Stuart Larsson of Soft Agriculture at his new Mallanganee operation. Photo Jamie Brown / Northern Star
Stuart Larsson of Soft Agriculture at his new Mallanganee operation. Photo Jamie Brown / Northern Star Jamie Brown

Family dynasty innovation over generations

FOUR years ago, when Stuart and Katina Larsson dealt with succession planning, their son Ross acquired the food processing side of their diverse family company, Mara Seeds.

The new freedom allowed them to pursue a different direction, and today that venture, Soft Agriculture, has positioned itself at the centre of a growing soil-farming revolution.

A family-based agricultural business does not come by chance.

Stuart Larsson of Soft Agriculture discovered the true value of manure-based mulch after visiting the Pennsylvania-Dutch Amish. Photo Jamie Brown / Northern Star
Stuart Larsson of Soft Agriculture discovered the true value of manure-based mulch after visiting the Pennsylvania-Dutch Amish. Photo Jamie Brown / Northern Star Jamie Brown

The Larsson family has farmed land around Culmarran Creek west of Mallanganee in the Upper Clarence Valley for four generations, starting in 1914 when Charles Larsson bought a few hundred acres and cleared the land for farming.

Stuart's father Henry was a progressive thinker, and amalgamated early, buying smaller farms and uniting them under one title.

Then a thrifty lot could survive on a few hundred acres with a dairy, a few pigs and a bit of cropping.

Biochar - or charcoal - looks plain enough but it has great absorbant properties and will play a key role in locking up greenhouse gases produced by production livestock. Photo Jamie Brown / Northern Star
Biochar - or charcoal - looks plain enough but it has great absorbant properties and will play a key role in locking up greenhouse gases produced by production livestock. Photo Jamie Brown / Northern Star Jamie Brown

Henry was ahead of his time in terms of herd management of his dairy stud, and when Stuart was handed the keys to that farm he changed directions.

Beef replaced dairy in the early '70s and the business grew as Stuart bought more land.

He reckoned the beef crash of '74 was the best thing that happened to his business.

"I was faced with the choice of going away for work or innovate," he said.

As a result the Larsson farm was the second on the North Coast to plant soyabeans. But weeds were an issue in those paddocks, and the choice of chemical was not as it is today.

Biochar activated feed pellets for weaner cattle have been shown to increase meat production by 17% with reduced methane emmissions. Photo Jamie Brown / Northern Star
Biochar activated feed pellets for weaner cattle have been shown to increase meat production by 17% with reduced methane emmissions. Photo Jamie Brown / Northern Star Jamie Brown

So Stuart decided to rotate his paddocks with Rhodes grass and found a lucrative export market to the United Arab Emirates all through the '80s, before that opportunity crashed along with the petro-dollar.

These days the family business farms 2040ha concentrating on a triage: beef, with 700 breeders with a hereford base, F1 cows and angus terminal sires; 800ha of double cropping soybeans in summer, wheat or barley in winter, with Rhodes grass in a five-year rotation.

Sometimes they aerial-sow oats and rye over their bean crop so that paddock is available for their cattle after harvest.

"We farm our country hard," Stuart said.

"And we developed products to use ourselves, and to meet our needs. When it worked for us we commercialised those products."

Seed export was a mainstay of the Larsson's family business, Mara Seeds - now controlled by Stuart's son Ross. These days thee income stream is not so grteat, but here Stuart Larsson samples cleaned setaria seed destined for Argentina. Photo Jamie Brown / Northern Star
Seed export was a mainstay of the Larsson's family business, Mara Seeds - now controlled by Stuart's son Ross. These days thee income stream is not so grteat, but here Stuart Larsson samples cleaned setaria seed destined for Argentina. Photo Jamie Brown / Northern Star Jamie Brown


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