Gaining an understanding that the soil is your biggest asset has allowed Michael and Toby West to multiply their hay yields while decreasing inputs using regenerative ag practices.
The Wests shifted their focus from what was coming off the ground to what was happening below it, and as a result have seen a plethora of positive outcomes including improved production, profitability and soil health, and a broad ecosystem of beneficial bugs.
Operating across 60 acres on the foothills of Mount Canobolas near Orange, the West's Balmoral property was originally an orchard, but was transitioned to hay production which was focused on pure lucerne and oaten hay before they began specialising in a pasture mixed which is "snapped up by clients in the horse industry".
The West family started by trialing a section of their property, which included turning a substantial amount of oaten hay into a sacrifice crop in the middle of the drought to get the ball rolling.
Since, roughly 45 grass and legume species have been introduced, including native species, 6-7 types of clover and broad leafs.
"Being a monocult, and spending 20 years growing the perfect bail of lucerne, we had got on top of all grasses only to have to reintroduce everything we wiped out," Michael said.
'What we missed out on by not being able to bale and sell oaten hay, in the following year we made back quadrupling the amount of yield that came out of a small portion of the property and it opened our eyes.
"We decided to jump in boots and all with the hole system and completely went against all spraying and fertilising practices, and study soil biology."
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This was a positive move for the Wests, with the substantial growth in production recently evident with a six acre paddock, which usually cut 300 bales of pure lucerne, cutting 1300 after the introduction of diverse species.
"We only need to cut a third of the property to equal the yield of the monocult production," Michael said.
"Sowing so many species guarantees no failure and 100 per cent ground cover," Toby said.
The West duo have also built their own disc drill implement on a 16 inch spacing that allows them to be minimally invasive to the soil when introducing further cool or warm weather species.
"When we changed to the regen program we found ourselves needing to introduce different species that were lacking, but having to travel through half a metre of forage at certain times that the tine implements couldn't do," Michael said.
"We built our own disc drill capable of sowing deep into the soil profile depending on whether needing to add summer annuals or winter species."
Choosing to not rake the hay as their focus is on maintaining ground cover, Micheal and Toby cut the pasture at the height of a beer can and avoid cutting hay during a prolonged period of heat to keep the microbes in the soil happy.
Notably soils have an increased water storage capacity, due to improved soil organic matter, and therefore there is less runoff.
Mr West said the most significant thing he has noticed working with regenerative practices is the return of a lot of species of bird life and beneficial buys - "everything is running like clock work, since we've left it alone".
The Wests have run over three-quarters of the property with a crimp roller and crimped it back into the ground.
"The winter species have laid over, and you notice a lot of red clover, lucerne and summer fescue and it is looking fantastic."
Into the future Toby says beef cattle will be introduced to the system to provide the integral addition of manure to paddocks.
"You can't build soil health at a rapid rate without livestock," he said.
Mr West's small tip that could make a big difference is to "not be heavy handed with the selective herbicides".
"Being concerned in a minor problem in a pasture could end up setting back legume species that play a massive role in the fertility side of soils," he said.
Forty cherry trees are still growing fruit on the Balmoral property.
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