ALL farmers welcome rain, but it sometimes brings with it a surprise for Parraweena grazier Craig Carter.
Since undertaking extensive changes to the management of his land across two decades, native plant species have been germinating which he hasn't seen before.
"It's clear these plants have had seed in the soil for a long time, it's just that there's not been the right conditions for them to germinate until now," Mr Carter said.
He said there's been a shift in the ecosystem as his country has been rehydrated.
From birds and insects to soils teeming with life and "new" plants in the pastures, the land appears to be returning to the way it was before European settlement.
Mr Carter bought Tallawang, between Parraweena and Blackville in the Upper Mooki Catchment, in 2001.
Back then he was concerned by erosion, soil compaction, impoverished pastures and severely eroded creek and gullies.
To fix these problems, Mr Carter started by combining rotational grazing techniques learned at a Grazing for Profit course and water management from Peter Andrews' Natural Sequence Farming methods.
He said these strategies were designed to be low cost, low impact "bumps on mother nature's side" to help rebuild the function of a damaged environment.
"This is a constant learning process," Mr Carter said.
A series of leaky weirs were built along the creek in 2005 to retard water flow and enable the original chain of ponds to be re-established.
Mr Carter sought advice from Mr Andrews to design creek structures. These were built using dead trees with later plantings of common flag reed. Yarramanbah Creek is now a "chain of ponds" with inflow varying according to local rainfall, but constant outflow.
The existing contour banks in higher country were modified in 2009 by blocking them at intervals to form swales that retain and more effectively use water in the upper parts of the landscape. Surface water infiltrates higher in the landscape, thus maintaining the pasture longer in drier times.
By enabling more water to be absorbed into the soil, the pastures are more lush, resulting in the cattle tending to walk less to find the water trough lower down the slope.
Some slashing has been used since 2010 in combination with cell grazing on creek flats to increase soil organic matter and encourage native grass regeneration.
The operation also moved from breeding to trading cattle, which enables stocking to be varied as needed to suit seasonal conditions.
By changing the grazing, Mr Carter has transformed the landscape. He said there was extensive regeneration of kangaroo grass, tall oat grass, lobed blue grass and silky brown top.
Big investment for even bigger results
AN INNOVATIVE, catchment-wide landscape hydrology project that aims to improve the health of the Upper Mooki catchment, increase farm productivity and help farmers prepare for future droughts has the full support of Parraweena grazier Craig Carter.
Mr Carter, who owns a 445 hectares between Blackville and Parraweena, has been one of the driving forces behind the project, which had a total spend of $660,000 (as reported by The Land earlier this year).
About half is funding from the government and the remainder is in-kind and cash contributions from landholders.
The project is supported by North West Local Land Services through funding from NSW Government's Catchment Action NSW and a contribution from the Australian Government's National Landcare Program.
Thirteen properties in the Willow Tree/Quirindi region are involved in the project and a number of physical changes have been made to the land on them.
These strategies include revegetation and pasture plantings, earthworks to build absorption banks, swales, sill spills and riparian works, construction of stock and riparian corridor fencing, and the establishment of additional watering points and laying of piping.
"This rehydration project focuses on the soil profile to act like a sponge for water storage," Mr Carter said.
"And unlike what I've been doing on my property over a number of years, this project includes the whole of the catchment, so everybody gets some benefit."
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