Tough times hone Matt’s focus on sustainability

Photos by Camilla Duffy.

Howling winter winds blowing dust across the paddocks in the NSW Southern Tablelands is how Matt Doyle remembers his first few seasons when he bought his property at Yass in 2004.

The sheep and cattle farmer says those tough early years “profoundly affected” his approach to managing his land.

“It was dry, we were having these late autumn breaks, I was stocking our land at traditional local rates, feeding sheep into winter then sheep were getting cold and wet with no shelter,” Matt said.

“I knew something had to change.”

I wanted a more sustainable operation which respected groundcover and preserved the soil and provided some protection for the animals.

Fast forward 16 years and Matt and his wife, Maree, proudly report they’ve planted 50,000 trees, fenced more than five kilometres of riparian creek country, developed corridors to plant trees and protect water courses, and developed shelter belts throughout the property to provide cover to stock and native animals.

They’ve developed a strong partnership with Greening Australia, Matt chairs his local Landcare group, and he’s been a keen participant in several holistic management and regenerative farming courses.

As a result Matt and Maree have adopted a number of regenerative practices and moved to a rotational grazing system and now stock and graze their property according to detailed pasture budgeting tools.

By focusing on soil health and groundcover Matt believes they’ve improved water retention and are minimising run-off.

He said the results have been transformative.

“We did trials with livestock which were provided with proper shelter during cold winter events and found our cattle were 20 kilograms heavier when it was time to market them compared to those cattle without shelter.”

“So the outcomes were twofold – better animal welfare and increased revenue from greater weight gains in the livestock.”

Matt says the property has a lot more groundcover and pasture throughout the year and across the varying seasons, the soils are better and he is able to withstand dryer times with more appropriate stocking rates. And recovery from those tougher times is much easier.

We have found you can make a profit most years if you care for the landscape.

“In fact, profitability and sustainability are not mutually exclusive. If you’re not profitable, it’s hard to be sustainable, but if you’re not sustainable, you won’t be profitable.”

He says the biggest challenge has been learning how to adjust his stocking rates to cater for the dryer times, and maximise opportunities during the good seasons.

“We need to do this properly to help retain our groundcover, because by doing so we keep our landscape healthy.”

“We want a healthy landscape function so we don’t have massive run off when it rains – we want better water infiltration for healthier soils, healthier plants and a healthier bottom line.”

Matt says he has eased into his regenerative journey, keeping an eye on turnover and seeking out education and specialist mentors along the way.

In the pursuit of profitable sustainability, I’ve sought out mentors in our regional community who find that balance between looking after the landscape in dry times and turning a profit in the good times.

“I’ve immersed myself in courses and workshops. Knowledge and education is so important.”

Matt says having the right stock and the enterprises have been crucial to sustainable, but still profitable, landscape repair and management.

“We’ve definitely boosted the health of our landscape, and I’m not sure we’d still be here if we’d kept doing things the way we had – if we’d continued on the path we were first on when we came here in 2004 due to the high cost of inputs and the damage to the land.”

“Now we’re in a system where in tough years we go into survival mode but we make up for it in the big rainfall events.”

“We can be flexible which helps us make good money in the good years but care for the land when it needs it most.”

Lucy Knight

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