Outspoken farmer Peter Andrews believes he can increase Australia’s agricultural production and halt land degradation, and his controversial ideas are gathering high-profile support.
Story By Paul Myers
Peter Andrews can see the vision splendid. Not Clancy of the Overflow’s sunlit plains extended. And certainly not Dorothea Mackellar’s wide brown land of droughts and flooding rains.
The vision the maverick New South Wales Hunter Valley farmer sees is a mass of vegetation, stepped floodplains feeding wetlands that filter water and nutrients before slowly releasing them onwards, a myriad of different timber species intermingled with ubiquitous eucalypts, farms designed with three distinctive areas, no ploughing, widespread adoption of mulch farming, and weeds – yes weeds – as highly regarded and preserved as pasture and crops.
He says such a system could increase agricultural production five-fold by working with, instead of against, nature. Oddly enough, he may just get his wish.
The launch of OAROL (Outcomes Australia – Restoring Our Landscape) by former Governor-General Michael Jeffery in September (see ‘Major task for the general’, page 75) has put the spotlight on the natural sequence farming methods Peter has spent more than 30 years perfecting and on which people with the influence of Major General Jeffery and retailer-cum-thoroughbred breeder Gerry Harvey are firmly sold.
They, and numerous others, are backing the 69-year-old innovator whose natural sequence farming philosophies have won a legion of followers after three appearances on ABC TV’s Australian Story, two best-selling books and a host of consulting projects and personal appearances.
Sadly, it has come at a huge personal cost. Along the way Peter Andrews lost his daughter to suicide, his marriage and, ultimately, “Tarwyn Park”, his farm in the Bylong Valley of New South Wales, where his theories were successfully put into practice.
Peter grew up on a sheep station near Broken Hill in far-western New South Wales where he formed many of his ideas about landscape management. He observed, for example, how numerous large flat lakes, of several thousand hectares each, expanded during rainfall, then receded – leaving a huge body of mostly edible native grasses.
It helped him understand that the Australian landscape was once dotted with lakes and billabongs that formed part of an ancient floodplain system that has since disappeared and which, he maintains, must be restored.
This story excerpt is from Issue #68
Outback Magazine: Dec/Jan 2010