Times are changing: graingrower wins prestige environmental award by Denys Slee

Bill and Jacquetta Sloane with children Annabel and Will: marrying cropping with smart environmental management makes not only a pretty picture but good economic sense.

"I WAS totally surprised by it," Bill Sloane said, 'The real thrill was for a farmer to win it and I represent those farmers out there conserving our natural resources."

Earlier this year Mr Sloane was named as the Prime Minister's Environmentalist of the Year at a ceremony organised by those responsible for the national Banksia Awards.

Bill and Jacquetta Sloane grow cereals, pulses and canola, run Merino sheep and have a prime lamb enterprise on their property near Howlong, NSW. The property 'Kilnyana' has been in the family's hands since the 1860s. One-third of it remains under natural vegetation including canopy and understorey cover, and swamp lands.

The Sloanes have also had a great deal to do with developing the Riverina group's environmental management system (EMS) for graingrowers - one of four pilot EMS programs nationally, supported by growers and the Federal Government through the GRDC. A driving theme here is prevention of environmental problems by enhancing or retaining 'perenniality' whether it's with native vegetation or perennial crops like lucerne.

There are spin-off benefits. "The vegetation is a sanctuary for a fantastic variety of birds, including a large population of the green and yellow Superb Parrot," Federal Environment Minister, Dr David Kemp, said in making the award.

'Kilnyana' is regularly open to the community as part of the 'Learning from Farmers' program. For instance, Mr Sloane has learned a thing or two about fencing over the decades that he has protected native vegetation and the wildlife which live from it and in it - with some of the costs of this being offset more recently by grants from State Government and Greening Australia programs.

Mr Sloane stresses that it's not just a matter of fencing and forgetting it.

"By fencing, you create a whole ne\v set of management problems - weeds and creating a habitat for foxes and rabbits. We used to fence it and let it regenerate, but we were not getting the understorey plants coming back - through direct seeding, that's our main revegetation focus now as the trees will come back themselves."

The Sloanes' cropping program also changed significantly in recent years in pursuit of sustainability and higher profitability. Crops are now direct-drilled and stubbles generally retained. Larger areas are being sown to perennials and canola has been introduced to the cropping rotation.

Turn to p19 for more about cropping and the Riverina environmenal management project. More about EMS starting on p14.