APPLYING an entire system approach to agricultural food production challenges students and teachers at the Orange Anglican Grammar School (OAGS).
By using a dung beetle project together with regenerative ag practices within their grazing production and grazing system, the school has identified opportunities to increase production while improving the condition of the soil.
OAGS agricultural teacher Sarah Eyb said it all started when she acknowledged that they needed to rethink how to better manage the school system.
“I took students to Chris Hall’s property on Young, and he has really demonstrated that by managing our ecosystems, we can increase production,” Ms Eyb said.
“We had a very similar place here; we had an old orchard plot that had been pulled out, so a very uneven distribution of the upper soil.
“The soil was pretty dead and lifeless – not much had been done – so it was about building that soil microflora.”
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OAGS collaborated with the NSW Environmental Trust and Central Tablelands Landcare in a dung beetle project, which forms an integral part of the school’s entire system approach to regenerative ag.
With a local farm partner just up the road at Wayne and Jenny Petrie’s Orange-based estate, Ms. Eyb said the school has breeding holes and test sites, while the Petrie family commercially breeds the beetles.
“Many people, myself included, were unaware of the impact that the earth’s flora and fauna have on the earth’s fertility and the earth’s health.
“Especially when it comes to binding carbon and reducing the need to soak, because the dung beetles take the manure underground, so the worms have gone with them and broken up.
“If you look at the dirt where it’s been through the dung beetles, it’s just phenomenal.”
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Ms Eyb said there has been a huge increase in soil structure from highly compacted basalt clay to beautiful rich red dirt after the dung beetles in the nursery have taken the manure down and brought perfect little beds to the top.
The manure beetle nursery was built by Cowra Men’s Shed, and the winter-active manure beetles in it are fed continuously through the winter, while they are rarer in the summer when they go to sleep.
Nine core sites are located at the OAGS site, which are pulled up and the dung beetle larvae are counted.
“The plan is to have them ready for release so that regional farmers can keep manure beetles running all winter,” she said.
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CHALLENGING WAYS OF THINKING
With students studying agriculture having different backgrounds and interests, the introduction of the concept of regenerative ag along with traditional farming methods has given students the opportunity to expand their knowledge and understanding.
It is about challenging perceptions and offering different ways of doing things, Ms Eyb said.
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“It was even a challenge for me when we grew millet to start getting hay. When the millet grew again, it was so tempting for me to throw sheep in there and feed it – it was so hard to say no.
“We had a bunch of kids who said what are you doing and wasting that millet – it was hard for everyone.
“But when the first frost hit, and the millet fell down, we had submerged, and the alfalfa, vetch, and clover came away beautifully, so we had fodder over our ears.”
Ms Eyb said by letting the millet rot down that the organic matter in the soil has gotten better out of sight in a year.
Students see visually and experience the difference regenerative ag practice can make.
“We do not spray that fold, and we deliberately compare pastures out front, which are run traditionally, with the block at the top, which is controlled like rain.
Since the fold was very nitrogen deficient, they had to come in heavily with a legume base, which.
“Because of this, we removed grass to be careful of bloating,” she said.
“We stripped the grass front and back, which also gave the kids these skills to use the fold effectively – when they reached the last strip, the first strip was ready to go again.”
OAGS newer school-grown lamb crate product was completed on this pasture.
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