1 BestFarms EMS, Blackwood Basin Group, http://bestfarms.mysouthwest.com.au Email: email@example.com
2 Errol Seymour, The Organic Fine Food Company – Bridgetown WA 6255, www.organicfinefood.com.au Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The owners of Drover’s Rest Organic Berry Farm have been implementing their BestFarms Environmental Management System (EMS) since 2005. It is one of the first properties to gain certification through the BestFarms process and over the last three years, owners Errol and Irma Seymour have been managing and monitoring environmental impacts, such as water-use efficiency, soil fertility and biodiversity, on their organic berry farm using the BestFarms EMS system. After monitoring showed that their bore water levels were low, the Seymour’s made a critical decision to halt the 2006/2007 berry production to ensure that drawdown did not impact on the nearby wetland ecosystem. This case study looks at the importance of monitoring and how environmental values on properties can be managed sustainably through the use of an EMS.
Environmental Management System, sustainable and responsible production, monitoring, ground water table.
Drover’s Rest is an 86.8 hectare property located in bushland 8km east of Bridgetown in the south west of Western Australia (Figure 1). With only about 20% of the property cleared, it has a rich forest ecosystem including two winter stream beds and a permanent wetland that are fed by groundwater sources. Owners Errol and Irma Seymour are one of Australia’s biggest organic strawberry producers, with 40,000 plants in the 2004/2005 season, and have developed the Organic Fine Food Company since purchasing the property in 1995.
In 2005, the Seymours developed a BestFarms Environmental Management System (EMS) to identify and manage any environmental impacts of their business on the property. The five highest priority environmental issues that the Seymour’s addressed in their EMS were water use efficiency and quality; soil fertility; soil structure and health; biodiversity conservation and weed reduction. As groundwater is pumped from a bore on the property to irrigate production areas, the Seymours key priority was to ensure that their water use for crop production did not impact the propertys’ wetland and streams. Using the BestFarms system, the Seymours monitor their water use and have made big changes to their 2006/2007 production as a result.
BestFarms is a catchment based EMS that helps landholders within the South West of Western Australia to develop environmental management plans specific to their properties while also considering priority issues at the catchment scale. BestFarms hold two-day training workshops in which participants go through the process of developing their own EMS, as well as writing environmental commitment statements, learning about the catchment processes, obtaining landcare and monitoring and evaluation information and networking with other farmers. By the end of the two days, each participant will have developed their own EMS including a Farm Action Plan that identifies issues to be addressed and targets and actions to manage them. Monitoring is a key part of the BestFarms system to ensure continuous improvement of each plan. Participants are supported throughout the whole process by one on one interaction with a BestFarms Facilitator who also visits each property to ensure that suggested actions will positively affect the issue and that participants are happy with their system.
(a) Aerial view of Drover's Rest
(b) The main dam
Figure 1. Drover’s Rest strives to achieve : Efficient management of our water resources in order to conserve our supplies, prevent salinity and preserve our wetlands.
Each season, water is pumped from a bore on the property to irrigate the berry production areas. To address the issue of water use efficiency on their property, the Seymours developed a target to: ‘meet water demand for seasonal strawberry plantings without affecting the continuity of supply or the water quality and without damage to the wetlands or environment.’ To ensure that they meet their target, the Seymours have monitored the water quality and levels of their bore which taps into an underground reservoir each month since 2005. Included in the plan was a commitment to reduce water consumption if the bore water levels fell too low or the salinity levels of the water became too high.
Figure2. Regular groundwater monitoring aids decision making
During high winter rainfall in 2005, the water levels of the bore reached near ground level and no actions were taken to reduce consumption. In 2006 Western Australia experienced a lower than average rainfall and by the end of the year, the water table had dropped to a level where the low level sensor on the pump began to cut the pump out periodically. This indicated that the flow of water into the bore from the underground supply was less that the usage rate (see Figure 3). As a result, the Seymours made the difficult decision to cut off irrigation for strawberry production from the bore in January 2007, foregoing tens of thousands of dollars worth of production to conserve environmental values. Since pumping for the bore was halted in January, monitoring shows that the bore level has stabilised and slightly increased and the low-level sensor has stopped cutting out despite a period of 2-3 months before replenishing rainfall can be expected.
Figure 3. Graph showing monitored ground water levels on Drover’s Rest. The point at which bores providing water for strawberry production were turned off in January 2007 is indicated by the arrow in the third section of the graph.
Through their BestFarms EMS, Drover’s Rest has been able to address and manage environmental issues on their property, as well as systematically monitor and record any changes. By constantly reviewing their EMS and monitoring records, they were able to identify and avoid a potential problem before it had severe impacts. The system has helped the Seymours to conserve the wetlands and streams that are important to them and, perhaps most importantly, provided them with documented evidence of the steps that they have taken and the outcomes achieved so that their great environmental stewardship can be recognised by others.
Seymour E (2005). Seymour Holdings (WA) Pty Ltd trading as Drover’s Rest Enterprises and The Organic Fine Food Company – Organic Management Plan. pp. 3 – 13, Drover’s Rest, Bridgetown
Martin K (2007). BestFarms Environmental Management System Workbook. pp. 2-18, Blackwood Basin Group, Boyup Brook.