Darren Doherty and Lisa Heenan are Nailing It

This week we’re looking at another couple that are ‘Nailing It’.  They might just be doing the most important job in the world at the moment by leading a group called Regrarians.  The Regrarians are a movement of “land stewards” that seek to work with nature and technology to increase food production, nutritional density in our food system, profitability in agriculture and improving local ecology.

I first met Darren Doherty and his amazing wife Lisa Heenan at FACETS in 2012.  Darren gave the most hopeful and practical talk of the day.

(FACETS were a series of TEDx-styled regional events that my brother and I created that covered thought leadership on Food, Agriculture, Climate, Energy, Topsoil and Sustainability) .

Darren and Lisa have a big goal, Darren says: “Our primary responsibility is to the regenerative enhancement of the biosphere’s ecosystem processes (Regen10). Our secondary responsibility is to provide the potential for people to be informed about the regenerative economy (Regrarians Media)”.

And they’re busy doing it. Darren has designed & developed over 1300, mostly broadacre, projects across 5 continents in 36 countries.  Some of these have been HUGE like the million hectare property in WA or the Sustainable Cacao Agroforestry System (SCAS) project for Mars Inc in Vietnam (2004-2007).

So when most people are paralysed by fear, or living in denial about the state of our food system, Darren and Lisa are getting regenerative agricultural practices implemented by farmers in developed and developing nations.  These good-for-the-environment farmers are growing “amazing produce” profitably and reliably.  The people eating the “amazing produce” are having near-spiritual realisations about their (re)connection with the land that it was grown on.  In turn, creating a regenerative economy where engaged consumers support regenerative producers.  Its good for the environment (locally and globally) and good for people.


Lisa, Darren, Costa Georgardis & Andreas

Lisa, Darren, Costa Georgardis & Andreas

Darren and Lisa have teamed up with Joel Salatin from Polyface Farms.  Joel Salatin was called the ‘most innovative farmer in the world’ by Time Magazine and featured in the movie Food Inc.

If farmers were as popular as musicians – Joel would be Bono.

People like Darren and Lisa know how to keep good company.  But they value no company higher than their own family.  Check out the terms of trade on their website and you’ll see you can’t get Darren for overseas work unless you also get Lisa and the 3 kids.

Heenandoherty family

This policy hasn’t put any legitimate customers off.  In fact it shows the family behind the Regen10 system ‘living their values’.  The “Regrarians” (the followers of Darren and Regen10) community is growing month-on-month as concerns with our food chain are going mainstream.

It’s a long time since Darren and Lisa started their first business making salad mix out of 10 different lettuces from their garden with some calendula flowers and pansies thrown in.

It’s a long time since Bill Mollison (co-originator of Permaculture) described Darren as the “Future of Permaculture”, because of his dedication to broad acre work.

It’s a long time since Darren articulated the critical importance of soil carbon in sequestering atmospheric carbon pollution through the agency of regenerative agriculture.

It’s a long time since they did their first tour (they bet their house on an audience showing up).  But the signs that “persistence pays” are now showing up all over the place.

The tour they started in 2007 has been repeated in 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2014 is happening right now.

Doherty family now

Each tour the whole family goes on and as the kids have aged they have bought new dimensions with them to the tour.

The whole family are currently in Ibiza for the start of their 5-month World Tour 2014. Darren hopes to spend a couple of weeks finishing his book,”Regrarians” and Lisa, Isaebella and Andreas will be doing more filming of projects, especially getting the final footage for “Polyfaces”.  Check out the Trailer.

The HeenanDoherty family is dedicated to making the world a better place for all of its organisms and landscapes and they do it with good cheer, low maintenance and no nonsense. They are definitely on the right track, as are those who are working alongside them across the world…

The Founding Regrarians – Darren and Lisa – you are Nailing It.  And, thank you so much for doing so.  I feel a little better knowing you guys are in the world making a difference.

