Grains Research and Development

Date: 01.09.2003

Report bites into salty issues

GROWERS COULD potentially extract up to $90 million of benefits each year from saline country but around $20 million a year is a more likely outcome, according to a new study of salinity management options supported by growers and the Federal Government through the GRDC.

The 150-page report, Economic Evaluation of Salinity Management Options in Cropping Regions of Australia, was commissioned by the GRDC and the National Dryland Salinity Program.

Edited by Ross Kingwell of the University of WA and the WA Department of Agriculture, the report features comprehensive details of the threat posed by salinity to individuals and regional economies and the measures being taken to counter these threats.

The report points out that the salt-affected area in the nation's grainbelt is forecast to grow by 1.1 million ha to 3.7 million ha by 2020, costing the nation $29 million a year in lost farm profits (see this page for potential benefits from salinity mitigation). While much of the salinity's advance will be in WA, regions such as the south-east of SA, the Victorian Wimmera, Victorian high-rainfall country and the slopes of north-east Victoria/south-east NSW, are also likely to record large increases.

It comes as no surprise that potential gross benefits from salinity mitigation are highest in the WA grain production regions ($10-$46 million per year) and are also high in the SA Mid-North Lower York Eyre zone and the SA/Vic Bordertown Wimmera zone. Sodic and acid soils were calculated to reduce the possible gross benefits by 40-99 per cent, depending upon the region.

Although farmers have planted thousands of hectares of trees to try to stop watertables from rising, a lack of profitable tree planting options has led them to more immediate solutions such as drainage and engineering options and broadscale planting of deep-rooted pastures such as lucerne - and the benefits of these measures are analysed.

Case studies provide in-depth economic analysis

The report draws on a wide range of statewide case studies to analyse the relative merits of salinity management options, including planting lucerne, saltland pastures, lucerne-based pastures, oil rnallees, river red gums, broombush, maritime pines, ironbark, sugar gums and jojoba, as well as sequential perennial pastures and cell grazing.

Readers will find an abundance of useful profit comparisons, graphs, tables and maps; measures of the economic impacts of salinity; alternative uses of saline water; and, of course, recommendations for future R&D investments.

A list of plant species able to be grown where dryland salinity is a problem, and the areas to which they are best suited, is contained in the publication. The list includes examples of salt-tolerant pastures, deep-rooted pastures and fodder crops (see lucerne story below).

Economic Evaluation of Salinity Management Options in Cropping Regions of Australia is available for $10 (plus postage and handling) from Ground Cover Direct, free call 1800 110 044; email ground-cover-direct@canprint.com.au.