Agriculture Victoria farm walk supports recovery at Wairewa

Pasture walks connect fire-affected farmers and communities and offer support and information to help them recover.

Third generation farmer, John Appleby, was born in Wairewa on the property beside where he now farms.

With his wife, Francine Gilfedder, John has devoted decades to rejuvenating and drought-proofing 40 hectares of farmland adjacent to Hospital Creek.

They have revegetated to improve soil quality, planted tree lots as wildlife corridors and added a bore and troughs to protect the natural waterway.

Person holding a small plant with 3 round leaves“We’ve got a solar pump system that pumps water up to a tank then gravity feeds down to troughs in every paddock,” John said. “That keeps cattle out of the creek.”

But it’s been a tough few years in the picturesque corner of East Gippsland.

Following several years of drought, the Black Summer bushfires burnt through Wairewa with significant loss of pasture and livestock.

Almost half the community’s 24 houses were destroyed.

While their home and livestock were saved, John and Francine lost two and a half kilometres of fencing and most of their pasture.

A little while ago, they hosted a field day as part of Agriculture Victoria’s On-Farm Recovery Support Services project, which connects fire-affected farmers and communities with support and information to help them recover.

About a dozen people attended, inspecting the pastures and discussing fire recovery on the property.

They heard from Gippsland Beef Extension Officer Fiona Baker, Livestock Industry Development Officer Janice Dowe, and Agriculture Fire Recovery Manager Keren Walker.

The Rural Financial Counselling Service was also present.

Keren’s role as agriculture fire recovery manager is to engage with fire-affected farm businesses, coordinate the delivery of technical services and advice, and connect farmers with available support.

“The pasture walks support fire-affected producers by giving them an opportunity to meet and speak with Agriculture Victoria staff and others in their community,” Keren said.

Researchers inspecting the roots of a plant“It helps farmers to increase their knowledge and confidence in assessing pasture condition and management, autumn planning, and future pasture and cropping options,” she added.

Technical advice during these and other events can cover everything from pasture recovery, ground cover management, soil health, erosion, protecting farm water supplies and quality, livestock management, and weed and pest management.

It can help improve farmers’ ability to prepare for and manage future events.

Agriculture Victoria will also offer future strategic business planning seminars on resilience, succession planning and financial literacy.

“I found this field day to be really refreshing,” Francine said. “There were lots of people with enthusiasm and new ideas. It’s also good for contacts, how to follow up through the department.”

Francine said while the fire had been traumatic for Wairewa and recovery would take time, the impact of drought had been worse.

“At least with the bushfire you can say it’s over, and you can clean up. It’s much clearer.”

It was encouraging to see recovery in the pasture.

“It was surprisingly good to walk around and actually look closely at the grass, and see that it’s picking it up, and we’ve got a good mix of species,” Francine said.

“That, with the knowledge that we’ve got good water, is a good incentive to keep going.”

Agriculture Victoria held a series of successful farm walks across the region in April. For details of future events on the agriculture recovery calendar, go to the Agriculture Victoria website.