Search for ways to drought-proof pasture, and you’ll find grazing practices like Holistic Planned Grazing, and engineering solutions like Keyline Design, and Natural Sequence Farming.  

They help, but there’s a remarkably simple solution that usually gets overlooked – growing trees.

Why do trees make such a difference for drought-proofing pastures?

Trees store water, reduce temperatures, and the amount of water lost from soil through evaporation by providing shade, wind protection and extra mulch.

But the real magic – is getting rain measured in our rain gauge infiltrating and stored in our soil rather than running off.

As I explain in ‘Drought-proof your farm’, planting trees and, in fact, growing any additional layers and density of vegetation increases food supplies for our soil ecosystems. Given a plentiful, regular and preferably diverse diet of organic materials and root exudates, soil organisms construct soil which water readily infiltrates and is stored.

Soil organisms are our soil structural engineers! [1] They are the experts at building water-holding aggregates and breaking down leaf litter and other organic material into organic matter.

Organic matter acts like a sponge – storing incredible amounts of water – up to 90% of its weight. It’s a better reservoir than clay. In fact, for every 1% increase in soil organic carbon, we can store almost two extra buckets of water per square metre in the top 30 cm of soil. That’s nearly 20,000 extra buckets per hectare![2]

See how to drought-proof your pasture in this video

It’s difficult to get these benefits using set-stocking or rotational grazing, as the grass gets continuously trampled by livestock camping under the trees. If the grass manages to regrow leaves, the solar panels get eaten before the plant has time to recharge its batteries!

Grazing techniques like holistic planned grazing move livestock on allowing plants to re-grow solar panels uninhibited. These grazing systems also increase the recycling of grass into organic matter instead of allowing it to dry out to become oxidised or burnt. Livestock feed in tight mobs, eat, shit and trample vegetation, adding organic material to the soil.

Some farmers I meet are concerned that trees will suck more water out of the ground. But research demonstrates that increased water infiltration and storage in soil, due to the extra organic matter and enhanced soil structure, more than compensates.[3]

 

If you’re asking yourself – “what’s the best thing I can do to drought-proof my property?” – you’ll get the answers in the Drought-proof your farm.

You’ll discover how to make the most of the rain and irrigation water you have available. How to extend your growing season by keeping your soil moist well into dry times, and save money on feed for livestock when growing gets tough.

 

References

[1] Wendy Seabrook, 2019, Eco-logical Farming Handbook. Published by Learning from Nature

[2] Jones, C. E. (2006). Carbon and catchments. National ‘Managing the Carbon Cycle’ Forum, Queanbeyan, NSW, 22-23 November 2006. (http://www.amazingcarbon.com)

[3] Andrea D. Basche & Oliver F. Edelson, 2017, Improving water resilience with more perennially based agriculture. Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, Volume 41, 2017 – Issue 7 (https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/21683565.2017.1330795)