Graham and Cathy Finlayson are Nailing It

This Weeks ‘Nailing It’ is the powerhouse duo – Graham and Cathy Finlayson.  Graham and Cathy may not have the profile of entrepreneurship that our readers are used to.  They don’t code, their investors aren’t previous “winners”, but that’s about where the differences end.

When I left the cattle properties they manage on behalf of Sustainable Land Management on Friday, Graham made the following comments.

beef cattle australia photoPhoto by J-Sav

“We have now got 11,000 cattle.  But when we finish this last piece of fencing and water, we’ll be able to run 40,000 head of cattle”

(Bore water is used as the average rainfall is only 13 inches)

“We were carrying twice the stocking rate of the district average through the drought and we’ve halved the costs of production per kilo of beef.  Now it’s rained we can put the foot down”.

That means that by the end of July 2014 – they’re running about 16 times more efficiently than their neighbors!

Graham and Cathy have only been in the role for 12-months.  The company they work for, Sustainable Land Management, has only existed for 2 years.

Regenerating The Landscape

Regenerating The Landscape

Graham and Cathy own Bokhara Plains, 7,200 Hectares of open plains country nestled between the Bokhara and Birrie rivers, 35kms North of Brewarrina in the NSW outback.  This farm is running well despite not receiving any rain for 18-months – they still have stock.

Their neighbours by comparison are talking about walking off farms that have been in their family for 100 years.

Back when Graham and Cathy started out, they started attending courses on rural tourism.  Then they started Bokhara Hutz on their cattle station.  The accommodation was clean and comfortable.  The food and service offering was a perfect fit.   Nightly they served slow-cooked, salt-bush lamb and freshly made dampers.  For the many travelling professionals (health care, accountants and government types) that were interested in the far-west catchment.  Bokhara Hutz was the only place worth staying within 250km radius.

In their first year of operations they had 850 “night-stays”.  The next year they doubled this.  The following year, they tripled it again.  All the growth came from word-of-mouth, free press and a very simple-format website.

Bokhara Hutz Accommodation

What Graham liked best was that it was farm income and diversification that didn’t stop them running more stock.  What Cathy liked best was that everyone who came to stay, loved it.   Cathy says: “They learned something from us and we learned something from them”.

Sadly, Bokhara Hutz was put on ice just a year ago when Graham and Cathy moved into their current role managing 480,000 Hectares mostly in South West Queensland.

Somewhere during Grahams career he got the nick-name “Grant” because he was excellent at applying and getting grants that were available to innovative ideas around water and conservation, pest reduction and weeds.

Innovation looks remarkably like common-sense, but not all farmers took the opportunities.  Graham did simple things like capping the free flowing bores (bores are pumps pulling up water in naturally occurring underground aquifers).

The water from the bores is then piped to where the stock are at any given time.  This instead of letting the water flow across hundreds of km’s through “bore-drains”.  Where most of the water simply evaporated away.  And open water sources like dams and bore-drains give feral animals (there are lots of them – pigs, goats, foxes, camels, cats, rabbits and donkeys) a source of water.  This cap-and-pipe system would largely be paid for by efficiency gains in the first couple of years and was topped up with a grant.

By 2005 the innovation on Bokhara Plains was so well recognised that Graham was awarded the NSW Young Farmer Of The Year.  In 2007 he was awarded the prestigious Nuffield Scholarship, which is awarded annually by the industry to the person with greatest potential to transform agriculture.

They started hosting events for the Western Catchment Management Authority (CMA) and took on the role of teaching and mentoring other graziers that wanted to learn how they could increase their farm diversity and profitability.  So far Graham has led dozens of young farmers to better results through education.

Graham and Cathy not only knock it out of the park in their professional lives they also have the most amazing family life.  They have been married well over 20 years and still look at each other like teenagers in love for the first time.

