Natural asset farming is steadily being embraced by landholders as a way to improve biodiversity and production on their properties.
- Natural asset farming refers to improving elements of an agricultural landscape, such as creek lines
- Research has found fencing off farm dams improves biodiversity, water quality and reduces greenhouse gas emissions
- Sustainable Farms project experts say even rocky outcrops can benefit farm production
The method refers to enhancing natural assets in the agricultural landscape, from farm dams and tree lines, to rocky outcrops and creek beds.
Cattle producer David Waters featured in a recently released book on the farming method called Natural Asset Farming: Creating Productive and Biodiverse Farms and authored by David Lindenmayer, Suzannah Macbeth, David Smith and Michelle Young.
Close to 95 per cent of Mr Waters’s Batlow, NSW property was burnt out in the Black Summer bushfires.
But unlike many affected, his farm dam’s water quality was not impacted by ash.
Mr Waters put this down to his decision to fence off the dam several years earlier, allowing the surrounding vegetation to regenerate.
“Our dam, because we had this [vegetation] filter almost … the water in the dam stayed really good, really healthy for the cows,” he said.
Mr Waters said this made a “massive” difference to their recovery efforts.
Research finds fencing farm dams reduces methane emissions
Along with improving water quality, research has shown fencing dams could lead to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
The Sustainable Farms project, a government-funded Australian National University (ANU) initiative, has been examining how to improve the management of farm dams for the last three years.
ANU ecologist Ben Scheele said one of the project’s recent studies, led by their partners at Deakin University, found fenced off dams produced 56 per cent less methane emissions compared to unfenced dams.
“The fenced dams have much lower levels of nutrients … nitrogen and phosphorus within the water… [and] also have higher levels of dissolved oxygen,” Dr Scheele said.
Protecting rocky outcrops to reduce erosion
Natural Asset Farming: Creating Productive and Biodiverse Farms co-author Suzannah Macbeth said one of the less-obvious natural assets on a property was rocky outcrops.
“Rocky outcrops are quite a good example of a part of a farm that isn’t playing a huge role in terms of the production system, but by looking after them it can actually support both productivity and biodiversity,” Ms Macbeth said.
She said farmers had found fencing off outcrops could reduce erosion in the area and provide a habitat for animals, like Murray Darling carpet pythons.
Fellow co-author and lead scientist of the Sustainable Farms project, ANU professor David Lindenmayer, said focusing on one asset at a time was an approachable method for farmers.
“But they do want to do something and by being able to pick out different natural assets on their farms and then start to work with those and improve those, they really can make a big difference to productivity, profitability and biodiversity.”