Closing the circle

G Magazine

Great benefits can be found by farmers when closing the loop on their farms and becoming self-sufficient.

Closing the circle

Credit: iStockphoto

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Farmer Ben Fawcett’s wife Jo gave birth to their first child, Charlotte, just a few months ago in August 2010, yet it was over a decade ago that Ben decided to change the way he managed the family farm because of her. “Back in 2000 I was starting to notice how the soil quality had deteriorated where I had been spraying herbicide,” he says. “The ground was hard and the pasture really struggled to grow.” The Fawcetts have been farming Powlett Hill in Central Victoria since 1865 and despite the rising cost of farming and drought Ben was determined that he “wouldn’t be the last Fawcett to farm Powlett Hill,” their beautiful 1200 ha property in Central Victoria. Despite the fact that his first-born was not even yet a twinkle in his eye Ben had decided to farm for future generations.

By 2003 Ben and his dad Andrew had converted the farm to biodynamics. This meant they stopped using herbicide and chemical fertilisers and started getting the plants to fertilise the soil. This meant green manure crops were grown and ploughed back into the soil to allow the microbes and invertebrates in the soil to transform the plant matter into humus. They also spray on preparation 500, a microbe-rich compound that helps replenish the bugs in the soil.

They don’t buy much in at Powlett Hill Farm. They use diesel for the tractors and power for the pumps but apart from that, and a bit of fencing wire, they are pretty self-sufficient. The trucks leave full and come back empty. They have no need for fertiliser as that is all produced by the bugs in the soil and the sheep manure. They don’t buy in seed as they keep seed from each harvest to plant the following year. There are no drums of herbicide. There are no trucks filled with hay or grain for the animals as this is all grown and stored on the farm. They have virtually closed the circle on their farm. They have done away with all those off-farm inputs that cost thousands and thousands of dollars. “It is amazing how the farm has changed,” says Andrew. “Because of the increased organic matter in the soil the soil is better able to hold moisture and as a result our crops can grow longer giving us healthier better-finished grain.”

It took courage to fly in the face of convention and change the way they farmed. They went from a hard-working family to a very hard-working family. Diversification saw them produce not just excellent certified biodynamic Merino wool but also fat lambs, considered to be some of the best in the country. They produce rye, spelt, wheat, oats and stone grind their grains into flour to supply top bakeries. Andrew believes that flour deteriorates in nutritional value after it has been ground so grinds his flour to order every week so the bakeries received the product in top condition. They have also created their own range of spelt pasta and grow crops as diverse as flax and sunflowers for oil. Their production of excellent biodynamic pork has been scaled back because their free range pigs were escaping from the paddocks and ‘free-ranging’ around the district. Charlotte, however, is going to grow up on a very healthy farm and perhaps, one day, might farm it herself.