Charlie Arnott: for the love of the land
To grow health-giving, nutrient-rich food, we need healthy soil. This isn’t just the case for growing fruits, vegies and grains – healthy soil also grows healthy grass, which leads to healthier livestock. This is the secret to farmer and grazier Charlie Arnott’s success.
Arnott raises cattle, pigs and sheep on his property at Boorowa in NSW using regenerative farming practices that follow organic, biodynamic and holistic grazing principles. While many now come to him for advice, Arnott admits he was once a very conventional farmer who did things strictly by the book. It was the Millennium Drought that changed his mind.
“It was couple of tough years,” he says. “There were some things that were slowly eating away at me – my sense of purpose, or really a lack of purpose.
“Watching my paddocks blow away was another catalyst. It started me wondering why that was happening and what I could do about it.”
Arnott attended a course, bemusingly titled “Profiting from the Drought”, which opened his eyes to more regenerative methods of farming.
“It got me thinking about what I was doing, my paradigms. I’d never even heard the word ‘paradigm’ before. But the course asked me to consider what my current paradigms were and whether they aligned with my values.”
Arnott realised that if he wanted to effect change on his farm, he needed to change his own way of thinking. He began to pursue more training in regenerative farming, and sought out other farmers who were doing similar things.
“They were new ways of farming,” he says. “Actually, they’re old ways, but there are new ways of looking at them. I realised I had to change my attitude to farming and my sense of responsibility about the food I was producing.”
Previously, Arnott had given little thought to the fact that he had anything to do with people’s health. He was growing food purely to sell it. But as he worked to change his mindset, he began to appreciate that he was growing produce that could impact people’s health either in a negative or a positive way.
Arnott began to change things from the ground up – literally. First the farm stopped using any chemicals on the soil, plants or animals. Then they switched up their grazing.
“We used to graze smaller groups on the same paddocks for long periods,” he says. “Now we graze large groups in small areas for short periods. That allows other paddocks to rest.”
Rested soil leads to healthier grass, and the growth of other nutrient-rich plants, bacteria and fungi. In turn, healthier grass and a diverse diet leads to healthier livestock. Arnott also employs biodynamic practices to improve the health of his soil, such as using cow manure – of which a cattle farmer has plenty – to make rich compost.
“I started seeing nature as my most valuable business partner,” he says. “Up to that time, I had an economic relationship with my land – it was about how I could use it to make money. I’ve become more respectful of it, and I stopped depleting it.
“I used to hang on to my cattle through a drought. As a consequence, I wasn’t looking after my grass. Now, the grass is my priority – if it looks like it’s going to get overgrazed, we sell animals. It doesn’t mean I like my cattle less, it just means I love my grass more.”
By becoming more responsive to the needs of his land, Arnott has created a more sustainable farm that produces more nutritious – and delicious – food. His lamb has won an award, and his pork and beef are much sought after by customers, who he sells to direct.
“We used to be very prescriptive,” he says. “We’d talk to someone who’d say spray here and put that fertiliser there and you’ll get this result. It really took away the joy of farming.
“Now we’re making our own decisions, and we’re much more in tune with what the landscape needs. And we have happy customers because we have happy animals.”