Catchment with a plan

(above and top) Avon Working Group: aiming to reverse land degradation across a huge catchment.

Clearing native vegetation for agriculture has increased groundwater recharge up to threefold in the Avon River Basin, while discharge rates are estimated to have increased tenfold, affecting the hydrological cycle and all the processes that it involves.

The potential area affected by salinity with no amelioration is approaching 25 per cent of the catchment. In many instances it is not reversible.

Local farmer Phil Bellamy says if nothing is done, "farming as we know it today will simply disappear and we will have to rely on other sources for our food and income".

Mr Bellamy is a member of the Avon Working Group which has developed the Avon River Basin Natural Resource Management Plan. The group involves farmers, government and researchers. State funding is available and grant money is distributed for projects like revegetation and on-ground demonstration or research projects. Farmer groups are encouraged to get together for larger projects.

The 'big picture' is sustainability of the region's land, water and natural diversity. Immediate goals are to stem rising groundwater, and related salinity and waterlogging problems. The hope is that success will lead to a landcare 'snowball' effect.

Phil Bellamy says "the keys to revegetation programs are commercialisation of native species, a new profitable farming system that is based on the real environment not what we wish it was, risk capital, and valueadding in the bush".

Adds farmer Robert Boase, "I believe that there is profit to be made from revegetated areas. As well as the landcare benefits, profits could be gained from oil mallee plantations, specialty timbers, wildflowers grown for export, native foods, tourism and farm-stays".

The Avon River Basin is a huge area of 120,000 square kilometres. While the plan focuses on the basin, there is scope to form partnerships with many groups and link this plan to other regional plans and strategies.

Alley cropping and other new farming systems

"One way to reverse the present hydrological imbalance is to integrate revegetation into new farming systems to include a version of alley farming where cereal crops are planted between rows of deep-rooted woody perennials," said Mr Bellamy.

"These new systems would utilise only the soils that can produce a profit from cereal crops. New industries can be introduced by planting trees and shrubs on traditionally poorer soils," Mr Bellamy said.

Jeremy Atkins, a Bakers Hill cattle breeder, said growing crops that use only around 200 mm of rain when rainfall is 350-400 mm is a waste of precious raw materials.

"My approach has been to focus on improving the soil's ability to grow more pastures and to increase its water-holding capacity. This was achieved by changing the type of pastures we were growing," he said.

Community education is another main focus for the Avon Working Group. There has been discussion of a publicity campaign aimed at farmers, promoting the economic benefits of landcare and the long-term profit side of sustainability.

Working with the education system is a priority to encourage landcare topics in the normal school curriculum.

Educating the younger generation to the importance of landcare will have a positive impact on community attitudes and the economic future of the region.

Contact: Ms Linda Leonard 08 9690 2000