Building the soil and the community at Hollands Track Farm, Newdegate, Western Australia

Jamie Bowyer, Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Western Australia
Nick Kelly, Hollands Track Farm, Newdegate, Western Australia


The Kelly family have been farming at Hollands Track Farm, about 18 km south-west of Newdegate, since 1965. They currently produce grains, beef, eggs and sheep. Long-term annual average rainfall is 350 mm.

The Kellys were early adopters – in the 1990s – of the no-till farming system, which is now widely used in Western Australia. Around 2002 they sold the last of their sheep and moved to a continuous cropping program with increased fertiliser and chemical use. They were very good at this system, and it served them well. They really enjoy the challenge of growing good crops.

Over time, persistent weeds emerged on the farm and these – along with other constraints including soil compaction, low pH and decreasing nutrient and carbon levels – led them to investigate ways to solve these problems.

The Kellys developed a series of soil care principles to guide their farm management. These principles are founded in nature:

  • maintain groundcover
  • minimise soil disturbance
  • keep living plants with roots in the soil for as much of the year as possible
  • encourage diversity – no monocultures
  • integrate animals
  • reduce or eliminate synthetics.

These principles are all aimed at increasing biodiversity above and below the ground to produce nutrient-dense food that is free from pesticide residues. They are based on the knowledge that biodiversity enables efficient nutrient cycling, carbon sequestration through plant root exudates and biomass breakdown, improved water infiltration through soil aggregates, and increased water-holding capacity. The Kellys have trialled and adopted a wide range of new practices to enable them to achieve their goals.