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Unit 1 - What's in it for me?
Unit 2 - Saltland Basics
Unit 3 - Can I trust the technology?
Unit 4 - Plant and animal performance
Unit 5 - Sheep, cattle and conservation
Unit 6 - Do the $$$'s stack up?
Unit 7 - The saltland toolbox
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UNIT 2

Saltland Basics

 

2.3 What are farmers reporting?

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Farmer information needed

Inland Australia is salty because over the millennia, rain has continually delivered small amounts of salt (typically 20 to 50 kg/ha/yr), only a little of which gets carried back to the ocean. The clearing of native vegetation, and its replacement with annual crops and pastures, and associated soil degradation, have all contributed to mobilising that salt that was already sitting in the landscape.

The salinity predictions contained in the National Land & Water Resources Audit (2000) have now been recognised as having significant errors because the likely spread of salinity caused by rising saline groundwater was overestimated, and the issue of ‘transient salinity’ was not included in the Audit.

Fortunately, there have been two significant farmer surveys to directly assess the extent of salinity on Australian farms and to provide some information about just what actions landholders are taking to manage and/or to prevent dryland salinity. These were:

  • ABS Land Management Survey (2002)
  • The Land, Water & Wool Survey (2002)
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ABS Land Management Survey (2002)

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Land Management and Salinity Survey was conducted as a supplement to the 2001 Agricultural Census. The survey targeted those farmers who had declared having land affected by salinity or using salinity management strategies.

Main Findings:

  • Nearly 20,000 farms and 2 million hectares of agricultural land were reported by farmers as showing signs of salinity.
  • Western Australia is the state most affected by salinity, with 7000 farms and 1.2 Mha showing signs of salinity. The National Action Plan region most affected by salinity was Avon (WA) with 2279 farms and 450,000 ha showing signs of salinity.
  • 97% of the agricultural land showing signs of salinity was associated with the beef cattle, sheep and grains industries.
  • The most common salinity management practices employed were:
    • Crops, pastures and fodder plants for salinity management, 3.2 Mha;
    • Trees for salinity management, 0.78 Mha;
    • Earthworks (levees, banks and drains) for salinity management, 208,000 km; 
    • Fencing for salinity management, with 0.47 Mha fenced.
  • The main motivations for salinity management practices were farm sustainability (66% of farmers implementing change saying this was of high importance), environmental protection (56%), and to increase or maintain agricultural production (54%).
  • The main reported barriers to changing land management practices were lack of financial resources and lack of time (35% and 21% respectively).

The discrepancy between these estimates and the National Land and Water Resources Audit can be partly explained by the different meanings attached to ‘affected by salinity’ and by the different methods of assessment. It also stems from the different scales at which the assessment is undertaken. Farmers are likely to assess the area affected at the paddock scale, whereas the NLWRA assessment was at a much coarser scale. For example, an Audit estimate of 100,000 hectares of salt-affected land in a region means that salinity is an issue across 100,000 ha, not that every one of those hectares is salt-affected.

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Land, Water & Wool Survey (2002)

As part of the development of the Land, Water & Wool Program in 2001, a survey of woolgrowers (those shearing at least 750 sheep in the past 12 months) was undertaken to assess attitude and actions across a range of natural resource management issues. One of the issues explored in some detail was dryland salinity.

Main Findings:

  • 41% of wool producers in the high rainfall and mixed farming zones claimed to have areas of their property affected by salinity, ranging from none reported in Queensland to a high 78% in Western Australia.

Is Your Property affected by dryland salinity

TOTAL
(n = 1289)

 STATE

NSW
(n = 474)

VIC
(n = 358)

QLD
(n = 13)*

SA
(n = 155)

WA
(n = 239)

TAS
(n = 50)

Yes

41%

26%

39%

0%

41%

78%

30%

No

59%

74%

61%

100%

59%

22%

70%


  • Across all the farms surveyed, the median area per farm affected by dryland salinity was 20 ha but the variation is very large, with 25% of farmers reporting less than 5 ha affected, and 17% reporting more than 100 ha of salt-affected land.
     
  • 79% of respondents with land affected by salinity believed there were ways they can make these areas more productive or profitable.Graphs
     
  • 70% of respondents with land affected by salinity have undertaken activities to make this land productive and profitable – the main activities undertaken are outlined in the table below.

Activities undertaken to improve saline land   

TOTAL
(n = 530)
 

Plant salt-tolerant pasture or fodder species

53%

Plant trees

45%

Fence saline lands to control grazing

29%

Plant deep rooted perennials / lucerne

19%

Manage surface water flows

16%

Manage watertables

7%


  • The cost and/or the lack of financial viability were the main reasons given by respondents who had been restricted in attempting to make land affected by salinity productive or profitable.
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