Left: Fraser Pogue (middle), flanked by Damon Gameau (left) and Colin Seis (right), with crew from the “2040” documentary. Right: Fraser and Leanne Pogue.
Seeds for sustainability thirst sown in childhood
Understanding the relationship between micro-organisms and plants has changed the way Fraser Pogue (class of 1996) farms.
It’s also seen him receive the 2019 Australian Government Landcare Farming Award and feature in Damon Gameau’s documentary “2040”, released last year. In the film, which focuses on climate-change solutions, Fraser explains the importance of soil health and how his farming approach sequesters carbon into the soil.
Fraser and his wife Leanne (née Kohne, class of 1997), along with his parents Cliff and Jan Pogue, farm 320 hectares of mainly loam plains at Ardmona. Leanne also runs Pogue HR Consulting, servicing SMEs across the Goulburn Valley.
Frustrated with the conventional farming model, Fraser began researching soil health several years ago. The results have seen microbes in the naturally enriched soils on “Belturbet” create an environment for efficient crop growth, improve water use and protect the soil from drying out, make it less susceptible to heat and frost extremes, and increase crop resilience.
Today, Fraser is at the forefront of regenerative agriculture and innovative cropping practices. An early adopter of minimum tillage, he uses multi-species cover crops and sub-surface drip irrigation, with biological liquid fertilisers and minimal insecticides and fungicides.
Fraser says, “I’ve always been concerned about environmental problems – whether it’s littering or overpopulation. My interest in sustainability goes right back to when I was a child; I had veggie gardens and have always been interested in growing things. Then at school, my interest grew into permaculture.”
Post school, Fraser did a Bachelor of Applied Science in Agribusiness at Melbourne Uni’s Dookie Agricultural College, and in the past six years he’s done an enormous amount of research into microbes and their effect on soil health. Along the way, he came across globally renown Central NSW Tablelands farmer Colin Seis. Winner of the 2014 Bob Hawke Landcare Award, Colin pioneered “pasture cropping”, where annual crops are sown into permanent pastures. It was his friendship with Colin that saw Fraser be part of the “2040” documentary.
“When the film crew rang me I said ‘that’ll be fine’, just thinking it would be a backdrop. But then the next thing we knew, we were a big part of it!
“We used to call our approach ‘sustainable farming’. Another term for it is ‘triple bottom line’, that is, having good environmental outcomes, good financial outcomes and good social outcomes, all largely stemming from the health of the soil and plants in your farm ecosystem. Really, I just call it good farming.”
Both Leanne and Fraser say GVGS gave them a strong grounding in life, encouraging them to continue seeking information and to learn.
Leanne, who was school captain in 1997, says, “These were key experiences which then naturally shape what decisions you make from the choices you have. GVGS builds on your life values. I felt supported to be myself, but at the same time, I gained confidence to go after things that I may not have otherwise. You may not quite realise it at the time, but in retrospect we can see all the positives, how it allowed us to create our identities and our sense of self. It very much set us up for life.”
Fraser has similar comments, also citing the school’s values and community-family feel. “Going to Goulbourn Valley Grammar School just shapes you.”
Both Leanne and Fraser have enjoyed the reconnection with GVGS, as their eldest Archie, began Year 5 this year. Maggie, now Year 3, will follow in 2022.
While the couple knew each other at GVGS, it was 10 years later at a chance meeting at The Aussie, that their romance kindled.
Leanne says, “Looking back, Fraser was always really into sustainability, even doing courses outside school to learn. He was a little bit of a hippy, and it’s interesting to see this is the area he’s worked into commercially as a career. It’s something that’s always been really important for him.”
Fraser, who will represent Victoria at the 2020 National Landcare Awards in the Landcare Farming Award category, hosts field days, workshops and open days at their property. He is also involved with the Goulburn Murray Landcare Network, the Victorian No-Till Farmers Association and the Goulburn Broken CMA.
He says, “All my research into soil health has led me to being able to work on environmental problems from an agricultural perspective. For me, it’s come around full circle, which is pretty cool.”