HOW the environment is helping the farm to be profitable was one of the facets of speaker Andrew Watson’s talk at the ABARES Tamworth Regional Outlook Conference last week.
Mr Watson, who runs the irrigated and dryland cotton property Kilmarnock at Boggabri, was one of the afternoon speakers.
He covered how he’d trialled different types and quantities of fertilisers, kept costs down, weaned off using insecticides, and helped boost the numbers of insects and animals that could help naturally control crop pests.
“One of the things we’ve tried to do over a number of years is look at environmental services to our business, so: what is the environment doing to help us make money?” he told the audience.
“We initially started improving the riverine health in the Namoi River; we front about 17 or 18 kilometres.
“My mother did a lot of work taking out willow trees, realigning stumps so the stream bed flows straight, re-grassing and re-vegetating, fencing off the rivers, so that was really good.
“We also think it certainly improved the environmental health near the river of the insect and bird and bat life.
“We put in tree lines and … that’s certainly improved the bats, birds and insects around the farm.
“We’ve got some PhDs which are presently being conducted and have been conducted that have actually proved that data and that it is a positive net economic benefit to us by having these tree lines in there.
“We’ve been able to link these tree lines to the remnant vegetation areas.”
Mr Watson said they’d initially started putting tree lines in to stop spray drift off the farm.
“And then suddenly people started using 2, 4-D around us, which kills cotton very easily, so then it was to stop spray drift coming on the farm,” he said.
“But now it’s certainly carrying our little helpers around – up and down the tree lines.
“We’ve had something in the region of 17 PhDs done on environmental services on our farm, and everything just adds to the next little bit of information we get.”
Mr Watson said he was “quite happy with the fact we’ve been able to continue yielding what everyone else is yielding around us, without spraying any insecticides whatsoever”.
“We have a group in our area who get together; there’s some pretty good farmers in that group – three of them, I think, have been finalists in the Cotton Grower of the Year, one’s actually won it, so there’s some pretty good good farmers there – and we’re sort of tapping along with most of them.”
Mr Watson said the efforts to reduce chemical use had started because “at one stage we identified chemicals as one of the larger costs and [it was] rising”.
“We then attempted to look at all the different ways we could manage that; whether we could survive economically by not spraying insecticides,” he said.
“That has proven to be the case: we’re still here, still growing the yields everyone else is growing, not using insecticides.”