Covering the Goulburn and Murray valleys

Regenerate to flourish, land pioneer says

Historic farm practices have wrecked the Australian landscape but introduced plants can help in its recovery, controversial farmer Peter Andrews said at Goulburn Murray Landcare’s annual farm forum in Kialla last Wednesday.

ALEXANDRA BATHMAN June 17, 2014 3:20am

Agriculture pioneer Peter Andrews isn’t afraid to show his appreciation for weeds.

Historic farm practices have wrecked the Australian landscape and introduced plants can help in its recovery, controversial farmer Peter Andrews said at Goulburn Murray Landcare’s annual farm forum in Kialla last Wednesday.

‘‘This was the most brilliant landscape,’’ Mr Andrews said.

‘‘We need to take responsibility for how it got in the mess it is in.’’

His alternative approach to land regeneration was criticised for more than 30 years but was ultimately recognised in 2011 when he was awarded the Order of Australia Medal.

Mr Andrews is the founder of natural sequence farming and told people at the Goulburn Murray Landcare farm forum, farmers needed to understand their farming systems were flawed.

His sequence aims to rehydrate farming landscapes and regenerate soils by rebuilding the natural waterways destroyed during European settlement.

‘‘Water is the most destructive force if not managed,’’ Mr Andrews said.

His method of farming also involves planting more trees such as the willow tree (most species are classified as weeds in Australia) and allowing weeds to grow.

To put it simply, Mr Andrews said Australians had ‘‘wrecked the joint’’ and continued to ignore self-evident truths.

‘‘The proof is out there,’’ Mr Andrews said.

‘‘Luckily, we have 1.5m of good soil underneath us so we can have a rapid recovery.’’

At the forum on Wednesday last week, Mr Andrews didn’t use a digital presentation to aid him with his speech.

He said his solution was simple: we needed to observe, understand and reproduce.

By rebuilding waterways, water flow would slow down and spread nutrient-rich sediment across landscapes, as opposed to pushing water downstream and creating deeper waterways.

Mr Andrews said by doing so, the landscape would control itself without the need for farmers to dig into its reserves.

Mr Andrews, who has been on almost every current affair program including ABC’s Australian Story, was keen for the people in the room to challenge his theories.

The room was full of inquisitive looks and some hesitation and only three people raised their hands — typically when Mr Andrews raised the topic of willow trees.

‘‘Do you have a pond with fish at home?’’ Mr Andrews asked one man.

The man replied, ‘‘yes’’.

‘‘Put some eucalyptus bark in it and see what happens to your fish,’’ Mr Andrews said.

Mr Andrew said he wanted to slay ‘‘two sacred cows’’: Australia’s general consensus that salt rose to the surface and that willow trees destroyed ecosystems.

‘‘The government thought I was stupid for a long time. I sometimes still think I’m stupid,’’ he said.

Nonetheless, his theories were recognised in the mid 2000s, 30 years after being first developed on his 809ha property Tarwyn Park in the Upper Hunter Valley near Bylong in NSW.

Why had he persisted after being ignored for so long?

Outside of the forum, he said he had grown up affected by the extreme conditions on his family’s sheep property just outside Broken Hill, NSW.

‘‘There was a dust storm that buried 3000 of our sheep and we only found 600. I remember one sheep had half its head sticking out of the sand with sand seeping into its nostrils,’’ Mr Andrew said.

‘‘This is why I keep going — I don’t want other Australians to see how bad things can get.’’

See another story and pictures from the Landcare forum on page 10.

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