Where trees hold the key to growing family’s future

OVERLOOKING the lush paddocks and rolling hills that surround Westerway, Tom and Sarah Clark are cementing the future of their young family’s farm with a host of sustainable grazing and pasture management practices and whole lot of trees.

The Clark family are synonymous with agriculture in Westerway and its surrounds, their riverside orchards on the Gordan River road junction an unmissable sight on the roads to the West Coast. Tom and Sarah are no strangers to this, having a hand in managing the family orchards and nurseries too. But it is on their own two properties in Westerway and Ellendale that they are beginning to imprint a mark of their own.

The Back Run is their 325ha property in Westerway that Tom and Sarah first purchased with the aim of establishing a grazing operation. “When we first came here, we had plans to do quite a lot but we found we’ve been spending a lot of time renovating the pasture, it wasn’t in the most pristine of conditions,” said Sarah.

Their more recent purchase of 200ha in Ellendale gave them the opportunity to take the load off the previously undernourished land and take the time to re-invigorate the pastures. “Since we’re able to run livestock across the properties, as well managing some of the livestock on Tom’s dad’s land, it’s given us the opportunity to put a bit more time into improving the soil and grazing conditions across the farms.”

Reestablishment of mixed and more appropriate varieties as pasture with the help of the Derwent Catchment Project have helped re-green the paddocks and set a precedent for how they will continue to operate. “The next five years here will be all about pasture improvement.”

Across their properties, Tom and Sarah manage sheep and angus cattle herds alongside a mix of crops, as well as overseeing plots of radiata plantations. It is in their plots of plantation trees that they have began to further future proof their property.

As well as utilising unsuitable grazing or cropping land for tree plantations, which will provide an income source from otherwise unproductive ground while doubling as shelter belts for their livestock, they are also earning carbon credits under a carbon farming project. “It means we are able to earn an income from what is growing, whilst also having the payments of the tree harvest in place,” Sarah said.

Further, they have begun planting native trees on the borders and among the plantations, so an established shelter belt will remain once the trees are harvested in years to come.

“We plant native trees across the property every year, that way we can plant and manage each area as it goes,” Tom said. “Having the shelter belts in place will mean we won’t have these bare unprotected lots in our property come harvest.

“We want to add value by getting this property in better condition than we came on to it and keep it that way for the next users of the farm. That’s what all this work is for.”