What farmers think about dryland salinity and sustainable farming

Photo of dry land

The perceptions and practices of farmers in Western Australia's Upper Kent River Catchment were under the microscope in a recent dryland salinity survey.

David Pannell, University ofWA, said there had not been a rigorous study of where Western Australian farmers stood on the salinity issue until Elizabeth Kington undertook the survey. Professor Pannell leads the GRDC-supported Sustainability and Economics in Agriculture (SEA) Project.

Forty-six per cent of the 120 farmers surveyed said they expected salinity to increase, 25 per cent said there would be no change, and 21 per cent thought it would decrease. The farmers surveyed had very good knowledge of the available management options for dryland salinity and waterlogging and a good understanding of the underlying hydrological causes of both problems.

A few individuals felt that the only way to stop salinity was to return all the land to trees. Several stated that strategically placed plantings of trees or tree belts would be sufficient. Only two respondents felt that no amount of change on their properties would prevent the onset of dryland salinity.

As a group, they were highly uncertain about the extent of salinity and rate of worsening, and they highlighted the complexity, modest effectiveness and relatively poor economic performance of available treatment options.

The survey showed that. the scale of salinity-prevention practices in the catchment was insufficient to prevent ongoing increases in the areas of saline land. Professor Pannell said forecasts by hydrologists were for the area of saline land in Western Australia to increase substantially (perhaps by a factor of three) before a new hydrological balance was reached.

"Despite the recognition of salinity as a serious concern, the survey revealed a contrast between what farmers thought would fix the problem, and what they had actually implemented. The gaps between actual levels of treatment implementation and those deemed necessary by hydrologists were even greater," said Professor Pannell.

Program 3.1.1

Contact: Professor David Pannell 08 9844 8659 email: david.pannell@uwa.edu.wa

Further details of this study are available at http://welcome.to/seanews