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Small Farm Planning Workshops 2017

Property Management Planning (PMP) is a process for developing and documenting the visions and goals for a property, with a focus on natural resources. Small farms have different needs to larger properties and this program has been designed specifically for small properties typically ranging in size from 5 – 100 hectares.

Every year, NRM South runs a small farm planning workshop over the course of 4 months in the summer-autumn period. Five workshops are held during weekends at participants’ properties. The workshops take a practical, and where possible ‘hands -on’ approach, and include presentations on a range of topics such as: soil health, grazing management, native vegetation, browsing mammals, weeds and animal husbandry.

This is the fifth year that this program has been running and, over the course of the workshops, participants develop a Property Management Plan with support and guidance from the project team. The next program is planned for late 2017/early 2018.

Workshop 1: Setting the foundation for future property plans

Once again, these workshops have proven to be popular with landowners from across the Huon and Channel region. There was a total of 24 attendees from 14 properties, with workshops held at different farms across the region.

The first workshop was held at the Grove Research Centre. In this introductory workshop, participants got to know each other and were guided through the process of describing their current situation and their future plans using a range of tools including personalised property maps. Part of the workshop included an introduction to farming and the law, with a focus on landowners’ obligations under current legislation from the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) Tasmania’s Jess Feehely.

Workshop 2: Soil and Water

The second workshop was hosted by Sue and Shaohua (participants of the program) on their property at Cradoc. The theme of this session was soil and water management. Participants got their hands dirty in the paddock, discovering ways to assess the health of their soil, water resources and waterways, and how to protect these precious assets to help make their properties more productive and healthy.

Workshops 3 and 4: Managing Pasture and Holistic Grazing

Workshop three covered the basics of pasture management: how to identify and use pasture plants to discover what’s going on in the paddock and the importance of pasture rest and recovery. Other subjects covered included animal welfare and biosecurity and the importance of disease prevention. The limiting factors in pasture health were discussed and participants were advised on how using small trials to test pasture growth response can be a valuable decision-making tool.

The focus of workshop four was ‘Holistic Planned Grazing’, an alternative form of rotational grazing management that uses animals to regenerate pasture, and to improve soil health and grazing profitability. Host Simon Burgess has been using this method for several years and has seen great improvements in pasture growth and soil health across his farm.  Participants learned some of the basic principles of this approach, including how to assess pasture and animal performance, the pros and cons of managing livestock using this system and how working with nature can be a useful risk management tool – helping to prevent drought.

The main message throughout the pasture workshops was that regardless of the type of approach that people choose to use on their own property,  having a grazing plan and maintaining 100% ground cover in pastures 100% of the time is the key to maintaining and improving the health and productivity of pastures and of livestock.

Workshop 5: Managing weeds, native vegetation and revegetation

The fifth and final workshop was run by Tim Ackroyd and Andrew Winkler. It was hosted at Axel Meiss’ property in Crabtree. Axel also gave an extensive and informative talk on weed management principles, including how to manage weeds strategically, focusing on key values (e.g. dams, productive pastures and riparian areas) on property boundaries, and the importance of only concentrating on weeds where there is a real commitment to follow up. He also discussed the wide range of weed control techniques available.

Matthew Taylor from the Tasmanian Land Conservancy and Rob Smith from Private Forests Tasmania provided information about the benefits of native bushland and trees to wildlife, for local biodiversity and for farm productivity. It was interesting to hear that landholders can plant up to 10% of a farm with trees without losing (and likely gaining) productivity.

As in previous years, the final workshop also includes a discussion on the importance of networks in sharing knowledge and resources – a powerful tool that brings people together in a supportive way.

Over the five workshops sessions, participants gained an understanding of the property management planning process – including the specific management and protection of natural resources, and new sustainable farming concepts. In addition, participants were able to meet new, like-minded people in their region who share similar goals and aspirations.  We hope that the program has encouraged everyone to test assumptions and to carry their own trials, plan strategically and to record what they do and we would like to wish everyone the best of luck with their plans.

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