Cropping, recharge and native vegetation

Increasing inputs step by step: At Buronga, Gary Doyle gets the seeder ready earlier this season. Inset: John Doyle, who crafted a model vegetation management strategy.

President of the Mallee Sustainable Farming Project, Gary Doyle, is testing increased inputs of seed and fertiliser to improve his traditional native pasture-wheat rotation. The two focus paddocks, totalling 600 hectares of sandy loam, are part of 8,000 hectares that come under crop at the family property outside Buronga near Mildura, NSW.

The Doyles' property is also the site for a model conservation agreement.

Concern about rising dryland salinity caused the NSW Government 5-6 years ago to say no additional cropping unless something is done about recharge, according to Gary Doyle.

This has led to a phase farming method monitored by deep bores on the largely leasehold properties in the region. Farmers plant lucerne as the soil profile 'wets up'.

It has also seen John Doyle, Gary's father, come away from a four-year regional planning committee negotiation with a model conservation agreement which mandates that cropping and native vegetation co-exist on the property.

While NSW now has strict regulations about native vegetation removal, there is some leeway in the mallee and belah country of the Western Division that is converting from grazing to cropping

The formula requires at least 1 hectare of native vegetation be reserved for every hectare cleared — in perpetuity.

"We have cleared an extra 3,500 hectares and locked up 13,000 hectares," says Mr Doyle. Recharge concerns are addressed by leaving native vegetation on the sandy ridges that criss-cross the property. Other people leave windbreaks.

Mr Doyle believes there is room for new varieties to take up the salinity challenge. A deeper-rooted cereal which takes up more water and is adapted to light soils and low rainfall would be lovely. "We haven't had anything designed specifically for us," he says, no doubt hoping the plant breeders are listening.

(A lateral-thinking strategy of direct-drilling cereals into native pasture is highlighted on p28-29.)