increase in rainfall run off which then causes erosion and other problems that can take years to repair, or in some cases will never be fully rehabilitated," said Michael. 

"In the 2013-2014 summer we pulled stock back to sacrifice paddocks. We could have kept grazing but I didn't want to compromise the pastures."

"Then when it did rain, the feed bounced back very quickly. The rainfall soaked into the pasture captured by the standing dry matter instead of running off bare ground."

Michael Inwood has divided the 800 hectare family property, Toulon, into more than 50 paddocks, to manage rotational grazing as part of a 'regenerative' agricultural system.

"I aim to get 2 days grazing in each paddock before stock are moved on, but if it starts to dry off and I don't have that amount of feed, then I have to think about lightening numbers."

"Regenerative agriculture involves management processes that reclaim and build natural biological function in the soil and environment." 

"By lightly grazing and maintaining a dense plant mass, our pastures tend to cope better with dry periods," said Michael.

"When we used to use set stocking rates, the pastures were always shorter, the root systems were less developed and the plants could only access limited amounts of nutrients and moisture. That's why short pastures can't cope with dry conditions and they deteriorate so quickly." 

"Set stocking rates also encourage a monoculture of grass species, but with rotational grazing, you get more diversity, with a greater range of grasses and plants growing across all seasons." 
 
"Every plant species fosters a different type of bacteria and fungi species, which helps to mobilise different soil nutrients. Having that diversity of species reduces the need to add artificial fertilisers," said Michael. 

"Fostering diversity and dense pasture growth encourages organic activity and also creates a micro climate that protects the soil and the body of feed from frosts. Warm soils in this climate have better soil structure and greater productivity." 

The Inwoods first moved to a rotational grazing system after Michael attended a Sustainable Grazing Systems Field day in the early 1990s. 

"We were tired of spending all our time and effort spraying weeds, and spending money on fertiliser to put nutrients back into the soil," said Michael. 

"Back in the 1982 drought we were over grazed, we had no pastures left, and the soil in some paddocks turned into talcum powder. We didn't want to be in that situation again." 

"We changed to rotational grazing, and that meant we needed far less fertiliser and inputs, and yet we were able to increase stocking rates." 

Severe drought in 2000 caused the Inwoods to make further changes to their long term management strategy, making the shift to regenerative agriculture. 

"We no longer try to push for maximum productivity but aim to maximise profitability. We look for ways to reduce expenses and inputs, and allow nature to manage and repair the soil and pastures for free," said Michael. 

Michael Inwood says his 'engaging nature' approach to farming doesn't necessarily make more money but it's much less stressful.

"Possibly in a really good season we could make more profit by pushing the system, but by not stressing the country, in the bad years we don't struggle with the same problems and financial pressures, and these days those difficult years are becoming more and more frequent."

More information about Michael Inwood's farming techniques is available online at: www.engagingnature.com

The Central Tablelands LLS team is working with farmers like Michael Inwood to promote sustainable farming practices that have both economic and environmental benefits. Local Land Services can provide advice and assistance to landholders looking for ways to boost productivity and profitability in partnership with a healthy, sustainable natural environment.

Contact your nearest Central Tablelands LLS office in Bathurst, Cowra, Lithgow, Molong, Mudgee or Orange to find out more. 
Media enquiries - Kylie Krause 0439608370