As an example of their family-centric common sense.  Unlike so many farm families (including my own) that wait to when the kids are home from school to help (for free) with the big work – (like musters or shearing) – Graham and Cathy took holidays during the kids holidays so the farm was not at peak work times but at peak relax times.  Cathy says of this: “most farmers never take holidays and then wonder why their kids don’t want to be in agriculture”.

Finlayson Family

It’s testament to them that they continue to travel, have fun, book holidays and make a great living through planning.  It’s there planning skills that gives them the same degree of certainty over where the cattle will be grazing in 1-day, 1-month or 4-months time.  As Cathy says with a big genuine smile on her face: “We’re certainly people that like to have goals and work towards them”.

To help any of our readers that don’t have a context for the level of what Graham and Cathy have achieved.  You need to know that most people in the Western CMA have had to de-stock completely, are in debt and are 68 years of age with no succession plan.

Graham and Cathy Finlayson, you guys are so, ‘Nailing It’.  You are a credit to agriculture and represent a newer, more dynamic paradigm – of working with nature, of great stewardship of the soil, of low-stress stock handling of planning and of making a profit doing what you love in a way that’s most simply described as – “better”.

Interesting Startups – SwarmFarm Robotics

Andrew Bate & AgBot - Swarmfarm

Andrew Bate & AgBot – Swarmfarm


Startup Name SwarmFarm Robotics
What problem are you solving?The United Nations states that we need to double agricultural output to feed the burgeoning world population by the year 2040.Yet it is widely known that the world has almost reached “Peak Farmland” – there is very little land left undeveloped to bring into production.Future increases in food production will come from increasing yields from existing farmland.We are introducing robotic technology into agriculture that has the potential to increase yields, improve efficiency and produce food in a more environmentally sustainable way.
is your solution?We are developing small, simple robotic technology for agriculture. Our vision is “Small simple robots that do simple tasks very well”A “Swarm” of small robots replace large single tractors that are used in agriculture today.Our machines are lightweight to prevent soil compaction and scale able to any size farming operation- from 3rd world up to corporate farming.Robotics will be an enabling technology for agriculture- it will enable new farming methods and technologies not previously possible in traditional farming systems.We aim to tend crops at an individual plant level, rather than at an entire paddock level.
Why is this a great opportunity?Robotics offers the next big revolution in agriculture, similar to the Green revolution in the 1970’s and the Genetically modified revolution int he 2000’s.Mining is over and Agriculture is the next big thing.There is a lot of interest in investing in agriculture in Australia, but the track record of corporate farming or overseas investors buying farms in Australia is very poor.This is an opportunity to get exposure to the “Dining Boom” without investing in farmland. Australia is a world leader in outdoor robotics (check out Rio Tintos’ mine of the future and Patrick Stevedores’ automated waterfront).We have great experience in this area of robotics here in Australia. We are partnered with The Queensland University of Technology and The University of Sydney’s Australian Center for Field Robotics.
Learn more about us here.
Target MarketAgriculture – All sizes of farm business – from small family farmers, larger private farmers up to corporate farmers. Out technology would also carry over to the 3rd word where food security is a huge issue.
How will you make money?Software as a service.
Founders NamesAndrew Bate, Jocie Bate, Neville Crook
What type of funding has the company receivedBootstrapped/self funded



Swarmfarm Agbot

Swarmfarm Agbot

Agbot Sprayer

Agbot Sprayer Analysis


We like a lot about this startup, the problem is real. Farmers biggest costs are labour and fuel and one of their biggest issues are weeds.

Agtech & Foodtech is a massive market and there is a lot of opportunity for improvement in food production so we are keen about this space.

I like that instead of spending two years and $200k building some super robot that would have lasted a week on a farm they took a known tough John Deere Gator for $15-20k and retrofitted it with their robotic control units and spent all their time on the control software not the engineering of the robot.

Swarmfarm are hiring

Swarmfarm are looking for Mechatronics and Electrical Engineers, apply via their contact page.


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