Meg and Peter Nielsen Bentley Farmers
Meg and Peter Nielsen - fourth generation farmers - farm cattle near Bentley, in Northern New South Wales. They previously farmed a variety of fruits and coffee at Bangalow. Both Meg and Peter agree that “good farmers are environmentalists”. “A good farmer understands that to farm sustainably you have to work with the environment”, states Peter, which is exactly what they are doing. “Climate disruption” as Meg calls it, is never far from their minds.
Meg has noticed big changes on her farm that are consistent with the predictions of climate science. Over the past decade and a half, since they’ve been on the property, she has noticed highly variable weather conditions when working out on the land. “Mostly in the form of unseasonable weather,” she explains. “More and more unexpectedly hot days in Spring... even October has much hotter days.”
Peter agrees. “2016 was a clear example of this. And unfortunately this heat was accompanied by long dry periods.” Meg also notes that rainfall is now extremely patchy in the region. “Instead of us all receiving a solid amount, some farmers in the area receive 60ml during a storm whilst others receive nothing.”
Meg and Peter farm their land with the impacts of climate change and sustainability in their minds. They feel a strong sense of stewardship over the land. “Peter and I feel that we’re all so blessed to live on this beautiful earth, and as farmers we feel doubly blessed to be able to make our living working on it,” says Meg. They have implemented a number of innovative measures, including improving soil moisture with added vegetation around dams, encouraging natural vegetation growth, keeping stocking rates low and introducing cattle that are suited to the local grasses. They’ve also added eight solar panels to the farmhouse and installed three five thousand gallon water tanks.
Peter emphasises that a good deal of the work they are undertaking is about establishing a balance between the areas of natural vegetation and productive land. “We don’t focus on one without thinking of the other”, he says.
“In our productive areas we are focusing on soil health by reintroducing natural elements like dung beetles. And maintaining our natural habitats is important for sustainability.”
Despite their efforts to improve their carbon footprint and farming practices, they feel that governments could do more to encourage farmers to have more renewable energy on their farm. “We’ve been calling on both federal and state governments for some time to review their policies and put practical measures in place to address climate change as a matter of priority.” As National Party members, they are hopeful that the party that’s traditionally represented country people can make progress in championing the opportunities available for farmers in renewable energy.
“There are so many reasons why we need to transition from coal and gas to renewable energy.”
On their beautiful 150 acre property at Bentley, Meg and Peter are striving to continue the stewardship and respect for the land that its previous owners had. “They always cared for the land and were good environmental farmers. We’ve just tried to build on that.”
Meg and Peter are keen to invite visitors to their farm. Their property often attracts avid bird watchers keen to catch a glimpse of the over 100 amazing species of birds that now inhabit their property.
Meg and Peter Nielsen at their farm in Bentley, Northern New South Wales.