Ian and Marion Hill - Lifestyle Farmers Thinking Green
Farmers Taking Action on Climate Change
Case study 1.7 - Warragul
Lifestyle farmers Ian and Marion Hill were awarded the 2008 Lake Wellington Landcare Network Individual and Sustainable Farming Awards for their leading farming practices.
Ian and Marion are ‘tree changers’ who took early retirement, sold their quarter acre suburban block and, without any farming experience, bought their dream 16.2 hectare farm in Buln Buln, West Gippsland, Victoria. In seven years, the aptly named ‘Redundancy Farm’ has been turned into an award winning ‘lifestyle’ beef farm accredited to an international standard.
For Ian and Marion, reducing their on-farm greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to a changing climate is a part of a holistic and adaptive approach to farm management. They operate the farm under a rigorous Environmental Management System (EMS 14001) and sell premium beef under the niche brand, Enviromeat.
“An Environmental Management System, or EMS, is a formal, continuous-improvement system where you document how you are going to handle the way the farm affects the environment,” Ian said. “Guidelines for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and sequestering carbon are part of the accreditation requirements for Enviromeat.”
New to farming, the couple sought out advice and information from local groups, training courses, field days, local farming events and conferences. Early in their ownership they joined local Landcare and Beefcheque groups, which have been invaluable for sharing knowledge, gaining peer support and being exposed to the latest research and thinking.
Ian said that the strength behind their farming practice is talking to people and reading the latest publications. “We started out knowing very little about farming, and have learnt so much from the farmers around us.”
Greenhouse gas emissions produced on Redundancy Farm, calculated by Ian Hill using the Greenhouse in Agriculture beef greenhouse accounting tool
Volunteering to be part of pilot programs such as EMS, dung beetles and shelter belts for biodiversity, have also accelerated their knowledge and expanded their networks.
It is no surprise that the Hills have used the latest beef greenhouse accounting tool to estimate the greenhouse emissions profile of their farm. From this, they have taken many positive and practical steps to reduce emissions, including lowering the amount of diesel and fertiliser per kilo of product that goes out the gate.
The Hills follow best practice nitrogen management and are considering trialling some new techniques for reducing methane from cows, such as adding small amounts of saturated oils to the feed.
Ian said: “Methane and nitrous oxide are high in energy and their emissions represent a significant loss of energy from the production system that can otherwise be redirected back into production.”
Tree and soil carbon sequestration is also a key focus. Approximately 30 per cent of the property has been fenced off and 3,500 tubestock planted to create biodiversity shelter belts and close riparian areas to cattle. These shelter belts now provide the cows with shelter and warmth from cold winds, as well as having the benefit of sequestering carbon and attracting a diverse range of wildlife. Soil health is a major driver of all works and soil carbon levels have been doubled through strategic pasture management. Ian and Marion are learning more about their farm’s carbon and emissions blanace in preparation for possible regulations in the future.
The Hills use an adaptive management approach to farming that helps them prepare for and respond to climate risk and seasonal variability. For example, significant silage is produced on-farm for maintaining calf growth rates during lower pasture growth seasons, diverse and deep-rooted pastures more suited to dry conditions are being established, and pastures are rotationally grazed to no less than 1200 kilograms of dry matter per hectare.
Rather than being overwhelmed with the uncertainties of climate variability and what a future emissions trading scheme might mean for agriculture, Ian and Marion Hill have focussed on what they can control. Ian says that climate change predictions for West Gippsland are very positive for winter pasture growth.
“Projected heavier rainfall events can also be exploited by deep-rooted, quicker responding pastures. These make for good opportunities for increasing beef production.”
While a rigorous environmental management systems approach may not suit all farmers, it has certainly helped Ian and Marion. Ian says many of their greenhouse gas reduction and carbon sequestration procedures, systems and ideas can be easily applied now to lifestyle or full-time farms of all sizes without loss of production.
In producing an equivalent of 16,000 high-quality beef serves per year, the sustained high stocking rate and systems on this farm show just how productive a lifestyle beef farm can be.
What Redundancy Farm is doing to reduce on-farm greenhouse gas emissions:
According to beef farmer Ian Hill, many of these options are ‘easy to do’ and, although some may seem minor, they all add up.
- Use and regular maintenance of the most fuel–efficient equipment to improve energy efficiency gains
- Selecting the least horsepower-rated equipment for the task (e.g. smudging with the ATV instead of a tractor)
- Saving up tasks until machine operating period will be at least 20 minutes, to reduce emissions from start and warm up from combustion motors
- Solar electricity and hot water
- Large and inter-connected water tanks - no mains water
- Increasing animal productivity, by logging weight gains, keeping heifers from cows producing the best growth
- Selecting sires with both Enviromeat market attributes and faster growth figures
- Offering high quality pasture (low fibre/higher soluble carbohydrates)
- Increasing legume percentage of pasture dry mass
- Avoiding heavy stock numbers when soils are waterlogged
- Before applying fertilisers, comparing the predicted cost of extra pasture to the cost of other feed options
- Choosing ammonia-based fertilisers instead of nitrates
- Avoiding high fertiliser rates, particularly if soil temperatures are above 10ºC.
- In July – September, when soils are near field capacity, avoiding Nitrogen applications where possible at least 24 hours before and 2-5 days after heavy rains
- Avoiding applications when soils are warm and/or waterlogged
- Only using strategic applications of nitrogenous fertiliser, target when pasture is actively growing and at a suitable leaf stage to utilise the nitrogen
Monitoring / record keeping
- Weight gains of terminal animals from birth to slaughter, to measure and select parents for feed conversion efficiency
- Carcase feedback from Meat Standards Australia grading
- Potential sites for waterlogging / pugging
- Fertiliser needs, use and results, including applications, components, rates, dates of application and conditions during application
- Effects on farm emissions from changed practices
- Soils and soil carbon level
Greenhouse in Agriculture carbon accounting tools - www.greenhouse.unimelb.edu.au/site/Tools.htm
Enviromeat - www.enviromeat.com.au
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View all the Farmers Taking Action case studies online at www.dpi.vic.gov.au/climaterisk
Through the Future Farming Strategy, the Victorian Government is providing information to enable farm businesses to plan for climate change.