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Profitable And Resilient Farming Through Grassland Restoration

Pasture cropping combines livestock grazing and crop-growing. The two systems are then managed in a way that ensures they complement each other.

This large-scale example of regenerative agriculture, was developed by two farmers, Colin Seis and Darryl Cluff, on a 2000-acre farm called Winona in New South Wales, and now, over two thousand farmers have adopted pasture cropping in Australia and other parts of the world.

The pasture cropping cycle

  1. Annual winter season cereal crops are direct-drilled into perennial pasture grasses just as they are entering their natural dormancy period.

  2. The grains grow out of the inactive grass, and are either harvested or used as direct forage by livestock, in this case mainly merino sheep.

  3. During the winter, the growth cycles are reversed. The grasses flourish in the soil which has been enriched by the livestock, creating a rich pastureland.

This process sees the production of grain and fodder integrated with a holistic grazing system. Livestock are rotated regularly, allowing paddocks to rest for long periods, which avoids the impacts of overgrazing.

Growth rate of perennial

Growth rate of perennial grasses v cereals (dotted line) during one year

Why is it regenerative?

  • Pasture cropping, like all cover cropping systems:
  • Ensures that fields are never bare
  • Protects soils from erosion
  • Reduces water loss
  • Provides a habitat for above ground biodiversity
  • Provides food in the form of carbon to sub-soil microbes

The use of ploughing and herbicides can also be eliminated, avoiding negative impacts to soil health and biodiversity.

This is possible because the winter-dormant perennial grasses do not compete with grain crops. Soil fertility and structure is enhanced by a combination of decomposing plant matter (mulching) as well as through the integration of livestock, who trample their dung and urine into the surface layer.

This avoids harmful break up of the soil structure, and managed grazing can also be used to control weeds. For years, Winona Farm required up to five applications of herbicide per year, which has now completely stopped since the farm adopted pasture cropping.

“As we farm closer to how nature had it originally designed, the easier the workload becomes and the more profitable it can be.”

- Colin Seis

What are the benefits
Since shifting to a pasture cropping system in 1993, the benefits for 2000-acre Winona Farm have been significant and include:

  • Increased profitability through: Increased weight gain in livestock, multiple revenue streams and The avoidance of more than USD 90,000/year in chemical inputs
  • Over 10 years a 200% increase in sequestered carbon equivalent to about 60t/ha (200tonnesCO2e/ha)
  • Improved soil - reduced acidity, 3 x more water stored, zero soil erosion
  • Restoration of biodiversity rich permanent grasslands including 200 diverse plant species and 125% increase in insect variety.
  • Improved animal health
  • Increase resilience to climate change
  • Improved mental and physical health for farmer community

A mob of merino ewes

A mob of merino ewes with their lambs in the grassland.

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