Cover cropping ‘drives the whole system’ for macadamia farmer

man wearing orange shirt standing near plants with yellow flowers.

Macadamia farmer Ross Arnett describes his 2,000-tree property, Malua, as an “evolution”. He started implementing regenerative agriculture practices in 2010, but knows there is always something to learn and something to give back. Ross focuses on cover cropping, soil health and diversity to help restore his orchard’s natural systems.

Program: Regenerative Agriculture Mentoring Program (delivered by Southern Cross University through the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance and Farming Together, and made possible by the NSW Government through its Environmental Trust)

Length of time on regen journey: Thirteen years

Industry: Macadamias

Location: Lindendale, NSW

Regional information: Lindendale is in the Lismore local government area in Northern NSW and has an average annual rainfall of 1450mm. In 2020/21, the total value of agricultural output in the LGA was $106 million. The largest commodity produced was nuts, which accounted for 34.9% of the total agricultural output in value terms.

Making the transition

“I planted my macadamia trees 19 years ago (in 2004), and when I look back at how I managed the farm then, I cringe,” Ross explains.

“I used to mow the orchard like it was my front lawn!”

After initially trying to go down the organic path, Ross shifted his thinking towards regenerative agriculture.

He asked a lot of questions, tracked down “really smart people” to help him, and started trying new things, even if they didn’t always work.

Now he runs a regenerative agriculture group within the Australian Macadamia Society, connecting other farmers with information and inspiration.

Achievements so far

Ross says cover cropping “drives the whole system” on his macadamia farm. His first motivation for planting cover crops was to build insect diversity, but since then he has come to understand the importance that plant diversity has on his soil.

“What happens under the ground is so important. Multi-family plants work together and you get fantastic soil biodiversity.”

“We need to do things differently to conventional farming. Biological and regenerative farming just makes sense to me. I love trying things and seeing what works… and what doesn’t.”

Experience on RAMP

Ross is not new to regenerative farming, but he still jumped at the opportunity to sign up to RAMP.

“It’s great to be part of this program. Our mentor (David Hardwick) has a really good and deep understanding of what we, as farmers, are trying to achieve on our properties,” Ross says.

“RAMP gives me something to think about. We’ve been to four farms and it’s just great to see what others are working on.”

Regenerative farming goals

Keeping the evolution going is one of Ross’ key goals for the future of Malua. The macadamia farmer will finetune the good work he’s already doing, including his composting process, and look for new technologies.

“I’m getting my drone licence through TAFE and I might use it to put out biologicals and micro-nutrients without having to worry about soil compaction,” he said.

“One of the other things I keep thinking about is my inputs, like chicken litter.

“I’m also working with local suppliers to find bare seed for cover crops, so that’s another one of my priorities.

“It’s a challenge to find it, but there is a growing demand as people want to do cover cropping.”

Best advice for farmers transitioning to regenerative agriculture

First and foremost, Ross recommends that farmers develop a good understanding of what regenerative agriculture means to them.

As a macadamia farmer, he has also found success in working with others in the industry.

“What is your philosophy, and where do you want to take it? Find your own tribe and you will make real leaps forward,” he says.

“Collaborate, work with lots of other people, and continue to learn.”

Find out more about RAMP here.

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