Warren’s Tackling Salinity with Natural Sequence Farming

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Warren Pensini explores the benefits of regenerative agriculture to his beef operation in the southwest of Western Australia.


Warren Pensini, of Blackwood Valley Beef, sat down with Christie Stewart from Wide Open Agriculture (WOA) to chat about regenerating landscape function on his farm. The current stage of this process includes the landscape rehydration work being undertaken in partnership with the Mulloon Institute and Commonland. Warren’s farm is the first of three demonstration sites for Mulloon’s landscape rehydration model in WA.


After hosting the Mulloon Institute at his Boyup Brook property, Warren has now partnered to bring the Mulloon Institute to WA, developing and implementing a whole farm plan centered around landscape rehydration.


The flow-on effects have been extraordinary, and the project hasn’t even begun planting! Warren’s property is turning into a global standard for holistic land management and carbon sequestration outcomes.


FarmerWarren Pensini of Blackwood Valley Beef
LocationBoyup Brook in the Southwest of Western Australia
Farming operationA holistic planned cattle grazing operation. A member of Wide Open Agriculture’s (WOA) Dirty Clean Food supply chain.
Farm size664 hectares
Climate zoneAgricultural zone 6 – mild temperate
Soil typeA range of loamy sand over clay, gravelly loam over clay, some lighter sandy country, some heavier loam country, and some granite interspersed with gravelly type country.
Annual rainfall600 – 650mm (according to BOM)
Years on their regenerative journey5 years, but Certified Organic and cell grazing for 17 years.
InterviewerChristie Stewart, Wide Open Agriculture


Christie Stewart: 

How did the Mulloon rehydration project come about?


Warren Pensini: 

I’ve always struggled with a particular part of our farm that we’ve had landscape issues with, including the water hydrology and little saline patches coming out which we could not get a full handle on what we were going to do with them. 


During a workshop from the Mulloon Institute at our property, I spoke with Peter Hazel in-depth about potentially what our issues are and how we could solve them using landscape rehydration techniques.


At this time, Mulloon were looking to grow a presence in WA, so in a conversation with Mulloon, WOA, and Commonland, we spoke about the possibility of setting our property up as a trial site for their work in Western Australia. 


The driver of the project came when we thought “well if we’re going to do a plan around rehydrating the property, we will have to do a whole farm plan, map the farm out, and come up with a strategic plan.” But there’s always a cost associated with that. The estimate we got back from Mulloon exceeded my business’s budget for a farm plan, at that point in time, so graciously Commonland and Mulloon co-funded the farm plan. 


So that got the first stage underway- the farm plan. 


Both myself and Jim Mackintosh (Co-director / Team lead, Landscape Development & Support at Commonland) were always very strong on the fact that we were not just going to do this plan and let it sit on the shelf. So about the same time that we signed off on the farm plan, Mulloon applied for a state government grant for doing trial work in Western Australia around their landscape rehydration approach. They were successful in getting that grant, and as part of that, our property, along with three other properties, became the first properties in WA to implement landscape rehydration work through the Mulloon Institute.


Because we’d had the farm plan done, we essentially are now 12 months ahead of everyone else. We’re at the point now where we are about to start work. It’s exciting and kind of scary all at the same time, because it’s a pretty big project and it’s going to have a pretty big impact on our farm in terms of what it looks like physically, but also from a management level and from a productivity level.


Tree planting location along laneway at Warren’s Boyup Brook property.
Photo point on the tree planting map along the same laneway as above photograph.



For those who haven’t come across it before, what exactly is a landscape rehydration plan?



That’s a good question. Landscape rehydration is really based on the work of Peter Andrew’s natural sequence farming. It’s about looking at the hydrology of the landscape very holistically. 


In a nutshell, what it means for us is we essentially split the farm into three different zones. 

  1. We have what we call a recharge zone, which is up on top of the hills, where the rain falls and that’s where your water basically begins as its life on your property.
  2. Then we have the ag zones, which sit in the middle, so they’re our productive agricultural zones.
  3. And then we have what we call our protected zones for the riparian areas down the bottom. That is the area we really want to look after and nurture. It is quite fragile in its state, that’s your last filter for your water before the water leaves your property.

To implement this plan, or to put a good hydrological process back in place, you have got to start at the top of the hill. 


The symptom, not the cause


This is quite often the mistake I think we often make, and I’ve done it here myself. We look at the problem and not the symptom or the cause, and the problem always comes out at the bottom of the landscape, and that’s kind of where we always start.


Mistakably, we’ll plant trees in the gully, and think we’re doing a wonderful job, which it is to a degree, but in reality, we need to start at the top of the landscape and really control that water from the beginning.


So essentially that’s what we’re doing. We’re planning to replant trees along our ridgetops, fencing those off, and putting some contours in to control some water flow. 


