Grains Research and Development

Date: 01.06.2003

Where does native vegetation fit in this picture?

Mary and Geoff Woods (left) in native vegetation on their property 'Coorangy'. Mary Woods: "People's debt load affects how they view their vegetation and what they can do to retain it or replant. Our Shire and our area historically have had good retention of native vegetation as systems have evolved from grazing into a highly developed cropping-grazing mix. My husband's father 50 years ago retained vegetation as fire breaks which now provides our shade lines. We don't have as much as we'd like, but we're very happy to keep what's there."

Geoff and Mary Woods, who farm outside Goondiwindi in Queensland, were interviewed onfarm as part of the GRDC-initiated survey of native vegetation management. The review aims to assess the benefits of native vegetation for graingrowers on both a farm and catchment scale.

The work has involved a telephone survey of 500 graingrowers and interviews with six graingrowers from each of the three GRDC regions. The-review will also look at the legislation and programs available to assist graingrowers manage native vegetation on their properties - and will identify gaps in knowledge, information delivery and on-ground capacity for vegetation management in the grains industry.

Mr Woods spoke to consultant Ian Perkins.

Farmer: Geoff & Mary Woods

Location: Goondiwindi, Qld

Area: 4,380 hectares

Crop area: 2,540 hectares (1,240 uncultivated basically vegetation and waterways - 50 per cent)

Crop types: Wheat, chickpeas, sorghum Cattle breeding

Proportion of area farmed: 58 per cent

Proportion of area under native vegetation: 14 per cent

Farming system: Primarily zero-till

Purpose for farming: What you grow into, what you like doing, what you're skilled at. Lifestyle. It's what I enjoy doing. I am also involved in agri-politics and directorships.

Should you be responsible for actions on your farm which affect someone else or something else (e.g. afuture buyer of the farm. another farm or wildlife)?

Yes. We should be responsible for impacts -local, regional and global. Information is not good enough; there seems to be a lot of politics in the global issues.

Do you think there is a trade-off between the viability of your farm and the costs of environmental management?

Yes, there is a trade-off.

How would you rate your awareness of the environment?

Pretty high.

What do you think are the benefits of native vegetation?

It sustains a multitude of birds, marsupials, etc and the birds control insect pests. We have had quite a bit of work done here over the years by various researchers. The trees have a positive effect due to their windbreak action. Personally of no economic benefit, but the trees are of personal aesthetic value. I like the trees. I am not going broke, so why wouldn't I let the trees stay?

What do you think are the disadvantages of native vegetation?

It attracts pigs and kangaroos. There is some loss of crop yield due to moisture loss. If you have trees, there will be a loss of production. However, the trees compensate for what they are stealing, so the key to this is: if you can afford to keep the trees, it is easier. We have done research projects with CSIRO in attempts to evaluate the loss or gain and they have said the loss balances out the gain.

Do you actively manage native vegetation?

Yes, we do actively manage vegetation. We have planted trees and generally do not graze cultivation paddocks. We have done a number of joint venture research projects with CSIRO and the Queensland Department of Primary Industries.

Do you derive income from management of native vegetation?

No.

Is your farm affected by land degradation? What type?

Erosion has been a major issue in places. We have spent a considerable sum over the last 15 years on soil conservation works, contour banks and waterways. Weeds are under control. Salinity - no.

Do you anticipate that your property will be affected by land degradation in the future? What type?

There will be some erosion, but erosion is reasonably under control now.

Are you working to a farm plan with regard to native vegetation?

Yes.

Do you aim to increase the amoun/proportion of native vegetation?

Yes.

What will this place look like in 5 to 20 years?

In ten years - similar with small increased areas of native vegetation.

If you were starting again with a totally natural/vegetated property. what would you do?

I probably would do it similarly. I would probably leave timber in different places, more natural features, along ridge lines etc, for erosion control and aesthetic reasons.

Major issues facing native vegetation - in this catchment. in this district. in this region?

Queensland government legislation is a mess - panic clearing causes huge problems. Weeds are an issue -lippia, mother of millions, a new cactus, etc. Accelerating soil erosion.

What information gaps/areas requiring research do you perceive?

There is a strong culture that a few trees are acceptable but, other than that, they're a bloody curse of a thing. Those attitudes need to change. There is a need to increase awareness of the value of native vegetation. There is a lot of interest in what we are doing with trees here, from neighbours and other farmers and there is a lot of scepticism as well.

Mary Woods was unable to be at the interview but she later spoke to Ground Cover. She is serving as chair of the community-based Murray-Darling Basin Committee, a regional pianning body under the National Action Plan. Native vegetation management and biodiversity are two key issues covered by the regional management plan, which is currently circulating as a draft.

The plan involves management and investment strategies for National Heritage Trust and National Action Plan funds over the next five years. "Some of the on-ground funding is to explore pilots and incentives and to support Environmental Management System (EMS) principles."

We asked her: what kind of incentives? "There have to be tangible returns like local government rate rebates or state/federal tax incentives for retaining native vegetation and biodiversity, and we will be developing pilot programs to demonstrate how these might work."

Mrs Woods conceded that investment in an EMS is trickier because it requires a market pay-off to command producer interest. Nevertheless she says, "I believe in the stewardship concept of land ownership. Most people do until they're threatened with loss of income." Other complex vegetation issues include both government and farmer attitudes to management of regrowth, which does not currently qualify as a greenhouse-friendly asset.

She suspects it will take time for the farming community to fully accept the longterm benefits of retaining biodiversity. For instance, under the Woods' brigalow soils lies a natural salinity bulge, which is stable at present. "We want to make sure it doesn't mobilise, by ensuring our farming systems are sustainable, but you won't have the aanswer for sure for another 50 years."

Region North, South, West