On a farm just north of Manjimup, Jake Ryan is applying both age-old practices and new-wave thinking to enhance the quality of his land and make less of an impact on the environment. Thanks to his changes, the Three Ryans brand has grown due to higher yield and improved produce quality.
Jake’s family farm, Goodonga, is farmed by a multigenerational family team comprising of Jake, wife Sangeetha, his parents Gary and Tracey, and sister Kayla. The story began three generations ago when Jake’s grandfather – John (Doc) Ryan – bought the farm to diversify income[MSFFC1] . Doc and his wife were insistent that no further trees would be cleared on the property to preserve natural habitat for birds and other wildlife.
Today, the family work across a variety of horticulture crops including cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage and kale, as well as managing a flock of pasture raised laying hens that produce free range eggs, around 1000 merino sheep and 40 head of Angus and Angus-cross beef cattle.
Their brand, Three Ryans, was launched in 2013, with a variety of products including eggs, beef and lamb, and value-added products including cauliflower rice.
Growing up on the farm, Jake had a classic country upbringing, where he earned pocket money assisting on the farm while learning the ropes. After completing secondary school Jake headed up to the big-smoke of Perth to attend university, studying a bachelor of Agri-Business at Curtin University.
On one of his trips home, Jake was introduced to the concept of regenerative agriculture during a workshop hosted by the Southern Forests Food Council. American farmer Joel Salatin shared information on establishing regenerative practices. Salatin co-owns Polyface Farm in Virginia, and after successfully implementing a range of regenerative practices on this farm, he launched into a career as a speaker on the topic.
Regenerative agriculture focuses on farming while also improving the environment. With a spotlight on maintaining and improving the soil, processes are put in place to create a healthy soil profile with a complex ecosystem, encouraging microscopic organisms, fungi and earthworms that work together to enrich the system. The idea is that the growing of plants fuels the soil, while the soil is also assisting the plants to grow.
Five principles guide regenerative agriculture:
1. Minimise soil disturbance
2. Keep the soil surface covered
3. Keep living roots in the soil
4. Grow a diverse range of crops
5. Bring grazing animals back to the land
As a classic procrastinating university student, Jake began to research further to learn more about sustainable farming. After preparing a plan of action, Jake approached his parents to pitch some changes to the Goodonga farming approach. He suggested they implement strip tillage, holistic plan grazing, cover cropping, pasture rotation and inter-row flowers to provide habitats for predatory wasps and beneficial insects.
Since Jake’s suggestion in 2017, the family have been following the strip tillage method where only a few inches of soil is turned over per row, rather than disturbing the whole of the paddock as with conventional tillage. Some tillage is required, to allow soil temperature to increase and to allow fertilisers to reach depths suitable for root uptake. Implementing strip tillage has had variety of positive outcomes, from faster emergence of seedlings, less fuel used due to combined tillage and fertiliser application, and reduced soil compaction with only one pass over the paddock rather than the five passes previously required for conventional tillage. In their first year of strip tillage, the Ryans saved 10,000L of fuel.
These diverse cover crops are grazed by the Three Ryans’ pastured hens. The 4,500 strong flock of happy hens enjoy the pasture, consuming any insects that dare stroll into their path. Producing up to 1,500 eggs per day through winter and more when the weather warms, the hens roost at night in the specialist converted caravans that Jake and Kayla tow to different locations around the farm.
Jake learned about the concept of holistic plan grazing via the works of Zimbabwean scientist and farmer Alan Savoury, who suggests that by mimicking the rotational patterns of wild grazers, farmers can reverse desertification, increase the health of soil and sequester carbon. Since implementing this system, the Ryan’s have been able to increase their herd of sheep by 300 and have doubled their number of cattle.
Recognition has come hard and fast – last year Jake was invited to fly to Germany where he was one of nine to receive the Corteva Agriscience Climate Positive Leader award. This international program recognises early adopter producers who are successfully implementing, scaling and sharing climate positive practices. He was also a finalist for Australian Young Farmer of the Year this year, and Soil Health Champion of the South West for 2022. Jake is eager to share his story, and why it’s important to value produce grown using more sustainable methods.
You can find Three Ryans products for sale at Gilbert’s Fresh Markets (Hilton, Southlands and Midland), IGA’s across the state, Stirling Farmers Markets and Manjimup Farmers Markets. Visit their website for a full list of products and stockists.
Photographs by Craig Kinder Photography for Genuinely Southern Forests, and via Three Ryans.