Designing your own destiny

I love innovators, doers and people who are proud to share their story. Agriculture so needs more people who can combine all three.

One such person is the wonderful Andrea Hannemann who with husband Mark, farms on 1700 hectares in the Cleve region on the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia

‘We as farmers are always striving to do things better, improve efficiencies, increase yields, adopt the latest technology and maintain a healthy landscape, all to ensure our farming enterprise remains viable well into the future. This requires constant monitoring and the ability to adapt and change’. says Andrea

Andrea Hannemann

I first met Andrea when I joined the Climate Champions program and as regular readers  know the program itself has changed my life let alone what I have learnt from all awesome people involved in it

Climate Champions

Andrea to me is the quintessential quiet achiever.  Follower her twitter feed @andyhann1 and you will see what I mean. In a phenomenally short period of time, Andrea has built up a twitter network of thought leaders who ask the tough questions and challenge each other and the system

Andrea and Mark identified water security as one of the biggest threats to their farm’s sustainability and they weren’t going to sit around and wait for some-else to find the solution

‘The Eyre Peninsula is a huge area and we think it’s up to us as individual farmers to be self sufficient and create our own renewable, reliable and sustainable water supply.’

Andrea’s story* is a testament of what you can achieve when you take a great idea and put it into action…………..

Mark & I are 4th Generation farmers from the Cleve Hills on the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia. We are in the business of producing healthy food and fibre and we love what we to do.

Mark and Andrea Hannemann

We crop wheat, barley, peas, chickpeas, vetch and canola and run 900 Merino ewes & 900 cross bred lambs.

Misty Morn

Over the last 10 years we have found our weather patterns are definitely changing with more extremes of heat and cold and storms. And our rain events – that’s interesting in itself – we call them rain events now when we used to just call it rain.

We have catastrophic fire days now, and we’ve had some horrific bushfires here. The hot north winds are more harsh and frequent. In 2009 we had quite rigorous thunderstorms, with a lot of hail damage. I guess they’ve always happened but they are more concentrated and cause more damage than they did in the past. Everything seems to be a little bit more concentrated.

Our country here is very undulating with loam over clay soils. Historically the farming rotation used to be 2 years of pasture and sheep and then the third year we would plant a crop. During those 2 years where you had sheep running over your country, it would pack down like cement. As soon as you got a rain event it’d all run off and form gutters and cause substantial soil erosion.

To counter this our next step was to contour all our country. The contour banks gathered the water from the gullies into the dams and controlled the erosion, so we didn’t get gutters forming in our paddocks.

But it was not the answer. The contours created small lands, over-sowing and inefficiencies. They also hindered the introduction of auto steer and GPS technologies. Over the last 13 years we have adopted minimum-till practices with stubble retention and we direct drill straight into last year’s stubble

May 2010 092

We found we weren’t getting the water runoff we used to as the moisture was staying in the improved soil profile and so adopting minimum-till practices has enabled us to grow good crops on less rainfall, because of this improved soil moisture retention. This meant we didn’t t need the contour banks anymore and so we took  them all out.

Historically we’ve relied on 40 dams on the property for our water. We relied on those dams for our stock, our garden water and for spraying our crops. But we can’t rely on them anymore for stock. We’re just not getting the water into the dams. Over the last 3 or 4 years we’ve had some fairly dry years and we couldn’t rely on any of the dams.  On top of this the 40 old dams lost 2 metres of water through evaporation each year, coupled with soakage and seepage loss. When summer came and we really needed the water, they were usually just full of mud in the bottom, which also created a hazard to the stock as they came in and tried to drink.Our house dam has been there 100 years and it’s only ever been empty 4 times. And 3 of those were in about the last 7 years.

Is that climate change or the way we are farming now you ask?  Probably a bit of both

A lack of a “good quality water supply” for stock and farm use was identified to be the major challenge that would restrain our long term viability in agriculture.  We had little chance of securing a SA Water supply connection as we are on the far western end of the River Murray pipe system, which is already an over-allocated and depleted water source and is in very poor health. ‘The Eyre Peninsula is a huge area and we think it’s up to us as individual farmers to be self sufficient and create our own renewable, reliable and sustainable water supply.

We were carting water from 14 kilometres in a little truck all summer for stock. It was time consuming and expensive. We thought the best way forward was for us to be self sufficient.

We needed to change, we did not want to change our farming practices, so we had to change the way we collected the water. We have now developed a water-harvesting scheme which is, hopefully, going to satisfy our water needs for stock, for spraying and for domestic use.

We selected a site which is the highest point on our farm and we had some major earthworks done to prepare the catchment area, which is 80 X 40 metres. The catchment area gravitates down into a 3-metre deep holding dam which is 30 X 30 metres.Both the catchment and the dam are lined with 1-mm high-density polyethylene plastic.

It’s 98% efficient in catching water. For every millimetre of rain, we collect a litre of water per square metre. Even with a heavy dew, we’re collecting water. On our average rainfall, which is a bit over 400 mm a year, we should get 1.6 million litres of water, which is enough to run our property for a year. We’d probably be ok with even 300 mm. We’re still going to get 1.2 million litres of water because we’re not losing any through evaporation and soakage.

From the dam, water gravitates down to the house and throughout the entire property. On the way, we’ve got feeder troughs going off into every paddock. We’ve got a tank at the house into which we collect and use water for spraying, for our domestic use, for gardens, and for stock. From the house, we feed water to another block, which already had poly pipes on it. We just had to put troughs on them. Now our whole farm is fed by these feeder troughs. So this one dam has the potential to service our whole property, whereas before we were using 40 open dams.

