Above: Soil conditions are investigated at a women on farms workshop run by the Woady Yaloak Catchment Group.
The Woady Yaloak Catchment Group has a long history of planning, implementing and measuring sustainable farm practices across its 120,000-hectare area. The group was formed in 1993 out of a need to promote deep rooted perennial pastures to prevent wind erosion experienced in the 1983 drought, and to combat salinity.
Since then landholders have been supported in establishing perennial pastures, treating saline land and adopting minimal or no-till cropping systems. Underpinning the pasture and crop work is a desire for greater understanding of the soil. Discount soil testing was made available to members and skills sessions run on how to interpret and use the results, which are available on a digital platform.
The group is committed to integrated catchment management and revegetation, remnant vegetation protection, weed, pest, salinity and erosion control and waterway enhancement.
Since 1993 the group has supported the planting of 960,000 trees, 694 kilometres of fencing, 4680 hours of erosion and rabbit harbour removal works, and 4970 hours of weed control. Every project has been spatially mapped and recorded, some with time-lapse images.
The group also has conducted two ten-year outcome audits that show improvements in farm productivity and landscape condition.
Landholders are supported to build skills and confidence in more sustainable and profitable practices through on-farm trialling, technical support, demonstrations, study tours and peer-to-peer learning.
Current initiatives include: limes and alternative fertiliser trials, ways of increasing soil carbon, cover cropping, precision agriculture and a women on farms program. All past and future activities conducted by the group are recorded on a geographic information system developed in partnership with Federation University and the Corangamite CMA.
The less measurable, but equally important, outcomes are an increase in the skills and confidence of landholders. The group has brought people together and created a strong sense of shared purpose and achievement.
Group project manager, Cam Nicholson, believes the key to the group’s success and longevity is its operational model.
“We respond directly to what our members want. Every five years an independent facilitator comes in and we canvas the views of 100-150 members across the catchment. We find out what interests them and what they are passionate about and then go out and source the funds to make it happen.
“The group also charges a membership levy of $50-$200 depending on property size which helps with operational costs. People will only continue to pay if they feel they are getting value for money,” Cam said.
The award judges were impressed by the leadership the group has shown at a catchment scale, and its long history and commitment to sustainable farming practices.
The judges noted that all improvements in native vegetation, biodiversity, riparian health, groundcover, perennial pastures, soil health including soil carbon and pest management have been made without
loss to agricultural productivity.