When Josie and Jamie Jackson arrived at their Willalooka property, Tallawong, on New Year's Eve in 1983, it was windswept and overcleared with more than 400 hectares in the middle of the property with hardly a tree on it.
But, with dedicated annual tree planting they have transformed it from an "unlovable farm" to one of great beauty, with well-planned shelterbelts and happier, healthier livestock.
It is now a haven for bird life, including the endangered red-tailed black cockatoos.
In the past 30 years, they have replicated their success for countless other landowners, direct seeding thousands of kilometres of tree lines in the Mid and Upper South East.
For many years, their business SE Direct Seeding Services completed 400km to 500km of seeding, often going back to the same property year after year.
When there were specific revegetation grants available it was even busier.
This included the Salt to Success scheme, which encouraged local landholders to fence and revegetate along the drainage network, and the funding available for similar work from the Coorong and Tatiara District Councils Local Action Plans.
The Jacksons own revegetation began with tubestock seedlings from Trees for Life, although Josie was soon growing 5000 herself each year to plant out.
But it was not until the couple changed tack to direct seeding in the late 1980s that they started seeing a real difference.
"With tubestock plantings, it seemed to be taking forever to get nothing done - we thought there had to be a better way," Josie said.
With farmer ingenuity they came up with a direct seeding method.
They would mix fertiliser and bran with seed they had collected from trees in the area and put it through their bait layer, which was towed behind a tractor.
A two-wheel motorbike was then used to press the seed into the soil.
As trailblazers in this environmental rehabilitation, they had no local knowledge to build on so began on-farm trials.
"We tried to do research but no one was doing much apart from a bit in western Vic where they were ploughing areas and then planting sugar gum seeds for firewood," Josie said.
In about 1990 they became involved with Greening Australia as one of their demonstration sites, which propelled them further forward.
Our initial trees were planted in laneways because Jamie didn't want to give up any farming country, but eventually he would come and say he had put up a new fence for me to seed more trees.
Neighbours such as Don Moyle from The Basin were among their first customers after "looking over the fence" and seeing their success.
Soon the Jacksons had three solid months of direct seeding work starting in the Upper SE in late July and moving down to the wetter flats into spring, planting a mix of native tree seeds to suit the local area.
In the early years, Josie remembers many farmers were reluctant to give up a single square inch of their farm to trees but is pleased attitudes have changed.
"Our initial trees were planted in laneways because Jamie didn't want to give up any farming country, but eventually he would come and say he had put up a new fence for me to seed more trees," she said.
Jamie says the the 20 metre-wide, six-row shelterbelts grew quickly and within two years offered good shelter for livestock.
In 1993 the Jacksons were recognised for their efforts with a state Landcare award.
Two years later they won an Australian Farm Journal Farmer of the Year award, with the prize a three point linkage tree seeder to mount on the back of a tractor.
This was used at the heavier sites not suitable for the disc seeding machine Jamie had built to tow behind a motorbike.
The Jacksons were also pioneers of farm forestry with their first timber trees planted in late 1995.
The area under on-farm forestry has since grown to 24 hectares, including spotted gums, manna gums and Sydney blue gums.
The Jacksons say they get enormous pride driving through the SE and observing the progress of their hard work, with many now-mature tree lines in the landscape.
But they admit they still get frustrated when they see farmers put the sheep into a newly-seeded site, thinking it has been a failure.
"If they just shut that damn gate and kept the roos, rabbits and sheep out, two years later they will say 'oh my god there are trees there,'" she said.
"If a person makes a real effort, just like they would for a cropping program, they will have brilliant results in general, apart from drought."
The tree seeding business has been a labour of love and valuable off-farm income for the Jacksons, especially during the late 1980s when interest rates were high and sheep worth little, but Josie says it is time for the next chapter of their lives.
This includes spending more time with their grandchildren living in England and "enjoying the farm".
The Jacksons are pleased SE Direct Seeding Services will be carried on by Jen Llewellyn, Willalooka, who has bought the business.
"There is plenty more (seeding) to be done," Josie said. "A lot of people still don't realise that if you give up that bit of land you are actually going to end up more productive.
"You might have a little bit of rain shadow against the windbreak but the rest of the paddock benefits so much, your pasture growth is better and your ewes will be out grazing and not huddled in the corner when it is wet and windy."
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