Macadamia farmer’s ‘long, hard transition’ to regen practices

Macadamia plant showing young nuts.

Miranda Liebmann grew up in the city, worked as a geologist at mining sites in Western Australia and then took a desk job. When her auto-immune system crashed, she took six months off work to re-evaluate her priorities. Even though she had no farming experience, Miranda wanted an outdoor lifestyle, so she bought a 7,000-tree macadamia orchard.

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 the RA journey? 9 years

Industry: Macadamias

Location: Rous, NSW

Regional information: Rous is in the Ballina Shire in Northern NSW and has an average annual rainfall of 1600mm. In 2020/21, the total value of agricultural output in Ballina Shire was $102m. The largest commodity produced was nuts, which accounted for 40.6% of Ballina Shire’s total agricultural output in value terms.

Making the transition

When Miranda and her husband, an accountant, moved onto their farm, they knew they would need guidance.

“We struggled to find the kind of help we wanted,” she said.

“A lot of macadamia farmers told us to throw chemicals and fertilisers on everything. Luckily, we met (regenerative farmer) Ross Arnett.

“It’s been a long, hard transition. We keep flip-flopping between conventional and regenerative practices, trying to find what works.

“We spend a lot of time with Ross and we can see his progress, so that helps to keep us motivated as we keep pushing ahead with our regenerative journey.”

Achievements so far

Miranda has planted cover crops and enjoys seeing insects and predatory bugs in the orchard.

“One of the important changes for me has been to keep asking myself ‘why?’. I’m trying to drill down on certain aspects of the farm,” she said.

“I reflect on how to make decisions and what skills I need.”

“Regenerative agriculture practices take time. You aren’t going to see drastic changes on your farm straight away, and that can be quite challenging.”

Regenerative farming goals

  • Keep reducing the use of chemicals on-farm.
  • Introduce new technologies.
  • Avoid soil compaction.
  • Reduce costs and reduce labour-intensive work.
  • Rehabilitate the creek areas.

Miranda says she is committed to their regenerative journey, reducing their impact on their environment, and also wants to look at opportunities such as solar-powered machinery.

“It’s important for us to plan and budget well,” she says.

“When we came into the macadamia industry, the prices were high, so we’d only known good times. But they’ve since fallen of a cliff, and we need to be prepared for the ups and downs.”

Best advice for farmers transitioning to regenerative agriculture

For Miranda, observation is critical: “Stand back and look at the whole landscape, then investigate the details.

“Understand your patch, be patient. If you’re going to do this (adopt regenerative practices), it can take a long time to see changes.

“You also need to think about your personal health and what happens if you get sick.”

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