Charlie Arnott, restoring landscape function through grassland management

Another farmer I met this week was Charlie Arnott.  Charlie was recommended to me by someone else that I was seeing as someone who would be good to meet and he certainly was!

Charlie is farming 5,000 hectares in Boorowa, New South Wales. He again has changed the way that he manages his farm, now coming away from traditional cropping enterprises, and a mixed farm to focussing on grass fed beef.

The businesses BAHG (big ass hairy goal) strategy (yes he has one!) for the business long term is to work with nature to restore landscape function and to have a business that is genuinely sustainable in terms of the natural environment, provides a stable source of income and is a resource for the local community in terms of creating a vibrant place to live.  Everything that he does on land is working towards this goal. His interventions on the land are all concerned with restoring landscape function, and he uses biodiversity is a measure of landscape function as there is a direct correlation between the function of the landscape and how much biodiversity it can support.

“We manage the water cycle, the nutrient cycle, the crops, soils and animals to help restore that function” he explains, “ultimately we work with nature not against it, why wouldn’t you?”

charlie_cattleWhen he came home to the farm 20 years ago it was a conventional mixed farm. They were growing lucerne, lupins, triticale, wheat barley, canola, as well as a core shorthorn breeding herd and some merino wethers. It was a busy business and he loved it.

What was his tipping point?  Charlie explains, “I saw an ad in the paper in 2003 /4 (which was a very dry summer) about a one day course on how to profit from a drought; which piqued my interest. The course was a 1 day carrot dangler for the Grazing for Profit course – which was the biggest game changer for me in terms of a paradigm shift in what I was doing.”

Charlie did the one day course which introduced the concepts that he then went on to explore in more detail in the full Grazing for Profit training. He credits this course with changing everything. “It’s like a light went on,” he explains, “the course gave me an awareness of the wider landscape, my business, financial planning and business management.”

Charlie explains the broad concept using the analogy of a pot that is held up by three legs. Inside that pot is the farm business and the farm family (the people). The first leg is your production system, the second is economics and the third is the environment. You need all three legs to be working holding up the pot for a functioning business.

We have to sort these things out, we need to eat, but we need a functioning landscape in order to produce food. We are looking down the barrel of a gun.”

The course took the principles of what was being run elsewhere (including the Savory Institute) and targeted the concept for Australian farmers and timed it at a moment when people were looking for answers.  He was convinced at the end of the day that he needed to do something different.

Traditionally the landscape wasn’t something that you bothered about and managed, you worked it.

Charlie completely changed the way that he farms, after being on the course. He now uses nature’s resources to grow pastures that regenerate with native perennial species, and uses this to feed his stock.

We always hcarnott_fertiltyad the tools in the toolbox to manipulate nature, but to change the outcome, we used the same tools differently.  The key is how you use the tools at your disposal. Using the old system, the tools that we were reliant on were fertiliser and ploughing, those have been taken out and different ones put in.”

Charlie now grows fertility in his ‘fertility centre’ where he makes compost using resources from the farm.

 

fertility_2Adopting the practices on-farm.

Having been inspired by the course, Charlie recognises the need to step away from the business and really scrutinise it from the outside. He explains “there is a need to step back and be strategic. Breaking a paradigm won’t happen without taking time to look at why things are done the way they are. You have to ask yourself the hard questions and work out why you are doing tasks and whether they are taking you in the direction that you want to go. You also have to be honest about what the end goal is.”

The course also offered support and mentoring for 3 years afterwards which was a key part.  This included peer to peer support.  Enthused by the course, once he had finished, Charlie rushed out and invested heavily in fencing and infrastructure, something which he now sees as a waste of money. “I was so keen to get going I rushed out and spent money I didn’t need to instead of thinking strategically about my next move.”  The course offers a graduate package where you are able to come along and present your business plan to a group of farmers and trainers and discuss your next steps which don’t always have to focus on the different enterprises. Charlie explains, “I went into talk about sheep and they started talking to me about why I hadn’t proposed to my girlfriend yet! Farming is more than just cattle and sheep.”

This post course support and mentoring, is seen as a crucial part of ensuring that what you learn is taken up on-farm.

“If there isn’t any support post course – you are setting yourself up to fail. Need a certain level of hand holding to get this stuff going,  and the best way to do it is farmer to farmer.”

You can find out more about the course, through this link.

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Thanks to Charlie and family for showing me round!

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