Lance Mudgway from the Mulloon Institute marking out contour locations


Nutrient flow

The other thing that people probably don’t fully understand is the flow of nutrients. If we can hold the water back, we can also hold the nutrient flow back. The idea of planting on top of the ridgetops is that we are creating more nutrients and more fertility on top of the hill, which will then gradually work its way down through the landscape, into our ag zone. This means we can naturally create fertility and then use that fertility in the ag zone.


Livestock integration

Once those trees get established, we will graze livestock back through them, but they will be on a long recovery period. And then really increase the productivity of those ag zones, by making better use of the water and the nutrients that are coming from up on top in the recharge zones. We then look after those valley floors and creek areas by fencing them off and excluding livestock, and potentially planting in there too.


Salt scalds

The other thing we’ll do on our property is look at rehabilitating some of these little salt scalds that are coming out on the sides of our valley, where some of the water that flowed down has come to the surface and become saline.


In those areas, we’ll be looking to initially fence them off, doing some intervention work in there, putting some little weirs in a few of the eroded areas, spreading hay out to get ground cover back, and bringing livestock through on a very long recovery system to get some biological activity back in there as well. We can then also look to plant some fodder shrubs and potentially some deciduous trees to create more fertility and more production through nutrient cycling. 


There’s actually a lot of water available in those areas at the moment, but it’s quite saline and so not particularly valuable for growing plants. If we can decrease the amount of water that’s coming out through there, which will bring those salt levels back down, then put some plants in that are going to be productive, we will potentially return those areas to possibly some of the most productive areas on the farm. 


By mapping out a plan and a strategy around those areas, we can try and work out how to best manage the areas and rehabilitate them, but also make them productive again.


Pin weird and brush mattress map



Awesome! Conventionally in a Western Australian farming landscape, the approach to salinity has been to dig a deep trench to move the water off the farm as fast as possible. How do your proposed contours tackle that problem differently?



I suppose our goal is really to have no water to leave our farm- but that’s probably not going to happen. If we have a major rainfall event, the creeks are going to flow and there will be water leaving our property because we’ve got a couple of reasonable size creeks that flow through the farm. 


Some creeks do come in from other properties, but the central catchment on the farm that we’re focusing on begins on our farm – all the ridges around that catchment start on our property, so we control that whole catchment all the way from the top. 


For that catchment, the goal is for any water that does leave our property to be as close to fresh as possible.


A holistic approach


We are kind of putting all these lenses in place, right? Whether that’s trees, perennial grasses or fodder shrubs, or just laying down carbon to take up water, we’re putting all these lenses in place to make better use of that water. 


We want to also suppress some of those salts that are coming to the surface which are basically spilling out into the creek and then move down through our next-door neighbour’s property, and then into the Boyup Brook and into the Blackwood River. 


This project is about restoring from the very top of the Blackwood Valley. It’s a creek that starts right at the top of the catchment, and from a catchment-wide perspective, that’s where you must start. 


Contours capture rainfall runoff with first Autumn rains.



With the rehydration plan being implemented on your farm, how do you see that affecting your daily management and the productivity of your farm as well?



The daily management is not going to change too much. We already have a rotational grazing system in place, so we’re just going to be adding to that. 


Success in the measurement


We will be measuring all this too. We’ll be doing water quality testing to make sure that, whatever water does leave our property is fresh. That’s another goal in essence, but I would suggest that for a large part of the year, we want very little water leaving our property. At the end of the day, if we can retain that moisture and make use of it, we should be a lot more productive, particularly through some of those drier months.


Productivity is going to be the other big one. My goal is that we see great landscape outcomes, and we want to increase the biodiversity and the ecology of the planting corridors we’re putting in place. 


I think for these projects, ultimately to be successful and to get uptake from other farmers, you must see a productivity increase. I think that’s a given. 


Some would probably argue against that, as long as you’re getting a better landscape outcome and you’re improving the ecology, that’s good enough. But I think realistically, from a wider uptake of this in the landscape, we have to see productivity increases for farmers to take it on.



Fantastic! Thank you for chatting with me Warren, and best of luck in the landscape rehydration efforts! We will have to touch base in a year to see how it is all going.



Thanks, Christie.


Warren and Lori Pensini run Blackwood Valley Beef in Boyup Brook in Western Australia. Warren is also the Livestock Operations Manager and Logistics and Supply Chain Manager for Dirty Clean Food, where he manages the Beef and Lamb supply from DCF’s farmers. Lori is also a highly accomplished visual artist and runs her practice from her studio on the farm. 


Christie Stewart is the Regenerative Farmer Coordinator at Wide Open Agriculture. She is passionate about regenerating agricultural landscapes and the unique biodiverse ecosystems of Western Australia’s Wheatbelt, Christie enjoys her role working to support farmers on their regenerative journey. 

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