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Unit 5 - Sheep, cattle and conservation
Unit 6 - Do the $$$'s stack up?
Unit 7 - The saltland toolbox
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UNIT 5

Sheep, cattle and conservation

 

5.4  Personal issues

Previous

At the start of SGSL in 2002, a group of farmers who had ‘successfully’ tackled salt on their farms were interviewed. Ten of the farmers’ stories were published in Insights.

Within this case study group, there were a number of common motivating factors that stimulated them to actively manage saltland systems. These included:

  • They were proactive in the face of adversity;
  • They were positive about the future of the grazing industries; and
  • They took pride in the appearance of their farms.

For some, protecting and enhancing native vegetation and biodiversity was an important part of their management, and salinity was compromising their objectives. For others, floods followed by rapidly expanding salinity that killed large areas of previously productive low-lying pastures were also a major motivating factor.

While profitability was a major consideration in the way these farmers ran their farm businesses, it rarely dominated their decisions to manage their saline land. Given that most farms have salinity on only relatively small areas (the national average is about 20 hectares but in the eastern states it is more likely to be 10 hectares), it is not surprising that productivity and profit from that land can be minor considerations.

Even when a farm has more substantial areas of saline land, investing in saltland pastures will not always be the ‘next best’ investment on the farm. While saltland pastures can be profitable, other farm investments, including purchasing more land, might provide a better dollar return on investment. However, while producers always want to understand the costs and risks associated with saltland management, they often recognise a wide range of other benefits.

In a survey of WA wheatbelt farmers managing saltland, preventing further loss of productive land to salinity was the most important motivator behind their investments in saltland management (despite the science being relatively clear that better managing saltland will have only a minor impact on the spread of salinity). However, over 80 % of the farmers surveyed stated that turning unproductive saltland into productive land gave them a sense of satisfaction that reinforced their decision to invest and that improvements in visual amenity were a particular source of pride.

Institutional support for saltland pastures or saltland management today is greater than it used to be. Many organisations that support both agriculture and natural resource management are recognising that improved saltland management can have both productivity and sustainability benefits. In some regions, financial support and technical assistance is available to assist farmers to assess their saline land, and to revegetate it for productive or conservation purposes.

There are also issues beyond the farm gate to consider as the increased urbanisation of Australia has increased public demand for ‘multi-functionality’ from land and water resources. This includes both visual amenity and improving the quality of water supply, and the health of rural and riverine habitats. This is not just for esoteric gain. Research in the United States has shown that landscape amenity is the best predictor of rural area population change which has a significant impact on land prices. A similar trend is likely to be operating in Australia.

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