IMG_2307

The Hannemanns’ lined catchment and dam before the floating cover was installed

The catchment area has to be lined if you want to get close to 100% runoff. The 1-mm polyethylene is reasonably stiff. We had to get FABTECH from Adelaide to weld it onsite. There’s $50,000 worth of plastic invested in the catchment and dam area.

The reason we lined the dam is mainly for quality of water and to minimise soakage. We use the water for spraying so we don’t want suspended clay particles in it. We don’t use it for drinking water, but the quality would be up to doing that if we wanted to. When the dam was full we installed a floating cover on the top at a cost of $10,000. That cut our evaporation losses by 100% making it a hugely efficient system.

October 2010 021

Dam at capacity, awaiting the installation of the floating cover The water is then gravity fed from the dam throughout the property via a pipe system, supplying water for the paddock troughs, which are only turned on as stock movements require.

With the cover now on the dam, the quality has improved even more. When you keep the sunlight off, you get no algae. And there’s no chemical seepage into it. It’s good quality water. Better than what we had before.

Oct Nov 2010 068

Floating cover installed – job finished! Because the water scheme is based on gravitation, there are no pumps involved. No working parts. It’s minimal maintenance. You go to a paddock and switch a trough on if you’ve got sheep in there. It’s so simple.

If it sounds exciting, it looks really ordinary. It’s a lot of black plastic and tyres!

When you bring it back to dollars and sense and return on investment carting water was costing us about $11,000 a year and it’s really unsustainable to cart water in a truck up a hill on a 30-km round trip. It was leaving a huge environmental footprint. We hated that. It was very inefficient and very time consuming.

This harvesting scheme is going to cost us about $100,000 so the payback period is 10 years. We feel we can’t afford not to do it. Our water security is good for the next 25 years; that’s how long the plastic lasts.

A video of the catchment during a thunderstorm can be viewed here

We would also like to go into the area of further improving our soil and improving our soil carbon. For every percent that you increase your soil carbon, per square metre, you can hold an extra 8 litres of water. That stored moisture is productivity and profitability. It’s also sustainability. So that’s something that we’d like to work on. However increasing soil carbon by 1% is not as easy as it might sound and so we’ve just got to take it a step at a time.

We manage our sheep numbers to coincide with rainfall events and availability of feed. For example if we have a really good rain event in March, we can sow some forage crops for the sheep.  If we get plenty of feed the we actually buy in more sheep. This means means the sheep had more cross-bred lambs which we can then feed on our crop stubble later this year. Farming sustainably is about wisely making the most of every opportunity

We make hay when the season’s good. If we have a lot of feed, we’ll cut that for hay and store it. We also store oats and barley seed for feed. We just do it year by year depending on what the year’s looking like.

Frost is a major issue in our region, but it’s pretty hard to plan for it. Different crops are flowering at different times and it depends on when you get hit.

Our crops do hang on here a little longer. We’d be 3 or 4 degrees colder through here on average than 10 or 20 kilometres away, so we’re always starting harvest a couple of weeks later than everyone else. Whether that’s a good or bad thing, it’s just a matter of timing with frost.

We do use different crop varieties that flower at different times. That lessens our risk. Of our 2 wheat varieties, one has a bit longer growing season, the other one is a bit shorter. So if one gets hit the other is spared. It’s like a hedge.

Mark Hannemann Checking wheat sample

 

Canola’s the same. We’ve had canola varieties with different growing seasons and one variety did get hit with frost, while the other one got through because it wasn’t flowering. So I guess that’s how we manage frost, and that’s about the best we can do. Because even if they forecast a frost there’s nothing you can do about it.

Green & Gold Canola

Paddock of Canola

Our hot north winds are getting more severe. Our crops were heat stressed two years in a row in September on Grand Final day. It knocked everybody’s yield around. It would be terrific if we had new and better varieties of crops that can withstand heat stress because I guess we’re going to have more of that.

We rely on the internet a lot now for our information to run our business so it’s really important. We need accurate forecasting, long term and short term. We need a seasonal forecast. But it needs to be accurate.

We rely on the seasonal forecasts, mainly at start of seeding. A few years ago we just about did our complete seeding dry, and that worked out well. We dealt with the weed issues later on, which was good but fairly expensive. In this country if you leave seeding until late it can get too wet, and if you’re well into the middle of July with your seeding program you have a fair yield penalty by leaving it that late. So we have made the decisions with the help of forecasts to go in early. We just have to deal with the weed issues later on.

Application of nitrogen is another thing we use forecasts for. If you want a rain event to wash some urea in, you’ve certainly got to rely on the forecasts for that. It helps us plan and gives us the opportunity to use our inputs as wisely as we can and hopefully increase our yields, our productivity and our profitability. With better forecasts you can move forward with more confidence and make those decisions that are so important to your business. So, accurate forecasts are really, really important to the viability of our business.

This is why Mark and I put our hands up to be Climate Champion farmers so we could share our highs and lows, the good and the bad and have the opportunity to feed information from farmers back to researchers about what they need to better manage risk on their properties

*Andrea wrote me a short version of her profile on the Climate Champions website but its too good a story to shorten so I have reprinted the majority of it for today’s post

Andrea and Mark are also 1 of 100 Farmers sharing their story on Target 100 here

They are also inspiring thousands of school children through this fabulous study guide

‘Water our most Precious Resource’ which you can download here 

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