A visit to "Lana"

Here are the reflections of Kim Williams, Wollongong artist, who came along on the KSCA Road Trip:

“Lana” was one of the planned farm visits on a regenerative agriculture farm tour of northern NSW. Laura Fisher initiated this trip having received some funding through Sydney University. She was encouraged to use this time as an open-ended exploration, with the potential to forge future connections and collaborations across the “regen ag” community, and with New England based sustainability enterprise/charity Starfish Initiatives. To this end she gathered a bunch of people, mostly affiliated with the Kandos School of Cultural Adaptation. One of Laura’s overarching aims is to find ways of breaching the rural/urban divide.

I’m learning that it doesn’t matter whether you’re a sugar cane farmer, a cattle farmer or a fine merino wool grower: if you have healthy soil, many positive benefits flow from this most fundamental base. We visited “Lana” a 3,350 hectare cattle and sheep farm near Uralla on the northern Tablelands of NSW. Tim Wright and Suzanne Riley live in a stately old home which is third generation Wright family property. Children are elsewhere now, as are grandchildren, so it is Tim, Suzanne and their two working kelpies.

Tim Wright’s work has been written about in various websites and newsletters, but I will attempt to sketch my cursory understanding of his practices without referring to these more in-depth sources. At the core of his holistic approach to farming is the practice of “planned grazing”, where paddocks are fenced into smaller cells than conventional grazing paddocks, and cattle are rotated relatively quickly through the numerically sequenced paddocks, followed closely by sheep. This is based on the grazing patterns of these animals, balanced by the manure they provide for the soil.

Tim Wright demonstrates the rotation of cattle on his farm

Tim Wright demonstrates the rotation of cattle on his farm

Over a relatively short number of years, Tim has increased his stock, reduced his staff, and improved the quality of the pasture and the wool clip. The paddocks are now largely populated with native grasses, high plant biodiversity and healthy soils. The soil retains more moisture and is thereby less vulnerable to drought. To my untrained eye, the land looks good. There is a softness and fecundity to the landscape that belies its lack of synthetic fertiliser inputs.

Tim says, “I see myself as a caretaker, a steward of the land”. Over cups of tea and cake, he said “every time I walk out the door I’m making a decision which may affect the landscape”. He is wary of the big chemical companies – in his view these corporations are the ones making the millions at the expense of farmers who have been brainwashed into believing that fertilisers and pesticides are essential for a good yield. Tim learnt and built his holistic model of farming by questioning what he was doing. He did this by talking to other farmers. To him, everything in his model is a decision-making process. “Seeing the future [through a holistic model] is about a plan. If you haven’t got a plan [to rest land, for example] it leaves an impact.”

The KSCA team relaxes at "Lana". The author is upside down in the red jersey.

The KSCA team relaxes at "Lana". The author is upside down in the red jersey.

While Tim acknowledges the importance of all ground cover, he told us that grasses are more efficient than trees for carbon sequestration. According to his colleague, scientist Christine Jones, if the groundcover was increased by half, on just 2 percent of Australia’s agricultural land, it would more than compensate for CO2 emissions!

Tim’s outlook could perhaps be summed up by the words of his aunt, the poet Judith Wright:

"This land is not mine but me."