Murnong Farming: Weaving Sustainability into Australian Agriculture
Martin Clark, Managing Director, Murnong Farming
“How to feed the world” this is an extremely critical and looming concern voiced by many agricultural experts. With the world’s population projected to exceed 9 billion by 2050, the agricultural sector is tasked with doubling food production. Though increasing crop and livestock production is the most attainable way to fulfill this burgeoning demand, the changing climate is throwing up additional hurdles and exacerbating the year-to-year unpredictability of agricultural production.
Understanding the gravity of this agricultural scenario, Murnong Farming, utilizes leading Ag-Tech and science-based solutions to address these challenges. It employs a regenerative agriculture approach to combat climate volatility and commodity price fluctuation challenges which are the biggest barriers in Australian agricultural production. Incepted in 1998 at Inverleigh, the pioneering company produces the best quality crops and sheep genetics while managing and enhancing the natural resources.
Enhancing Natural Ecosystem through Regenerative Agriculture
“Our systems need to enhance the environment and not degrade our land, be productive, sustainable and commercial. In achieving this it will allow us and others to provide high-quality commodities and food for the future,” says Martin Clark, the CEO, and owner of Murnong Farming.
Escalating food production and economic growth can come at a heavy cost to the natural environment. However, Murnong Farming always strives to balance agricultural production and environmental preservation through regenerative agriculture, an approach of conservation and rehabilitation to food and farming systems.
These farming methods improve the resources it uses instead of destroying or depleting them. They optimize grain production to substantially increase crop yields while promoting biodiversity, enriching soils, improving watersheds and reducing costs.
While GPS guidance combined with no-till technology increases efficiency and reduces the carbon footprint, its agriculture cropping system with inert row cropping allows minimal soil disturbance.
Murnong Farming has undertaken several cover crop trials overseen by Southern Farming Systems and AGFC where it sows a crop of mixed seeds straight after harvesting into its stubble. Thus, with the arrival of summer rain, the seeds germinate and provide both summer feed for stock but more importantly provide a green manure base for next year’s crop rotation. This reduces the need for fertilizer inputs by around 50% and soil conditioning to a great extent. The tuber and bulb root systems of some of these plants enable topsoil and manure to infiltrate the ground thus markedly improving the soil.
Moreover, the mixed farming company uses a natural pest management system. It has planted over 200,000 trees throughout the property over the past 15 years to maintain the diversity of the natural habitat, insect population, and water quality. The theory is—if they leave the bugs a little longer then the good bugs that live in their habitat will come out and eat the bad bugs.
It crops approximately 1000 ha per year and produces and sells various fodder crops for stock feed and different crop types including white wheat, red wheat, barley, oats, lupins, lentils, canola, peas, and faba beans.
A Reliable Source of PreeminentSheep Genetics
In addition to cropping, Murnong Farming also produces and supplies one of the world’s prime lamb and leading sheep genetics. Probreed Highlander is known for its maternal efficiency and Probreed Primera for its fast-growing, high yielding meat eating qualities. These genetics aim to give the most profitable return to commercial farmers with higher stocking rates along with producing a larger number of healthy lambs. A typical self-replacing flock structure consists of 40% Highlander and 60% Primera.
“Our sheep are benchmarked with Australian Sheep Breed Values. All lambs are DNA and genomic tested via tissue sample to measure and record the genetic gain in all the various traits. We are the only genetic producer that guarantees year on year genetic gain. We have that much confidence in our systems,” states Martin.
Probreed, the recently launched marketing arm of Murnong Farming genetics, keeps a tab on the genetic gain by accessing accurate data regarding the full pedigree and important traits of every lamb. It understands that genetic gain isn’t just about the numbers. It’s also about improving the visual and structural attributes of the sheep. Thus, it keeps improving these traits of all the sheep along with the numbers to supply the best rams to its clients with genetic gain.
When asked about the experience with Murnong Farming, Gordon Brown, one of its clients shares, “I’ve worked with the team behind Murnong and Probreed for the last seven years and have seen improvements in flock fertility, scanning and weaning percentages as well as improved ewe maternal traits, milk availability, growth rates and controlled lamb birth weight. Our future direction will include rams.”
Basically, Murnong Farming breeds three distinct lines of sheep known as Probreed Highlander, Probreed Primera, and Highlander Plus, each focused on making measurable genetic gains every year.
Murnong Farming also breeds pigs and produces pork products for the fresh meat market sold through the brand Otway Pork to many wholesale and retail outlets. It sources the required genetics from the PIC, the world’s leading Pig Improvement Company who carry out the full genetic analysis.
“Our sheep genetics business has arisen from our desire to bring the technology and our know-how from the pig industry into the sheep industry and challenge a number of historical beliefs,” asserts Martin.
Setting Up a Profitable Farming System for the Next Generation
Over recent years the company has been working on the production of dual-purpose sheep, a sheep with all the attributes of the Highlander but having a finer fleece that would allow a greater market for its products. It plans to release these genetics as Highlander Plusto the market in 2021 as the testing and mating programs progress.
Murnong Farming is also planning to launch Australian Sheep Dairy Company (ASDC), a hybrid indoor-outdoor sheep dairy that will double the size of current Australian sheep being milked. Martin believes that this is an opportunity for a new industry in Australia.
In addition, the innovative company is focusing on educating the farmers of the future and support a number of university and agriculture training college’s field trips to enhance both current and future farmer’s knowledge.
“The culture at Murnong Farming is striving to be the best we can be and to share knowledge with others and to the next generation of farmers. This drive at Murnong is demonstrated by and led by the passion and commitment of our Farm Manager Josh Walter and his team of dedicated personnel and leading consultants,” says Martin.
He concludes, “We wish to further enhance what we have started and set up a profitable sustainable farming system for the next generation that enhances the environment and animal welfare.”