Paul Serle operates a grazing business on 800 hectares of family-owned land near Tantanoola, producing prime lambs and running a sheep and cattle trading enterprise with his wife Kylie. In addition, they grow lucerne and chicory under center pivot irrigation. However it was a push for more structure to his biological farming systems that led Paul to a Nuffield scholarship and a quest to find out how the best practitioners around the world operate.
“We’ve been farming biologically for the past ten or so years, and really have been looking for some sort of systems approach to doing it. We found there’s a lot of consultants out there offering a lot of products, but really with no systematic approach to biological farming and how people could get into it and achieve some results with it,” Paul explains.
While profitability is obviously critical for all farming operations, for Paul there were other factors at play as he planned his Nuffield research.
“Better profitability is important but so is achieving some of our aims like improved soil health and also really just researching what else is happening out there in the world".
A highlight of that study was a three-week tour into Mexico, Costa Rica and Ecuador with 16 other Aussie biological farmers, where he saw some interesting systems with some application for his own operation.
“What we saw there was farmers using on-farm microbe reproduction to address their soil fertility problems. What was most interesting was that they’d been taught how to do it themselves, so they didn’t need to rely on commercial products or anything like that – they really almost had closed systems, where everything came from on the farm to make their fertility and they were working with things readily available to make improvements."
Paul then was exposed to some world-class biological consultants in north America, such as Gary Zimmer and grazing management consultant Greg Judy, based in Missouri but with a broad following. The visits had an impact on Paul as he returned from his scholarship to implement some of his research on-farm.
“Now I’ve completed my Nuffield, probably the first thing we’ll do on our property is set up a bio-factory similar to what I saw in Mexico, which is simple on-farm brewing of microbes to then foliar applicate on the farm, so we’ll put that out through our pivots. The other thing would be to use some abundance thinking, some of the guys with the grazing management are tacking on complementary enterprises that really don’t have a negative effect on their main grazing enterprise – it might be pasture-laying hens or something like that. Really it’s about looking at using the land we’ve got in a more intensive way,” Paul explains.