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NT farmers win national innovation award

22 June 2009

TOP End cattle farmers Chris and Marie Muldoon have taken out the prestigious Sustainability Award under the NFF/DAFF 2009 Innovation in Agriculture Awards, announced last night at a gala ceremony at the Brisbane Convention Centre attended by over 300 guests.

  • The Award was accepted by Marie's father, John Underwood (pictured between NFF President David Crombie [left] and Senator Glenn Sterle who filled in for Agriculture Minister Tony Burke who was a late withdrawal. Chris and Marie were awaiting the imminent arrival of a baby and could not attend. Photo downloadable below.

The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) and Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) have combined to establish the national awards to recognise and encourage the pursuit of excellence through innovative farming practises, held as part of the NFF’s annual National Congress.

This year three honours have been conferred under the Awards, one in each of the Sustainability, New Technology and Value Adding categories.

Proving farming and the environment is a partnership that brings mutual benefits, Chris and Marie Muldoon’s pioneering of cell grazing on their 3,000 hectare cattle station has seen herbicide use plummet 73% and fertiliser use completely eliminated, saving the farm $133,000 per year.

In the process, dramatically improved pastures provided for a 50% increase in stock.

In winning the Sustainability Award, the Muldoons, in just four years, have demonstrated how proactive environmental management can turn around a tired property to, once again, make it both healthy and productive.

Taking over the management of ‘Midway Station’ in the Douglas Daly district of the Northern Territory in 2004, pastures were tired, the property had a substantial weed infestation and the land had been heavily grazed.

Armed with an environmental plan to restore the long-term sustainability and viability of the property, the Muldoon’s challenge was to reduce herbicide and fertiliser use, while also improving pasture quality to increase production.

This saw the advent of the cell grazing system. Cell grazing is a practice where cattle are only allowed to graze in a restricted area and for limited amounts of time. On Midway Station, 1,500 hectares were broken up into 30 to 50 hectare paddocks, in turn, divided by solar-powered electric fences.

In the growing season (November through March) the mob of 2,000 – 3,000 cattle is moved from paddock to paddock each day. This gives the pasture a rest period of about 30 days, resulting in the development of rich, improved pastures.

Four years on, cell grazing has seen the Muldoons meet, and in some cases exceed, their aims. Herbicide use has fallen by 73% and they no longer need to use fertiliser. This has not only had a major positive environmental impact, but has resulted in input cost savings of $133,000 a year.

The level and nature of pasture improvement has also enabled the Muldoons to increase their stocking rates by 50%. They are now striving to completely eliminate the need for any herbicide use at all through continual pasture improvement.

The success of the cell grazing technique now sees the property play host to field days and study tours by other farmers, students and government departments to demonstrate its benefits and further highlights the Muldoons’ commitment to wider environmental outcomes, beyond the farm-gate, through their willingness to share their insights with others.

“The Muldoons are a prime example of how the environmental stewardship farmers take so seriously on behalf of themselves, future generations and the entire community can, with careful planning, have a positive impact on production,” NFF President David Crombie said.

“Not only have they managed to improve soil health and reclaim large areas of degraded land, they have dramatically cut their input costs and increased their stocking rates in the process.

“Australian farmers occupy and manage more than half of this nation’s landmass. Farmers are Australia’s frontline in delivering environmental programs and active management on the ground where it counts in far flung areas that would otherwise be overrun by feral pests and weeds.

“It’s a sacred trust that farmers take very seriously and Chris and Marie Muldoon are worthy winners of the 2009 Sustainability Award.”

The aim of the Sustainability Award is to recognise the coexistence of boosting farm production while ensuring environmentally sustainable outcomes, such as managing the impacts of climate change; or activities undertaken at the farm-gate that contribute to the environmental wellbeing of the property and/or surrounding ecosystems or habitats.

The NFF welcomes the Australian Government’s involvement as the official 2009 Awards sponsor – through the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry’s (DAFF’s) Australia’s Farming Future initiative.

[ENDS]

Related files:

Media Enquiries: Brett Heffernan on (02) 6273 3855 or 0408 448 250 or Chris and Marie Muldoon on (08) 8978 1115.

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