Bush tucker boost to farm profits?

(Keynote speech to the 1995 National landcare Conference)

By the year 2020, radical changes in the way primary producers use Australia's natural resources could see the total export value of native flowers, crops and animals exceed that of grain.

This is the prediction of the Deputy Chief of CSIRO Division of Soils, John Williams, who outlined his vision for the future of farming in a keynote speech at the National Landcare Conference '95, held in Perth.

Dr Williams' future-look aims at reversing soil degradation by restoring native ecosystems. "We need to put the Australian landscape together again," he said. "However, doing this and making sustained profits will not be achieved by conducting business as usual."

Dr Williams said that, while grain would probably continue to be the rural sector's single biggest export earner, technological and institutional change could also allow producers to make substantial profits from farming native plants and animals.

"In the technological sense, this would mean establishing new breeding

programs to obtain high quality commercial native seed and animal stocks," he said. "I envisage properties where alley crops of deep-rooted perennials such as tagasaske, native eucalypts, grevillea and acacia are grown between bands of cereal or other grain crops. The pastures would be grazed by a mixture of kangaroos and emus as well as the traditional sheep and cattle mix."

He said this farming approach would have significant benefits other than commercial gain. "Current research confirms that a concentration of native crops and animals reduces the damage to our soil and water resources. By choosing the best mix of native and other crops for a particular environment, farmers are ensuring that plants make the best use of nutrient and water availability, and are in sympathy with seasonal patterns that are distinct for Australia."

Dr Williams said that institutional change would also need to be radical for his vision to work. He said that researchers, farm advisers and

producers now appreciate that European-style farming used in Australia since white settlement is often in conflict with sustainable use of our natural resources.

"Researchers, advisers and producers need to work hand in hand on farm programs that involve managing the whole catchment rather than single units of land," he said.

"A movement such as Landcare is pivotal for achieving this cooperation because it is a natural forum for these three groups of people to meet, discuss issues and achieve change.

"Landcare is popular and widespread, driven by producers and rural communities who are actively seeking answers from researchers and advisers to their sustainability problems.

"We have a good base for achieving a new vision of sustainable, profitable farming. We have a strong research and extension commitment in Australia, and a client-driven movement in Landcare. The future will tell if we have the will to achieve it."