By Tom McNish
MULTI-Storey Farming (MSF) is an innovative approach to farming developed by Clinton Tepper of Buln Buln near Warragul.
It presents a diverse range of benefits, particularly to farmers in South Gippsland.
Growing deeper into soils and high above traditional pastures, Clinton’s farm shows how trees, crops and cattle work together to produce financial and ecological returns.
“Many South Gippsland farms focus on only using the top 30cm of soil with traditional pastures,” he said.
“Through the use of trees and deeper-rooted pastures or crops, significantly more soil is explored by root systems meaning that more water and minerals can be accessed,” Clinton said.
“South Gippsland is blessed with relatively deep, well-watered soils. It makes great sense to use as much of the soil as possible in farming systems.”
Since graduating university, Clinton has planted hundreds of thousands of trees around Victoria, but constantly faced a common problem from landowners: “Trees are falling on my fences, and they allow for pest and wildlife habitat.”
Clinton had an answer, which he has developed on his 20-hectare property.
“Our farm was a 100 per cent beef operation. Since 2014, it is now diversified across beef, lucerne (alfalfa) and wood products.
“We have improved soil carbon and carbon sequestration in trees. It has been demonstrated by multiple research projects that the combination of trees and agriculture is more advantageous for mitigating climate change than either by themselves.”
They grow a mix of silvertop ash, spotted gum and silver wattle. They’re a useful shelterbelt which work complementary to other farming practices.
“Whether it’s fodder, meat, timber, fruit or nuts, the relationship improves grazing.”
Through sharing paddocks between establishing trees and grazing cattle, MSF paddocks become functional after about 12 months.
“Multi-Storey Farming offers diverse income streams over the short and long-term. A lot like a balanced share portfolio,” Clinton said.
“Deeper rooted farming systems tend to remain more productive through the summer/autumn months when soil moisture and heat typically limits productivity.
“The diversity of the system also offers significant ecological benefits across the storeys involved. Ongoing soil testing shows that soil biology can be improved and more diverse compared to conventional grazing systems.”
The trees carry further ecological benefits, some below the ground.
“The abundance and diversity of bird species stand to improve greatly with MSF, particularly where understory species are close by. The higher ecosystem development associated with MSF is one of the standout features of the system.”
Steps towards MSF
Clinton said the best way to start MSF is with a soil test.
“Once the soil minerals are balanced, the improved productivity offered by MSF can be realised relatively quickly,” he said.
“Following this soil management, I prefer to establish a new pasture/crop or improve the health/productivity of the existing pasture before including trees.
“Once the crop/pasture is functioning well, trees can be planted and livestock can be introduced as soon as two years after tree establishment – providing the trees are at least four metres tall.”
The long-term benefits of MSF are diverse.
“Farms become more resilient to changing climate and also changing markets. This is because the system is more diverse and therefore buffers climatic extremes and potentially offers more products for sale,” Clinton said.
Check out videos on MSF at vimeo.com/user86454618.