Wombat producer Chris Hall takes out National Carbon Cocky Award

Wombat orchard owner Chris Hall has taken out the 2019 National Carbon Cocky Award for Demonstrated Improvement in Carbon Management in Horticulture or Viticulture.
Wombat orchard owner Chris Hall has taken out the 2019 National Carbon Cocky Award for Demonstrated Improvement in Carbon Management in Horticulture or Viticulture.

Chris Hall from Wombat's Hall Family Orchards has taken out the 2019 National Carbon Cocky Award for Demonstrated Improvement in Carbon Management in Horticulture or Viticulture.

He was also named a finalist for the National Carbon Cocky Award for Outstanding Performance in Soil Carbon Sequestration.

Mr Hall received the award on Tuesday, August 6 at the National Carbon Cocky Awards Gala Dinner, a part of the National Carbon Farming conference held in Albury last week.

After completing a degree in horticultural science and returning to the family farm in 1997, Mr Hall says has introduced a number of new practices and methods to the orchard.

"I started by spreading straw under all the cherry trees, resulting in a 30 per cent improvement in moisture retention measured on various moisture probes within the orchard and a significant reduction in pumping costs," he said.

In 2005, he purchased an adjourning cherry orchard that was run down, so he had the freedom to experiment with his ideas.

"I initially focused on balancing my soils," he said.

"To achieve this, I have conducted numerous soil tests to collected data on nutrients."

Mr Hall believes that growers have been force feeding their cherry trees with synthetic fertilisers and chemicals to achieve high yielding plants.

"I started to correct and amend the nutrients in the soil by using compost containing microbes combined with natural mineral fertilisers," he said.

Mr Hall continued to grow cherries that were premium export quality, however he was not satisfied.

"It was at this point, about five years ago that I started to question if the microbes were performing to the best of their ability and what some of the possible barriers may have been," he said.

"I suspected that the herbicides, fungicides and insecticides were restricting the microbes' ability to provide nutrients to the trees and help build organic matter in the soil and sequester carbon."

Mr Hall realised at this point he had to investigate ways of reducing chemicals.

"I reduced and eliminated the use of herbicides and noticed a significant improvement in earthworm numbers," he said.

He has also moved towards growing cover crops, also known as green manure crops.

"Cover crops increase the bulk density of organic matter in the orchard," he said.

"During the past three years, we have increased organic matter in the orchard by up to five per cent."

Previous traditional practice involved ploughing the rows or spraying with herbicides to control for weeds and to prevent weeds competing for the water required by the cherry trees.

Mr Hall says he moved to an integrated pest management system and has not used insecticides for over two years.

"It has resulted in a significant increase in the beneficial insects in the orchard such as lady beetles, lacewings and native bees," he said.

"The beneficial insects now control the insects that cause damage to the cherry trees."

Mr Hall now identifies himself as a regenerative horticulturalist and carbon farmer.

"I am passionate about increasing carbon in my soils as it has the potential to reverse climate change, save water, improve biodiversity and allows the growth of healthier cherries, free of harmful chemicals."

Mr Hall is working closely with YLAD Living Soils (Young), who nominated him for the awards, to further develop a nutritional program specifically for cherry growers.

This will allow cherry growers the ability to sequester more carbon in their soils and reduce the use of harmful chemicals.

If you want to know more about carbon farming or regenerative agriculture, visit Carbon8.