Amarula Dorpers win 2019 NSW Landcare Award for innovative regenerative farming practice

Landcare Australia chair Doug Humann presents Lorroi and Justin Kirkby, Amarula Dorpers, with the Australian Government Landcare Farming Award. Photo: Pennie Hall
Landcare Australia chair Doug Humann presents Lorroi and Justin Kirkby, Amarula Dorpers, with the Australian Government Landcare Farming Award. Photo: Pennie Hall

A passion for regeneration and a willingness to think outside the box has seen Amarula Dorpers, near Moree, take out a state Landcare award.

Amarula Dorpers' Lorroi and Justin Kirkby won the Australian Government Landcare Farming Award at the 2019 NSW Landcare Awards, held at Broken Hill on October 23.

Up against some "stiff competition", the Kirkbys were thrilled to be recognised for the work they've been undertaking to regenerate their farm and improve their soil health.

"It was very exciting," Lorroi said of the win.

"The drought's been the biggest factor in pushing forward in improving our land."

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The Kirkbys' journey to regeneration began about 15 years ago when they bought a 280 hectare farming block 50 kilometres east of Moree. With scalded, brittle soil and very little groundcover and nutritional grasses, they saw a challenge to regenerate what had been lost with more than 50 years of pillaging with industrial methods of farming.

"[After buying our place], we didn't have any money, so we needed to find a way without too many costs," Lorroi said.

"We're really passionate about making sure our stock were healthy and we were healthy and the only way to do that was through soil health. It became a passion."

The Kirkbys found that by not using chemical sprays or fertilisers, they could keep production costs down which meant an increased profit, as part of their "profit, not production" philosophy.

"We've sown crops for a lot less money, which means our income can be quite high because our costs are low," Lorroi said.

"It's not thinking that you have to get bigger and bigger - you can make a good living by thinking outside the box and trying things differently."

Over the 15 years that they have been owners and stewards of their land, the Kirkbys' main focus and farming practice change has been to increase soil health. It is their belief that we need to regenerate our landscapes in order for both our and future generations to be sustainable.

"We think everything is based around soil - if you've got healthy soil, you've got healthier plants, healthier animals," Lorroi said.

"Ultimately, we're looking at drought resiliency. We want to improve our resilience to drought and regenerate our land.

"We can all sustain our land but we're sustaining degraded soil. We're trying to regenerate it back to what it was and then sustain it."

By changing their management systems over the years and implementing innovative farming techniques, the Kirkbys have tripled the soil organic carbon through methods such as no-tillage fodder cropping, the use of compost and manures and sowing diverse multi-species crops.

The Kirkbys are also focussed on increasing groundcover to effectively use all the rain that falls on their land, and are committed to planting trees and saltbush to provide forage, shade, shelter and wildlife corridors.

"Most people think we're a little crazy," Lorroi said.

"But it's something everyone needs to think about."

Lorroi said winning this Landcare Farming Award gives them credibility and proves that are they are on the right track.

"We've always looked outside the box," she said.

"We're always thinking of how we can do it better.

"This gives us a bit of credibility; we are doing the right thing and people are starting to listen. Hopefully the government is listening. It all goes towards climate change. We need to change our ways to improve our environment."

"It's about trying something new and not being scared of failing. If you don't fail, you don't learn," Justin added.

"It's like Paul Kelly says, 'from little things, big things grow'."

The Australian Government Landcare Farming Award acknowledges an individual, group or organisation that has demonstrated excellence and leadership in implementing integrated land management practices on a farm property, or properties, that protect soils, water and vegetation.

Landcare Australia CEO, Dr Shane Norrish, commended recipients of the NSW Landcare Awards on their outstanding accomplishments.

"It's an honour to be able to recognise the great work being carried out by our Landcare champions in NSW," he said.

"The Landcare Awards program provides landcarers the ideal opportunity to get together and celebrate the individual and collective achievements of landcare in the community."

The Kirkbys will now go on to represent NSW in the national Landcare awards, to be held in Sydney in November next year.