FOR more than 40 years, Fish Creek beef farmers Joan and Robert Liley have worked tirelessly to ensure their 450 hectares at Fish Creek will be returned in a better state than when they took it over.
“Over the 40 years plus that we’ve been on our farm, we’ve fenced off our major waterways; we’ve fenced off tributaries; we’ve replanted; we’ve conserved what we’ve got; and we’ve added to it substantially – to the point where about 20 percent of our farm is trees and native vegetation,” Joan said.
In the past they have been prepared to take that reduced production – 20 percent of their farm being locked up – because they see the advantages in terms of clean water, shelter and shade for their livestock.
But recently the Liley’s took on a new challenge, which Joan said has given them a completely new lease on life as beef producers, and a sense of deep satisfaction for the sound environmental focus they have always upheld.
A few years ago, they sold all of their breeding stock and shifted solely to fattening steers, as a transition to retirement.
They are now part of the JBSwift Great Southern Beef program, which Joan said rewards farmers with a price premium if they can meet the JBSwift standards.
“For the first time, with this JBS program, we are actually being rewarded for what we are doing,” Joan said.
“All our lives we’ve done this because we believed in it and we believed that you should always care for the land and return land in better condition than you took it over.
“And now for the first time we are being rewarded with a price premium because we are doing this.”
The Liley’s are currently working with JBSwift to get some more rigorous environmental standards into the company’s audit program, because they see it as part of the whole farming package.
Joan feels that currently there is a significant push back against farming and that people are perceiving farming as being energy hungry and methane emitters.
“I think we’ve got to clean up our act to some degree to receive a social licence, but I think that’s the way of the future,” she said.
“We do a lot of tree planting and we farm very productively, but we’re always interested in learning things in that space – about how we can be seen to be working on our carbon footprint.
“We also want to flip that perception that farmer’s use a lot of water, use a lot of energy, grow grain and use a lot of diesel in their production.
“What we are doing here in South Gippsland is completely the opposite of that. We’re not big energy users, we don’t pump a lot of water and our cattle are all pasture fed.”