Scholarship helps guide Ruth in holistic approach

Scholarship helps guide Ruth in holistic approach

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A CHANCE to attend the a wildlife management society conference and speak with interstate holistic farmers, researchers and consultants has helped Mid North consultant Ruth Sommerville with her goal to keep sustainability and profit in focus on farms.

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CHANGING MINDSETS: The 2018 Sustainable Agriculture Scholarship winner Ruth Sommerville says there is a shift as more farmers are seeking ways to make their businesses more resilient.

CHANGING MINDSETS: The 2018 Sustainable Agriculture Scholarship winner Ruth Sommerville says there is a shift as more farmers are seeking ways to make their businesses more resilient.

A CHANCE to attend the a wildlife management society conference and speak with interstate holistic farmers, researchers and consultants has helped Mid North consultant Ruth Sommerville with her goal to keep sustainability and profit in focus on farms.

Ms Sommerville, Spalding, was last year's winner of the Sustainable Agriculture Scholarship through the Agricultural Bureau of SA's Spirit of Excellence in Agriculture Awards.

Using the $8000 scholarship, she has spent the past 12 months getting a grasp of present wildlife management and productive landscape ecological conditions and connecting with researchers, industry and farmers to better understand the research and decision-making that links agriculture and sustainable and regenerative landscape management.

The $8000 scholarship allowed her to attend the 2018 Australian Wildlife Management Society Conference in Tas, in December, where the theme was 'Integrating wildlife management, nature conservation and production in land, river and seascapes'.

Another aspect of the scholarship win was the opportunity to learn firsthand from NSW based farmers, researchers and decision support consultants working on improving the sustainability of agriculture across Australia, with a particular focus on regenerative and holistic farming practices.

Ms Sommerville says the scholarship made her 'look inwards', broadening her perspective from the production and landscape-focused system and its implementation, to include and address the complex human elements of psychology and sociology in order to implement and facilitate regenerative agriculture.

"I didn't expect to have discussions around why people may change, but the big thing to come out of my meetings with farmers was that it was about their personal journey to achieve the long-term outcomes," she said.

"Each person had their reason for challenging the norm in how they managed their land, and many were pretty gut-wrenching - from a fire, to the death of a loved one.

"But what resonated was that an opportunity for change came out of a significant crisis. As scientists we can neglect the people-side that is often the impetus required for significant change."

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Spirit of Excellence Awards application extended

At the Wildlife Management Conference, she met with researchers and academics and built a network of cross-university relationships.

The conference represented research from across the southern hemisphere into improving productivity and ecological outcomes from improved understanding and management of wildlife populations. Discussions during the breaks and networking events enabled her to explore opportunities to expand their work in SA and the opportunity to build a wide network.

Ms Sommerville's travels across NSW and discussions with various consultants, scientists and local farmers who had implemented sustainable farming, gave her deep insight into the holistic management systems required to achieve regenerative agriculture and sustainability in farming as well as the huge gains for ecological function and the health of communities.

"Data is helping us quantify the many benefits of sustainability in terms of the huge production gains from the right amount of shade in a paddock or, how healthy grassy woodland or grassland systems improve surface water quality, in particular in dams, which in turn improves the health and weight conversation ratios of livestock," she said.

Next year is going to be big for Ms Sommerville - in March she plans to launch her new business and work one-on-one with farmers, supporting them to develop adaptive holistic farming systems, which can be more productive, profitable and sustainable.

She has written a number of articles stemming from her literature review, which articulate her yearlong learnings. She now presents regularly to interested groups and farmers who are seeking information and advice on making their business and production system more resilient.

As scientists we can neglect the people-side that is often the impetus required for significant change. - RUTH SOMMERVILLE

"I feel there's a tide of change happening and believe that farmers are looking at their enterprise across the board and how to make their business and production system more resilient," she said.

"The key is to get the support team around them - researchers, consultants, industry advisers - to help support them to make it viable and sustainable for them.

"Resilience comes from complexity and diversity and this is where a simple system can fall over easily but a diverse one can adapt and change. The ability to manage our farming landscapes will impact profitability, sustainability and the wellbeing of our families and communities."

Ms Sommerville said people considering applying for the awards may be surprised where it takes.

"Like all good adventures, it might not be where you thought it would go," she said.

"Having the capacity to learn from others around you is a huge opportunity, that's the big thing - having the impetus to ask the questions and do your homework.

"The bursary money is important, but that reason to ask opens so many doors. I found it opened the doors and gave me the confidence to take up their time."

Applications for the Spirit of Excellence awards are being accepted until 5pm on Thursday, September 26.

  • Details: agbureau.com.au/awards
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