Natural Resources Research Articles

High performance of a low input, mixed western Australian farming system: public policy implications from the case of Tolga farm

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Sustainable Earth Reviews




Phase farming, Nutrient cycling, Legume pasture, Sheep meat production, Soil health, Crop and pasture synergies, Farming systems, Bioeconomic modelling, Carbon emissions, Soil organic carbon


Agricultural Economics | Soil Science


Tolga is a 5,200 ha sheep and cropping farm located near Kulin in Western Australia (WA). Since 2004, its production system has been a blend of conventional and alternative practices; some of these alternative practices are common in non-broadacre industries. The alternative practices are based on an understanding of soil health gained from the Australian Soil Planners system which aims to improve the farm’s biological functioning and nutrient cycling.

This includes use of phase rotations with legume (subclover) pastures tended as a crop, minimal, but necessary synthetic fertilisers and chemicals, supplementary nutritional packages for pastures, animals, and soils, supplementing chemical control with nutrition and grazing management where possible, corrective liming to address soil acidity, and using deep rooted tillage radish to recycle sub soil nutrients, promote root biomass to reduce the impact of soil compaction and possibly, reduce enteric methane emissions.

Livestock performance is very high by industry standards, and crop yields, previously similar to district average, are improving in response to a greater proportion of the farm dedicated to livestock / pasture production. The reasons for the high level of livestock performance are not thoroughly understood, emphasising the need for research into the farm’s system. Estimated profitability is around the median of a leading consultant’s cohort of farmers for that rainfall zone; however, the low variability in its profit is reflective of the top 25% of the cohort, ranked on profit (gross margin) per hectare. The business has steadily grown over the past 30 years. Emissions (T/CO2e/ha) are estimated to be low compared to industry benchmarks and evidence exists that the farm’s total organic carbon pool is either reflective of or is as much as 40% higher than the surrounding area.



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