Sustainability is the key to the future for Ecklin South dairy farmers Sam and Peter Doolan and at the very centre of that philosophy is carbon farming.
The brothers milk 580 cows along with their wives Belinda and Bonnie and parents Carol and Sam (senior) and today’s management is very much about setting the family farm up for what will be the future for the fourth generation.
As members of the Heytesbury District Landcare Network (HDLN), the family have shared a common goal of improving environmental outcomes for the family farm and the demise of milk processor Murray Goulburn became the instigator for some real change as the business looked to cut costs and tighten the bottom line.
“We were looking at every aspect of our business from more efficient use of fertiliser, to compost and bio-char, growing more grass and reducing energy costs,” Sam said.
The brothers were very interested in the process of storing carbon and around the same time their mum stumbled across a research project into keeping carbon on the farm.
“They were looking for a trial farm as part of the project we submitted an expression of interest form and were successful.”
The Keeping Carbon on the Farm project looked at increasing carbon sequestration in the soil profile, reducing energy use and understanding impacts of climate change on regional dairy farms -there was an expected outcome at the end of the project to see improvements in productivity and soil and animal health – objectives that very much appealed to the Doolan family.
An energy audit was completed before commencement of the project in April 2019 with another to be completed mid-2020, three test sites will also be monitored to check carbon and microbial activity.
“We have been involved in exploring the benefits of applying ameliorants including biochar and compost, testing the soil and studying soil biology with the goal of retaining carbon in the soil. Through this process we can reduce fertiliser costs while still growing higher quality feed,” Sam said.
With a milking platform of around 280 ha, the family have begun adopting the process of growing multi specie crops to create biodiversity in the soil.
“Allowing different plants to share nutrients with each other reduces the amount of fertiliser needed. It also gives the cows access to a balanced diet reducing our need for purchasing feed and additives,” he said.
Revegetation is also a significant part of the process and the family have planted 5000 seedlings across 2.5ha.
“We are looking to provide shelter for our stock, capture atmospheric carbon dioxide and provide habitat for our local wildlife – mum is very interested in the bio-diversity side of things.”
The installation of a 36KW and 10KW solar PV system has created instant savings for the family of an estimated $8000 over the first 12 months.
“We have already started to reduce power consumption, GHG emissions and power costs. We have also installed a diesel generator for backup if the power goes out or the cost of electricity becomes too much – it’s a good feeling to have the option of diesel if we ever need it.”
Throughout the project the family have hosted a couple of successful filed days with over 50 farmers and service providers in attendance.
“Before COVID-19, climate change was probably one of the most talked about issues on farm. We are hoping our involvement in a project like this will help to change the mindset of the dairy farming community.
“I think we can make huge inroads into improving our management to benefit our farming environment and ensure we have a sustainable industry in the future.”