Leaving it better…

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“That really is the object of all this….we should leave it in a better state than we found it…” (Charles Massey – Australian Story, 2020)

There aren’t too many words in that sentence, but it is asking quite a few questions.  And although many, many farmers and landholders have thought and given voice to something quite similar throughout their years of tenure, have they dug deeper and asked those unspoken questions?

What is ‘all this’?  What does better mean?  Who are we leaving it better for?

And the clanger….Are we (leaving it better)?

‘All this’ covers a fair bit of ground, I’ll grant you, but as farmers and landholders our responsibilities do cover a fair bit of ground.  ‘All this’ includes our sweeping vistas, vast croplands, acres of precision planted orchards, our flocks, our herds, our struggling country towns, our over-extracted waterways, our depleted soil carbon bank and our too often non-existent soil microbial communities, not to mention our native fauna and their importance in our ecosystem functionality.  Aaaandd – inhale!

Is ‘better’ spraying out under the bottom wire of the fences? Does better mean bigger sheds and tractors with more horsepower.  Or maybe it means straighter rows and tidier headlands? 

If the answer isn’t YES to those things, why do we do them?

Old cattle pads, now erosion points. Oct 2021

Perhaps better might be asking how to enable ancient solitary eucalypts to repopulate before the wizened old tree passes on and that paddock is left without any tree cover.  ‘Better’ could mean not mulching a slightly undergrazed or weedy paddock so the finches and bandicoots have somewhere to shelter during the winter.  Better might simply be providing a welcoming space for a farm kid to ‘come home’ when they finish high school or uni if that’s what their heart tells them to do.

Because isn’t that who we are doing all this for??? 

The kids.  The next generation. 

Aren’t they the ones we strive to provide a better place for?

Maybe…or maybe we can enjoy ‘better’ in our own lifetimes too.  Perhaps we can read this statement as an invitation or challenge even, to see how much ‘better’ we can observe before we approach our leaving time. 

Our landscape functionality can improve quickly.  Far faster than we once imagined possible, so why not enjoy at least the early stages of ‘better’ now, instead of only gaining satisfaction from your efforts at hand over time.

Our own efforts at better span 25 years and 2 properties now.  We landed on farm #2, three days before Christmas 2017, so not quite 5 years ago at the timing of writing this.  After 20 years of stewarding our first small farm, watching the wrens and finches build nests in the garden shrubs while we ate breakfast was – well, normal.  Our pastures fostered over those 2 decades were ‘predictable’.  We knew how the farm would respond to varying weather conditions and it was improving season on season.  Weeds were few and we had no concerns about any ‘taking over’ and our pastures would regularly outpace our grazing…a problem yes, but a good problem to have and it came to be normal to us.

Same site, erosion arrested, groundcover much improved – Feb 2022

But what we accept as normal is where things get tricky.  Because a view, an experience, a habit that is ‘normal’ in our lifetime, doesn’t mean it was so in the past or will remain that way into the future.

We moved just 9 km’s from home – obviously we’re not particularly adventurous souls – and to a property, we’d driven past for the previous 20 years, so we knew the property & landscape, but the difference was beyond stark.

In the mad scramble of moving house during the festive period, we didn’t notice the lack of birds.  Once semi-unpacked and possibly sometime after our Christmas Day food coma nap, we all started to comment on the quietness around the house.  Where were the birds?  The garden shrubs were empty.  The paddocks were quiet and it took us a while to understand….this was normal here. 

We brought just a few head of livestock with us.  We knew we were moving to a very run-down farm with little infrastructure.  But that first year was awful.  The farm we had purposely bought could not carry even the few animals we’d brought with us from our previous farm which was one third the size!  We destocked down to just our 4 workhorses and 2 house cows and they still dropped some condition during the winter, despite using every management tool in the box. 

This was our new normal – and it did not feel good.

Recognizing that feeling of discomfort is the first step toward ‘leaving it better’.  Not accepting that feeling as ‘normal’.

Acting on that feeling is the second step.

Not quite 5 years on and we have little flocks of wrens, 2 species of finches, pipits, fantails, fly catchers and quails….so many quails!  We love to hear them calling to each other at sunset now.  That has become normal here now.  We’ve had that management toolbox in overdrive and last year, we brought home a small mob of adult breeder cattle permanently, to accompany the 4 workhorses and a few weaners on farm, and the grass is slowly starting to get in front of our mob.  More importantly that feeling of panic in the pit of our gut has finally gone. 

We could say everything is back to normal…but we aren’t accepting normal as better.

If this amount of positive change is possible in under 5 years (including 4 years of drought) how much better will things be in another 5? 

You don’t have to accept normal. 

We all deserve better and we deserve it now.

By Karen Jarling

Karen is available for coaching to help you move to a more plentiful farming future and can be contacted on 0419840088 or by email [email protected]

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