AN act of desperation 30 years ago grew into a farming philosophy that last week delivered farmer Col Seis the $50,000 Bob Hawke Landcare Award for his pioneering work in developing pasture cropping.
Mr Seis’s win was a headline event of the 2014 National Landcare Awards in Melbourne, which honoured people and groups across Australia for their hands-on work in supporting the natural environment.
Mr Seis, of Gulgong, NSW, and mate Daryl Cluff conceived the idea of sowing annual crops into diverse perennial pastures between 1993-95, after years of declining returns and a biologically inert farm left Mr Seis with few options for making productivity gains through conventional methods.
He decided to cut costs by sowing winter oats into a dormant perennial grass sward. The results were so unexpectedly good, both in terms of oat yield and the grasses’ later response, that it kicked off years of investigation into the benefits of growing crops and perennial grasses together, without the costs of spraying out and restablishing pastures.
Mr Seis has subsequently taught pasture cropping concepts in every State in Australia, and more recently in North America.
He received his award, a $50,000 federal government-sponsored package “for further development of knowledge and skills in sustainable land management and Landcare” from its namesake, the former Prime Minister. Mr Hawke is no longer spry, but his “silver bodgie” hair and speaking voice remain intact.
Mr Seis’s award carried the greatest monetary value on the night, but the 600-plus people in the Royal Exhibition Building gave equal weight to the other nine award categories in contention.
The founder of Malanda Landcare in Queensland, Russell Fry, received the Australian Government Individual Landcarer award for years of work that has been hands-on as well administrative.
Mr Fry drove the revegetation of 20 kilometres of the upper North Johnstone River, and succeeded where others had failed at creating the 15km Crater Lakes Corridor. He has sat on a number of committees, including the Minister’s Community Reference Panel for the Wet Tropics Water Resource Plan (2010-13).
Landcare, Mr Fry has been quoted as saying, is not merely about planting trees, but “about the sustainable use of natural resources to build sustainable farms to support sustainable communities”.
Northern Territory graziers Gary and Michelle Riggs received the Australian Government Innovation in Sustainable Farm Practices for their management of Lakefield Station, where they have combined productivity gains to reduce animal impact on the land with proactive protection of the environment.
Mr Riggs was visibly moved when he accepted the award. He and Michelle had worked long and hard in relative isolation, he later told Fairfax, and the recognition on the night was momentarily overwhelming.
The couple have taken 596 square kilometre Lakefield Station from an undeveloped block with only two bores to a highly functioning cattle station.
Thanks to 400km of fencing and a major investment in watering points, cattle don’t have to walk more than 3km to water. Some 1200 hectares have been fenced off for conservation, including important wetlands, erosion has been controlled wherever it occurs - including along the property’s 250km of roads, and rotational grazing is used to maintain good groundcover.
Mr Riggs has given high priority to making his cattle herd more productive, enabling him to cut down on stock numbers and impact on the land without sacrificing returns.
The Harden Murrumburrah Landcare Group co-ordinator for more than 20 years, Louise Hufton, was recognised with the Australian Government Landcare Facilitator award for her years of inspiring and supporting members, and ability to drive on-ground change.
Other winners of the 2014 National Landcare Awards: Australian Government Partnerships with Landcare: Goolwa to Wellington Local Action Planning Association, SA Indigenous Land Management: Yurung Dhaura Aboriginal Land Management Team, ACT Qantas Landcare Innovative Community Group: Roleybushcare, WA Westpac Agribusiness Innovative Young Landcare Leader: Kate Sputore, WA Coastcare: Tangaroa Blue Foundation, WA