Glenn Morris is an environmentalist and Farm Manager, and has been a passionate advocate for regenerative land management and climate change action for 25 years. He is the General Manager of Operations for NATTAI Investments, a cattle grazing operation that has properties in Inverell and Grafton, NSW. He has managed the Inverell property Billabong since the early 2000s, transforming it from a highly degraded state to an exemplary regenerative grazing property with high biodiversity. Glenn works with groups like Farmers for Climate Action to raise awareness of the potential for regen ag to improve our ecosystems. Learn more from Glenn about his regen ag journey below.
What was your personal journey to regen ag?
In 1998 I was employed as a conventional farm manager in Grafton. ‘98 was one the hottest years on record up until that point and the farm was copping it. It was really bare and harsh and the wind on the trees was like a blast furnace; everything wanted to burst into flames. That got me going and I approached my boss pretty quick about doing some external studies in sustainable ag. I did a Masters in Sustainable Agriculture at the University of Sydney and have been studying soil humus, climate, and water rehydration for over 20 years now.
My role as a father was another major driver. I knew I had to do something about their future and their planet. Everything we're doing, to every square metre of land, is impacting the climate and it’s gradually getting to a state where it will cook us because we've neglected it. Australia was probably a lot more fertile and beautiful than we could ever imagine and it was lost pretty quickly by the overgrazing of livestock.
What does regen ag mean to you?
At Billabong we use a range of methods that were once under the banner of sustainability and are now described as regenerative. Biological farming was the first thing, and then we gradually became a certified organic farm operation, while also managing the farm using a holistic management framework. So our model uses a little bit of everything.
I like the term ecological agriculture because I believe that we've got to enhance the ecosystems that the farm is supported by. It can't be all agriculture.
What practices are you using on your farm?
We’re really focused on building humus and we do that through our grazing management, mineralisation and resting plants. We use holistic grazing, which first and foremost incorporates a holistic goal that you follow. We use permaculture principles across the farm. We don't use any toxic chemicals or sprays. Instead, we use non-chemical organic methods of farming and natural mineralisation with biological inputs to enhance the health of plants and soil. Humus is such a powerful thing to have in your soil for holding water and soil life.
We also focus on biodiversity. It's 1000 hectares here and we've probably got 200 hectares of vegetated area including an endangered ecological community of open box woodland that we look after. We've done active tree planting ever since we've been here. I don't know how many trees we're up to, maybe 20 or 30,000. They’re planted on the contour of the land in permaculture swales which break up the paddocks and rehydrate the land at the same time.
What benefits have you seen?
We're not having to feed, hardly at all. We also didn't get any of the dust storms that were over the entire district at the end of 2019, and they were horrific. We've got a spring-fed dam at the moment, and all of that water has been created by looking after soil health and rehydrating the landscape.
With our holistic management, as a lot of holistic managers find, you start to get a regeneration of native vegetation as well. We're getting a lot of regrowth of the box timber and the understory, and perennial pastures mixed in with that.
What are you doing to prepare for the coming summer of 2023 / 2024?
We're having regular reviews on stock numbers and we've been reducing numbers, trying to manage the pastures, and keep some level of feed.
Unfortunately, I'm a bit human and we made some bad calls with stock numbers coming into winter. We were really hoping that the rains wouldn't cut off so soon. The golden rule of holistic management is 'assume wrong'. Even with all our planning, by putting a bit too much faith in inputs, we actually didn't reduce numbers soon enough.
If it continues to get dry, we'll just have to keep destocking and, if we can, keep a number of core females together by the end of it.
This Spring we're also embarking on an ecosystem regeneration project. We’re working with a company that has got a very good sustainability policy and wants an area to plant trees. It will end up at about 40,000. So we're keeping on with our goal to enhance the health of the farm, then rehydration of the land and the small water cycle.
Do you have any tips or messages for other farmers?
Never stop learning. Go to events and field days. I meet such beautiful people at every event and I generally learn something as well.
Develop your own toolbox, skills and goals. Take the bits that suit you, and do what you need to do to get the landscape and soil healthy.
What do you hope for the future of people and planet?
I really think we're looking at a new level of farming where we are primarily managing ecosystems and deriving our incomes and produce from a healthy farm ecosystem that has strong soil health and continues to grow and rehydrate. With the emergency that's on our hands now with biodiversity loss, climate change, and lack of water, this is where we need to be heading. It'll only be good for our small water cycle, and it'll only do good for biodiversity and our climate that’s in all sorts of trouble.
There's a need for everyone to be aware of it, not just farmers. We need people buying produce from farms that are doing the right thing.
If we don't start connecting our decision-making to those bigger things that keep this beautiful planet going, then we're in so much trouble. We're living on a miracle and we're living a miracle of a life and we just need to understand that and take care of it.
How can we connect with you and your farm?
People are welcome to contact me on 0409 272 894 to arrange a visit to the farm.