Northparkes Mines, near Parkes in the state’s Central West, isn’t just in the business of mining copper and gold. Only 30 per cent of the land owned by Northparkes is used for the mining lease and the other 4,370 hectares that surround the mine isn’t just a buffer for neighbours.
The mine has developed a farm strategy that’s part of a sustainable outlook for its land, providing benefits to the local farming community through best practice techniques and innovative trials.
But aside from the trials, which help to develop new and efficient farming techniques, Northparkes’ farms are also productive – yielding over 1000 tonnes of canola, almost 1400 tonnes of barley and just under 3000 tonnes of wheat in 2012, plus field peas and lupins.
Some of the yield was made into chicken food at the nearby town of Bendick Murrell, with the rest sold to large scale companies who then process the grain and export or crush locally depending on demand.
Geoff McCallum has been a farmer since 1964, and has been the farm manager at Nothparkes Mines since 1997. Geoff champions conservation farming, and aims to improve the original soil quality and productivity of the land.
"I believe the soil's better better. The soil tests show the soil's not getting any worse and our yields are persisting. I've never seen an effect from the mine - there's nothing to affect it," says Geoff. "Even on the boundary of the mine, there's nothing there. You could be farming anywhere."
The farm is run as a commercial operation to ensure that trials and new techniques have commercial applications across the farming sector, the company is trialling experimental techniques on the land in association with the NSW Department of Trade and Investment, establishing large scale agronomy trials across the farm paddocks.
And Geoff works with the Department of Primary Industries – a division of the Department of Trade and Investment - for about a decade establishing large scale agronomy trials. For example, 300 hectares is being used to trial green manure, aimed at reducing the amount of nitrogen that is bought for farming. Instead, nitrogen is transferred into the soil through the crop itself.
Geoff also helps guide the eventual rehabilitation of the mine. "We've planted 10,000 trees a year since I've been here, so that's around 200,000 trees we've planted so far," he says.
And it's not just plant life that has improved. "Since I've been here at the mine, I've found that the bird numbers have increased...I think it shows that Northparkes is as committed to the environment as I am."
The mine also hosts the Central West Farming Field Day every year, sharing farming knowledge with the community, helping local landowners to improve their own land management practices.