Above Andrew Stewart leading participants from the 2019 Otway Agroforestry Network Master TreeGrowers Course on a tour to demonstrate the principles of revegetation design and the management of multi-purpose forests on farms.
The Australian Government Landcare Farming Award acknowledges an individual, group, network or organisation that has demonstrated excellence and leadership in implementing sustainable and integrated land management practices that protect soils, water, vegetation and biodiversity, and who delivers improved natural resource management and farm productivity.
Andrew Stewart is a fourth-generation farmer. Along with his wife Jill and daughters Kristy, Hannah and Michelle, the Stewarts manage a family owned 230-hectare regenerative grazing and agroforestry property on the edge of the Otway Ranges. Yan Yan Gurt West Farm had previously been cleared of native vegetation causing gully erosion, salinity, waterlogging, ecological decline and livestock and pasture exposure.
The landscape change that has occurred since then has been formidable. More than 50,000 trees and shrubs have been established while maintaining high agricultural productivity with an annual turnover of 1600 to 1800 prime lambs and wool, value-added at times by farm forestry products.
The family’s whole farm plan, completed in 1991, has provided the mission statement and strategic guidance for this change. The property has been fenced to land classes and trees and shrubs have been planted along boundaries. Creeks, drainage lines, remnant vegetation, salt affected areas and waterlogged sites have been fenced and revegetated with multi-purpose plantings. These plantings are connected to form a web of trees meandering across the farm’s landscape providing soil, pasture and livestock protection, nutrient cycling, waterway protection, wildlife corridors, and improved wellbeing for the people who live, work, and visit the farm. One hundred and twenty bird species have been recorded on the farm.
Andrew and Jill’s interest in agroforestry has seen them trial and establish many different species of trees and shrubs, which have formed a robust biological infrastructure underpinning the productivity, profitability and sustainability of the farming system. Modelling suggests that the farm is at or very close to being carbon neutral.
The Stewarts grow banksia flowers and foliage for floral arrangements which are sold at a farm gate stall and to florists, restaurants, and function centres. The plantings were established around an eroded dam in sandy, acidic soil not well suited to livestock grazing. The dam is now fenced with a gravity fed water trough in the paddock. Other trees on the property are managed for sawlogs and other tree products.
Andrew and Jill are also active in the wider community. They have been key drivers of the Yan Yan Gurt Creek Catchment community revegetation program with 98 per cent of the 18-kilometre creek now established as a wildlife corridor connecting many farms. They participate in East Otway Landcare Group activities such as maintenance of the Bambra Wetlands.
Andrew is a founding member of the Otway Agroforestry Network, a member of the East Otway Landcare Group, has served on the Australian Landcare Council and was a recipient of a Norman Wettenhall Foundation Landscape Restoration Fellowship. He is a former chair of the Victorian Farmers Federation Farm Tree & Landcare Association. In 1999 Andrew and Jill were the Australian Forest Growers Victorian Tree Farmer of the Year.
Over the past 25 years more than 5000 people have visited the farm. Secondary and tertiary students, Master TreeGrower Course groups, politicians and local and international visitors are all hosted with generosity and enthusiasm. Andrew and Jill are leaders in natural resource management and always keen to share their knowledge on how to achieve a more sustainable future.
According to Andrew, he and Jill have been inspired to continually improve the farm because of the enthusiasm and help of their extended family.
“Our daughters’ growing commitment to regenerative farming along with working with a great community committed to Landcare and agroforestry has kept us going,” Andrew said.
Bill and Cee Blackwell returned to the family property ‘Corea’ near Dunkeld in 1975 after it had been severely damaged by fires. Always interested in nature, Bill and Cee developed their own direct seeding systems and began to plant wildlife corridors. All family members were involved and now sons Woody and Charlie also farm the property.
The family follow regenerative agriculture principles allowing paddocks to recover and regrow after grazing. This ensures long-term survival of pastures and reduces the need and cost of resowing. Native vegetation provides valuable shade and shelter for stock and supports diverse insect, bird, and mammal populations, which help provide pest insect control and pollination in surrounding pastures and bush. Creeklines, contours, wetlands and waterbodies have been fenced to exclude domestic stock and planted with diverse flora. Bill and Cee are active in the local community and have hosted many field days and visitors to ‘Corea.’ The Blackwell family have successfully combined their love of nature with their high-production grazing system.
Andrew Stewart received the prestigious Bob Hawke Landcare Award at the 2021 National Landcare Awards announced in early August 2021. The National Landcare Awards were delayed from 2020 due to COVID-19. The award is made to an individual who champions the uptake of sustainable agriculture practices and can demonstrate the adoption of improved practices among landholders as a consequence of this action.
The Bob Hawke Landcare Award acknowledges the role that former Prime Minister, the Honourable Bob Hawke AC, played in elevating Landcare from a grass-roots community initiative to a national movement with bi-partisan government support that endures today.
Andrew will receive a substantial prize package to allow him to further develop his knowledge and skills in sustainable land management to enable an even stronger contribution to Landcare.
All nominations for the award were assessed by an independent advisory panel, including representatives experienced in sustainable farming practices, natural resource management, community and Indigenous perspectives. The Bob Hawke Landcare Award is administered by Landcare Australia through support from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.