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Peer to Peer learning through on ground trials

Normanby catchment ‘Peer to Peer Grazing Group’ activities may have stalled during the coronavirus travel restriction period, but its Focus Farm initiative is going strong.

The Focus Farm initiative aims to assist land managers to achieve their goals with the assistance of a peer support group of farmers, and specialist service providers.

The initiative of two very keen Focus Farms grazing families on Cape York is to complete on ground erosion control trials using ultra-density cattle grazing to remediate gully erosion. Normanby Station and Valley View Station owners have been working above and beyond to reach their goal, with the support of Cape York Weeds and Feral Animals Inc. and South Cape York Catchments.

Although quite close geographically, our two Focus Farm stations are very different—Normanby Station receives less annual rainfall than Valley View Station, which sits at the head of the Endeavour Valley on rich, massive basalt clays.

Normanby station is tucked into the back of a sandstone escarpment with duplex sandy soil on highly dispersive clays. Under guidance from consultant grazier Dick Richardson, the Irwin’s on Valley View and the Harrigan’s on Normanby co- designed trials with the project team to reflect the land and pasture differences.

Overnight, the cattle are ‘camped’ in small paddocks at the gully heads, intensifying the number of cattle within a small area. They are then let out into larger paddocks to graze during the day.

This practice of camping the cattle increases the intensity of ground trampling and the concentration of manure, resulting in the smoothing of the gully head and banks and the improvement of ground fertility which encourages vegetative regrowth. This method is referred to as regenerative grazing.

Preliminary results are outstanding, despite a slow start and a limited wet-season. At the Normanby site, the gully head was battered and smoothed and well covered in manure, and on Valley View, creeping grasses had begun encroaching on gully banks after the first late-season shower post treatment.

Next season will see even further benefits following wet season rainfall and potential re-treatment of sites.

The Focus Farms are both accessible in the dry season, and the trial sites will be utilised for future extension activities including field days and the creation of demonstration films.

As a matter of interest, concentrated, ultra-density grazing is being trialled in the Fitzroy and Lower Burdekin basins, and other areas around the world, as a tool of regenerative agriculture.

A big thanks to Dick Richardson for providing advice, and to Peter and Judy Irwin of Valley View Station, and Vince and Cliff Harrigan of Normanby Station.

This initiative is funded by the Queensland Government Reef Water Quality Program and delivered by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries with partner organisations Cape York NRM, South Cape York Catchments and Cape York Weeds and Feral Animals Inc.