Catchment Assault on Salinity (West, 6 February 2008)

Messages obtained from farmers in a GRDC supported study on 27 farms in the Wallatin and O’Brien catchments 200 kilometres east of Perth are relevant to a large portion of WA’s wheatbelt.

The study recommended demonstration approaches to salinity management to enable farmers to draw objective conclusions about cost-effectiveness and critical success factors.

Despite recent dry seasons, farmers still rate salinity as an important farm management issue, equal to those of the cost-price squeeze, dealing with herbicide resistant weeds and finding the right balance between cropping and livestock.

Farms in the study area face long-term salinisation in valley floor landscapes and intermittent salinisation in several upland areas.

According to farmers, key constraints to their management of salinity were information on the economics of the various options and a lack of belief that the solutions were cost-effective and practical.

CSIRO researchers working alongside the Catchment Demonstration Initiative (CDI) in the Wallatin and O’Brien catchments sought to determine effective means for integrated salinity management practices.

The approaches varied from those that aimed to recover saline land, restrict its further development or profitably use unrecoverable saline land.

GRDC-supported Project Manager, Dr Michael Robertson of CSIRO, said farmers wanted one-on-one help to locate any salinity management option for best fit with their system, as well as maximum effect.

Farmers were well aware of the ‘suite’ of salinity management options.

They preferred plant-based options, such as lucerne, saltbush and long season annual pastures, over engineering options, due to the latter’s cost, the need for high technical input and concerns about safe disposal of water.

Tree planting has produced measurable biodiversity benefits, but there was a lack of knowledge about where to plant trees for maximum effect on salinity.

The study concluded that CDI-type approaches can overcome knowledge constraints in managing salinity by fostering social learning, offering a structured process of trialling options so costs and benefits can be identified and avoiding past costly mistakes and “learning failures”.

Region West