What do you think about your landscape?
That was the pointed question David Hardwick asked of the participants in the recent 'Regenerating Rural Landscapes' bootcamp held at Bibbaringa, Bowna.
Mr Hardwick is an agroecologist and partner with Soil Land Food, an independent agricultural consultancy with a passion for supporting change Australian rural landscapes, farming and food systems towards a more regenerative, ecological future.
"Agriculture obviously interacts on a daily basis with landscape," he said.
"And it is how we relate to our landscape which affects our thinking and our response to events such as drought which are beyond our control."
Farms are in landscapes and landscapes are complex systems, constantly changing, with the system elements all interacting with each other.
Mr Hardwick said it is important to observe and understand those interactive systems when thinking through farm management issues.
"This is because all elements of the farm are interconnected in what we call a rural landscape," he pointed out.
"Yet we require that rural landscape on the farm to be productive, we have to make money.
"But there is a big difference between profit and production."
Often, Mr Hardwick noted gross production does not mean more profit but more cost.
"You should be thinking about planning your farm to be not just simply productive and healthy but efficient," he said.
"We are building skills around managing the landscape better but identifying the key issues is critical in prioritising your directions."
Mr Hardwick pointed out there is often more than one answer to a particular issue and the direction taken depends entirely on your own goals for the land.
"You are trying to create your ideal farm business but will always come up against challenges beyond your expectations," he said.
"There will always be disturbances within the farming business so you have to be prepared to adapt and work with what you have."
Modern rural landscapes have been highly modified for agricultural purposes, with few remaining natural 'patches' - a patch being a specific or unique element of a local landscape.
"The challenge for rural landholders is how we can maintain a rural landscape for both agriculture and Australia's biodiversity," Mr Hardwick said.
"This is especially important because most of Australia's land area is under rural management."
Landscape is a mosaic of patches and Mr Hardwick said it is vital to get the balance and arrangement of those patches right for both farm enterprises as well as landscape health.
"Landscape health is such a warm word, but what does it mean?" he asked his audience.
And the responses varied from having an operational water cycle to aiming for a disease-free and highly functioning natural capital base.
A resilient landscape in which the landholder can bounce forward after setbacks such as drought was also much discussed among the participants at the bootcamp.
Mr Hardwick pointed out supporting the water cycle on the farm is key to success along with a vigorous soil.
"Once you get the health of your soil in balance, you change the whole outlook for the farm," he said.
"Little things like restoring plants not seen for generations is not only satisfying but an indication biodiversity is in balance."
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