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This website aims to develop case studies of the development of farming practices and attendant transformations of local ecologies of defined blocks of land. Through these biographies of particular plots of land we are developing localised analyses of the wider historical trends in the political economy/ecology of the Northern Rivers.

Go to: Family history | The Farm | The River | David, Jenny and the Farm | Self-sufficiency and Aquarius | Cattle and floods | The landscape | Other on-farm agriculture | Buying and selling land | Poor economic times | Family partnership on the farm | Mill politics, harvesters and cane cutters | Changing methods | Chemicals | Market impacts and government subsidies | Generational change and succession | Impact on cane growing | Environmental issues | Politics of cane and the mill | Neighbours

Environmental issues

And have you had environmental policies that have come along that have impacted on to you at different times?

Jenny: we’re environmental cane farmers, we’ve been planting trees and restoring the river bank and making sure we’ve got Koala corridors and bush.

David: but that’s on the periphery. You mean the cane itself do you?

I suppose I do mean… different sorts of policies that have impacted you.

Jenny: there’s the acid sulphates soil policies. Deep drains that cane farmers traditionally used leached acid sulphates out into the rivers, and caused problems. But a man called Robert Quirk who’s also into the Biochar was sort of the pioneer of researching what to do about acid sulphate soils and they realised that if you, instead of having deep drains, you had shallow ones, they worked just as well but they didn’t get down into the acid sulphate. So now the policy is that everyone makes shallow drains and slope their paddocks very gradually to drain in instead of digging big drains down the middle of them. You might have seen the laser levellers out in the paddocks doing that. They just really grade the paddocks so they just gently slope. There’s also policies …well advice about keeping trees and things on your drains to make sure there’s owls and birds of prey to eat rats and pests, ah….but not many cane farmers are into that. But they are certainly into the acid sulphate soil and stopping run off cause it costs money to have run off. If your fertiliser is running off it’s costing you money.

David: there’s probably the tendency to put less fertiliser on too now because of that, they realise it’s not used by the plant so it’s just a waste.

Jenny: and yes, instead of just spraying your soya beans for insects you go around with a piece of white paper and bang them everyday – bang a few plants and see how many insects are on them and you don’t spray unless you think you’re really getting a big infestation because it’s better to have all your insects on your cane – all your friendly ones. And people are aware of that. Up at McGearys they’re running around their paddocks banging their soya beans on white paper.

Well it’s a fairly conservative area would you say, politically?

Jenny: I think it is. I think the cane farmers are not highly educated even in agriculture. Like out west where the wheat and big broad acre farming is, most of those men that have, their boys, we call them boys, they went away and went to uni and did agricultural studies and economic studies and now they’re home and running properties like really, you know classy businesses. Using all the technology and the knowledge – but not so much in just these little local cane farms. That’s just an observation of mine; I don’t know whether it’s true. Oh the economic imperatives make sense to cane farmers, like everybody else.

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