Rehydrating Landscapes

Research shows that up to half of rainfall on farmland is lost to runoff and evaporation. An innovative organisation is working to rehydrate catchments across Australia by collaborating with farming communities.

Mulloon Creek in 2015.  It has seen improved water levels and increased diversity of plant and animal life.

“I love a sunburnt country. A land of sweeping plains,” wrote Dorothea MacKellar. While last year was marked by storms and floods and ended up Australia’s wettest year since 2016, this offered minimal reprieve for farmers. Research shows that up to half of rainfall on farmland is lost to runoff and evaporation.

Dorothea MacKellar’s words still shape our perceptions more than a century after her iconic poem. Almost a third of Australians believe that the country is in drought, despite ending 2021 with no region in a meteorological drought.

The Mulloon Institute – a not-for-profit research, education and advocacy group – are challenging the misconception that we just need ‘steady, soaking rain’ and have been demonstrating why we should focus on rebuilding our biggest natural water reserve, one farm at a time.

Mulloon Creek in 1977.

With more water evaporating each year than the annual rainfall in many parts of Australia, their work with farmers and landholders across the country has helped to slow down water flow, minimise runoff, increase soil carbon, and create more productive and biodiverse landscapes.

The Mulloon Institute has recently partnered with Vitasoy Australia, a company passionate about developing sustainable, plant-based products, to shine a light on how Australian land can become more resilient to climate extremes.

Shifting focus from reaction to building resilience

While most conversations and resources addressing the impacts of climate extremes have a focus on response, the Mulloon Institute is leading the shift towards building resilience.

The Mulloon Institute is working to fix a root problem in agricultural settings by restoring and rehydrating landscapes to make them five times more absorbent. This has been shown to keep more rainfall in those areas, which helps the soil capture an additional 10,000,000,000 litres of water in a 10,000ha catchment – equivalent to adding 4,000 Olympic swimming pools worth of water to the landscape.

Australia has historically been a reactive nation when it comes to natural disasters. According to a 2021 Productivity Commission study, 97 per cent of natural disaster management funding was earmarked for “response” rather than “preparation”.

With the majority (53 per cent) of Australians more worried about the occurrence of natural disasters globally than this time last year, this approach now seems outdated.

The Institute’s work demonstrates innovative land management approaches that create healthier landscapes with more resilience to climatic extremes. Rehydrated land creates a “dual win”, for agriculture and for the environment.

Future-proofing farming

Australians underestimate how much land is dedicated to agriculture. On average, Australians believe that only 32 per cent of Australia’s land mass is used for agriculture, when in fact it’s nearly 60 per cent.

One of the most important issues facing Australian farmers is how to manage their water, with many farmers across the country realising the necessity for change. Much like a homeowner consults a designer for their renovations, landholders are turning to hydration experts to revitalise their dehydrated catchments.

Thus far, 34 landholders have planned or completed rehydration projects with the assistance of the Mulloon Institute, which aims to rehydrate catchments across Australia by collaborating with farming communities.

Mulloon Farm was one of the first farms to sign up to the Mulloon Rehydration Initiative, a catchment-scale, Mulloon Institute project located in NSW. They have implemented a total of seven interventions on their land over a period of 4 years, which have resulted in significant changes to the landscape and biodiversity – including improved water levels in the creek, increased diversity of plant and animal life.

Before and after: the difference is stark between the Triple Ponds landscape, Mulloon Creek, in 2006 (left) and 2013 (right).

And recently some of the country’s biggest food & beverage companies like Vitasoy, who is one of Australia’s largest buyers of domestic soybeans, are increasingly working with their suppliers to implement sustainable production methods and future-proof farming.

Conscious commerce

A majority (58 per cent) of consumers expect brands to do “everything they can” to be sustainable, and in 2022 that goes well beyond just recyclable packaging. ‘Conscious’ commerce has continued to build momentum, with seven in ten Australians now purposefully seeking out brands that focus on sustainability. This has only exacerbated dissatisfaction when it comes to the grocery aisle, with less than a third of Australians believing that manufacturers of grocery items are doing enough to be sustainable.

Offering ‘good products’ is no longer enough, and it’s time for brands to look at making products the right way. Vitasoy are committed to further reducing the environmental footprint of their operations. They are also supporting shifts to sustainable agriculture through partnering with organisations such as the Mulloon Institute.

Vitasoy’s Commitment

Vitasoy’s Australia-first sourcing policy means that they have a vested interest in ensuring sustainable farming and land practices become the norm. 

Vitasoy is also committed to growing a “better world” through sustainable investments, which is why they have pledged in excess of $1,000,000 over the next five years to help rehydrate Australian catchments through the work of the Mulloon Institute. This pledge will work to restore thousands of hectares of land. Vitasoy encourages all food companies to make similar pledges to future-proof Australian farms.