AFTER years of drought, it's becoming clear to some farmers their management has to shift to rehydrate the landscape to better cope with climate change.
But getting individual farmers to work together across a whole catchment can be tricky when it means stumping up cash for a big project right at the end of a drought.
However, 21 farmers on the Liverpool Plains, which takes in the Upper Mooki catchment, have managed to come together to invest their own resources, matched by government funding, to start an innovative project that does just that.
The brainchild behind the Upper Mooki Rehydration Project, Craig Carter, had already spent years on his own property, Tallawang near Parraweena, quietly working away to slow the flow of water across his land.
When Mr Carter arrived at Tallawang in 2001, he was concerned by the erosion, soil compaction, impoverished pastures and severely eroded creeks and gullies.
By introducing rotational grazing in a wagon wheel design and constructing leaky weirs and swales to slow water flow, he's now well on the way to lifting carrying capacity and profit margin for cattle production, having constant river outflow regardless of inflow, improving landscape hydrology and boosting native biodiversity.
During this period, a blend of Grazing for Profit and Natural Sequence Farming principles were used.
Fast forward to 2020 and many of the strategies on Mr Carter's property are being implemented as part of the Upper Mooki Rehydration Project.
The project arose from the LLS Check, Ready, Grow program, which was designed to help farming businesses benchmark their current performance, identify goals and build capacity.
LLS project manager, Angela Baker, Gunnedah, said the project is a year-long program of activities that will regenerate the water holding capacity and functions of the soil profile in the Upper Mooki catchment.
It's supported by North West LLS through funding from NSW Government's Catchment Action NSW and a contribution from the National Landcare Program.
The project comes in at a cost of $660,000. About half is funding from the government and the remainder is in-kind and cash contributions from landholders.
"It is only one of a few such projects in Australia that is focused on storing water in the land, rather than only considering water supplies on the land such as in dams, creeks and rivers," Ms Baker said.
She said 21 farmers had started works on 13 properties to make changes to their land. This includes earthworks with 62ha of swales, contour banks and other structures designed to slow, direct and absorb water into the soil profile.
"These earthworks will be supported with fencing and water points to help manage the impact of stock so the integrity of the earthworks is maintained," Ms Baker said.
Changes to cropping and grazing, such as rotational and cell grazing to increase plant diversity, which will in turn increase groundcover and organic matter to improve soil quality, have also been undertaken by some farmers.
Finally, revegetation of 130ha of native vegetation and perennial pastures aims to boost groundcover and organic matter to improve soil quality and address erosion.
Ms Baker said the works were designed to in part recreate a landscape similar to pre-European settlement where there were high levels of groundcover and water moved more slowly and could seep into the soil.
A snapshot of the key numbers for the project are impressive and include work carried out across more than 2700ha with revegetation and pasture plantings as well as earthworks to build absorption banks, swales, sill spills and riparian works; construction of 41.5km of corridor fencing; and the establishment of 26 watering points and laying of 10km of piping.
Myles Sevil normally runs 2000 breeding ewes on his 725ha property Hillview near Willow Tree.
In the past, he had problems with the speed of water travelling through and leaving his property.
"In my steep country, sheep tracked down to the watering point and in a big storm, that little track turned into a gully," he said.
As part of the Upper Mooki Rehydration Project, Mr Sevil employed a local contractor to construct a series of swales, or shallow channels, on a hillside leading to several leaky dams.
These dams have a rocky bottom so water drains out into the landscape as well as through poly pipe installed in the dam.
Mr Sevil said the benefits of the earthworks, combined with his grazing practices, were already visible after recent rain.
NSW Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall said catastrophic fires, heatwaves and drought had heightened awareness of the importance of water in the landscape.
"What is innovative about this rehydration project is that it focuses on the soil profile to act like a sponge for water storage," he said.
"Through projects like these, in partnership with LLS, we're helping build the knowledge and capacity of landholders to survive and thrive in tough times so they can keep growing great food and fibre and look after natural environments."