Colin Seis, a sheep farmer from the NSW Central Tablelands, is regarded as one of the pioneers of regenerative agriculture in Australia.
But during the 1970s, his family was using farming methods that were “destroying” their property, Winona. They soon hit tough times – fertiliser costs skyrocketed, rainfall no longer infiltrated, the soil lost its structure and trees died.
They were going broke.
In 1979, a huge bushfire swept across the land, killing 3000 sheep, burning down all of the buildings, and wrecking 50km of fencing.
Colin had no money. He couldn’t afford the chemicals, fertilisers, fungicides and herbicides he had been using. It was time to bring the farm back to life using low input agricultural methods.
A new focus: Regenerative agriculture
He recently shared his story during a special presentation for participants in the Regenerative Agriculture Mentoring Program, an initiative of the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance and Southern Cross University.
“It was the 1980s and no-one knew what regenerative agriculture was, nobody was doing it. But it was the only way I was going to survive – it was necessity,” Colin told the group.
“After the fire, 1000 ewes survived and we used these to rebuild our sheep numbers. We didn’t have to heart to sell them, and they got us out of trouble.
“By 1993, I adopted holistic planned grazing. I developed pasture cropping in 1993 and combined the two in 1995. That’s what really drove change.
“I focused on achieving full ground cover and restoring Winona to grassland.”
What has been achieved?
These days, Colin is saving more than $100,000 a year (a conservative estimate) by not using chemicals, fertilisers, pesticides or herbicides. And that’s not including labour costs.
He told RAMP participants that his farm’s ecosystem has been fully restored.
“I could see amazing things happening. Soil structure was improving, native grasses were germinating, and species were returning that I’d never seen on the property,” Colin said.
Some of the improvements included:
- Native grassland species increased from nine to 60 species.
- Annual weeds decreased from 60 per cent to less than 5 per cent.
- No insecticides or fungicides have been used for more than 25 years; no fertilisers have been used on pastures for 45 years.
- Insect numbers have increased by 600 per cent.
- Insect diversity increased by 125 per cent.
- Soil microbe tests have shown total fungi increase of 862 per cent, bacteria increase of 350 per cent, total protozoa increase of 640 per cent.
- Crop fertilisers reduced by 70 per cent.
- The soil now has more than 200 per cent more organic carbon and holds 200 per cent more water.
- All of the soil nutrients have increased by an average of 162 per cent.
As a result of these incredible changes, Winona’s annual income is higher and Colin can run more livestock.
“The wool quality is better because the sheep have a better diet. We also harvest and sell over 2000kg of native grass seed,” Colin explains.
Advice for other farmers
Colin has spent years sharing his learnings and helping others improve their properties using his methods. These are some of the top tips he shared with RAMP participants:
- Transition slowly.
- Perennial grassland and pasture – 50-100 species.
- Perennial cover crops.
- Multispecies annual cover crops (6-10 species).
- Animals can be very beneficial if they are grazed well, and they are a big part of the answer to fixing up our farms.
- Grow a diverse range of plants to create soil microbial diversity, stimulate plant growth and create tolerance to drought.
“Good agricultural practices can produce vast amounts of high-quality food, regenerate grasslands, restore farm and soil ecosystems, help restore our ailing planet,” he said.