During the 2018-2019 droughts, certain farms west of the Newell Hwy, where the landholdings are larger, received more local thunderstorms than their neighbours with “square clouds”. These farmers practised conservation agriculture, which included maximising vegetative cover and soil organic matter, a practice which would now be considered regenerative farming. This enhanced the small water cycle to mitigate droughts, improve water use efficiency and helped maintain the small water cycle during bad seasons. The small water cycle is precipitation from local evapotranspiration and accounts for between 30% and 60% of rainfall. It typically falls between one and 15 kilometres from where it evaporates and causes fog, light winter rain and summer thunderstorms. As we have seen these past two seasons and this winter, a moist soil with good vegetative cover attracts clouds as it reduces relative humidity potential with the clouds and makes it easier for raindrops to form. This mechanism, when connected with the coast, drives water inland in cycles known as the biotic pump. Destruction of vegetative cover on the land and the organic matter in the soil disrupts this process and amplifies droughts and dry periods caused by global climate factors.

Managing the small water cycle increases rainfall, improves infiltration and stores more water for longer in the soil to benefit plants. Regenerative agriculture, conservation agriculture and biodynamics all follow a system that achieves this and promotes the return of the small water cycle. Key components within these practices include minimising exposure of soil, maximises sequestration of carbon through diversity of species in both cropping and grazing systems, reduce use of fertilisers that are salts of acids, create farm systems that result in fungi numbers exceeding bacteria, appropriate use of eco-corridors and other techniques to promote rainfall and increase organic matter to hold water at source.

Organic matter is 50% organic carbon and if you increase soil organic matter, you are carbon farming. Carbon farming is the outcome of every farmer who practises sustainability and with the rise of government–backed carbon farming initiatives, there has never been a better time to begin conservation or regenerative land practices to improve yields and create greater resilience on–farm for future climate variations.

A field day, to be held at Daisy Vale in Cootamundra on the 13th of July, will assist farmers in understanding the health of their soil through a specially developed series of DIY soil observation tests. Through the tools covered in the session, farmers and ag advisors will gain knowledge around identifying and tracking changes in organic matter on farm and get an introductory understanding of how soil carbon is developed on farm.

This event has been organised by local Cootamundra business, New Soil, and will be led by Phil Mulvey, founder of Ryzo (formerly Carbon Count), a soil scientist with over 40 years of experience in restoring degraded landscape. Phil believes in empowering and training farmers and landowners to understand their soils in the landscape of productive farm systems so they can make informed changes. Phil is co-author of Ground Breaking: Soil Security and Climate Change, and lead author of A farmers handbook to on–farm carbon management. Places can be booked by calling Adam Gammon, manager of New Soil, on 0447 040 222.