Natives control dryland salinity, erosion, acidity

Researcher Meredith Mitchell advises how to manage perennial, deep-rooted and acid-tolerant native grasses for their maximum potential.

VICTORIAN SCIENTISTS are finding more evidence that Australian native grasses, uprooted and scorned for generations, can be a valuable weapon in the fight against dryland salinity and other forms of land degradation.

Scientists at Natural Resources and Environment (NRE) say they can identify how a number of native grass species control dry land salinity. As part of this research, Meredith Mitchell's team at NRE's Rutherglen Research Institute has developed an easy~to~use tool for identifying some of the most common native grasses in temperate Australia.

The new handbook, Native Grasses: An Identification Handhookfor Temperate Australia, identifies a variety of native grass types common in south~eastern Australia, and provides information on the value of native grasses in terms of their benefit to the environment, agriculture, landscaping and upland hydrology.

"There are many reasons why farmers should consider using perennial native pasture species," Ms Mitchell said. "They offer the advantage of productivity combined with long~term persistence. The first step to better pasture management is to recognise what grasses you have. Once you know what species are there, you can manage them totheir maximum potential.

"In the past, traditional farming practices have required the destruction of these pastures, resulting in undesirable side effects such as soil erosion, compaction, acidity and soil salinity. The new handbook will enable landowners to beller manage and understand the agronomic benefits that native grass species can add to the farming system."

The advantages stem from the fact that many native grasses are perennial and deep~rooted, thereby helping to keep the watertable lowered while also being tolerant of acidic soils.

Ms Mitchell joins those who say many conventional agricultural systems are not in harmony with the landscape and there is a need to focus on redesigning agricultural production systems to better suit the Australian environment.

Native Grasses: An Identification Handhook for Temperate Australia is available from the NRE Information Centre in East Melbourne on 0396378325 or from CSIRO Publishing on 1800645051.

Contact: Ms Meredith Mitchell 02 6030 4500