Rahane Pastoral Co Pty Ltd

Rahane Pastoral Co Pty Ltd
December 4, 2016 Comments Off on Rahane Pastoral Co Pty Ltd Chicken Litter,Farming,Rural Services,Soil Care Charmaine Acworth

Rahane Pastoral Co Pty Ltd

Colin and Jackie Clarks’ journey into holistic biological farming.

On a steamy morning, sunlit and heady after the first of summer storms, a leisurely drive took me on a journey through the undulating farm land that is Oaky Creek in South East Queensland’s Scenic Rim.  I was warmly welcomed by Colin and Jackie Clark, the owners of ‘Rahane’, with a freshly cold-pressed juice of apple, pineapple and ginger and a selection of home-made slices.  Reading previous articles on Colin and Jackie, there is no shortage of information on what they have impressively achieved for ‘Rahane’, however I couldn’t help be enticed into more open-hearted conversations by their passionate and personal accounts of their journey into holistic biological farming.

Boasting 600 acres of multi-species crops and permanent pastures where they run approximately 300 head of beef cattle and breed Welsh Ponies, long term sustainability and healthy soil is high on their list of priorities. Chemical free for four years now, Colin and Jackie have adopted a holistic management approach to farming, integrating a variety of agronomy strategies such as: synergistic companion planting for nutritional cohabitation and eliminating the need for scuffling; rotational grazing which allows pastures to recuperate, encouraging species diversity and continued growth over numerous seasons; and a highly successful organic composting method. 

The Clarks’ resourcefulness and knowledge when it comes to making humified compost is extensive and complimentary to years of experience. Colin muses over the many misconceptions, “You can ask 25 people how to make it and get 25 different answers, it is a process of trial and error”. Colin aims for an ideal Carbon/Nitrogen ratio of 30 to 1 and the length of time needed to form humus can take on average six months.  He describes a few telling tests of soil structure that can be used during the process; temperature testing for ideal heat, a simple hand squeeze to test the moisture content and a test for aerobic metabolism using a carbon dioxide/oxygen ratio meter.

The ingredients can vary, as long as they are organic matter and meet the nutritional needs of the soil.  Some include chicken manure for nitrogen, hay for carbon, clay soil, palagonite for moisture retention and wood chips which produce fungi to encourage the earth worms.  Colin explained how using chicken manure is advantageous over straight urea due to the slower release of nitrates as well as the multitude of many other beneficial nutrients. The goal of composting is to produce a humus colloid which microbes love. The synergistic effect of adding the required nutrients to the compost to work their magic on each other, makes it much more available to the plants, as opposed to individual application of products directly to the paddocks.

Based on yearly soil tests, a prescription humified compost is made and spread twice per year on multi-species crops and if there is enough left over, once per year on the paddocks where possible. Colin is mindful and resourceful when it comes to finding ingredients to meet nutritional needs, consuming rather than wasting, often using unwanted product such as old hay and Johnson grass. It all seems akin to an agricultural architecture of biodiverse soil systems. Give the soil the structure it needs and the rest will take care of itself. 

Cows eagerly grazing at Rahane.

But this was not always the way for Colin and Jackie.  For over 20 years they farmed in Byee, west of Gympie. Colin ponders over being a self-proclaimed “Prescription Chemical Farmer”, a generational product of the industrial revolution where farmers were given a chemical prescription for their land, lured by the proposition of instant eradication of weeds and pests and leading to the promise of healthier crops and pastures. Colin and Jackie followed their prescription and found themselves stuck in a cycle of applying more and more chemicals and fertilisers as their land became sicker and less productive.  The soil became so hard that everything struggled to grow, yield became less and less, and the ploughs worked to cut through the soil.  The solution was to apply more chemicals, upgrade the machinery to provide the power needed to plough through the caked ground and continue the cycle, more urea – more powerful machinery – less yield.

So, what changed for Colin and Jackie? The ‘light bulb’ moment came when boundary fences were being replaced and astounding differences became prevalent between the soil in the paddocks and the soil under the fence line.  “We were struggling along with the plough and then we came to the fence line and all of a sudden the thing took off like a rocket! The soil where the fence had been was so soft, it took no effort at all.”  It didn’t make sense that the treated soil was in such a significantly worse condition than the soil left to its’ own volition.  From then on, they vowed to turn things around and began their journey into biological farming.

Their first step was to trial a mixture of feedlot manure and Natramin.  Significant differences were noticed in a short period of time, encouraging Colin and Jackie to attend many conferences on biological and biodynamic farming. One of the recurring themes conveyed in these conferences was the importance of healthy soil structure and how methods employed by farmers can be counterproductive. Colin asserts that “Urea killed the microbes, we found chemicals to be a non-viable solution.  After doing the nutritional maths on organic matter it just made sense”.

They admit they are still learning as they go.  The most surprising result has been the health of the soil, “it smells like rich soil”.  As you can see in one photo their crops are so green and healthy they had a hard time convincing officials at a pasture competition earlier this year that there were no fertilisers involved! Colin and Jackies’ dream for ‘Rahane’ is to continue to improve the pastures and make everything easier through synergistic and holistic management practices. They believe they are on the right track with chemical free farming. Colin affirms it in a nutshell…

 “Chemicals, fertilisers, and ploughing destroy the soil structure and the most important thing in the soil are the microbes.  They are your free workers. Why would you want to destroy them?”

Lablab and Millet. The results speak for themselves!

 

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