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Unit 1 - What's in it for me?
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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?
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SOLUTION 1

Fence and exclude from grazing

 

1.3  What are the benefits from fence and exclude from grazing?

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Production

No animal production can be expected from sites that are fenced and excluded from grazing.

However, in some countries samphires have been traditionally eaten either pickled or boiled. They have also been burned and used in the manufacture of glass (thus the common name glasswort given to some species).

In Australia seeds of samphires of the genus Tecticornia are still harvested and eaten by Aboriginal people, made into a type of cake. In the Goldfields region of WA, this food is called kurumi and at harvest time people gathered for ceremonies around the clay pans where these plants were growing. Seeds were put into cracks in the clay pan to ensure a good harvest next year.

There are many recipes using samphire on the internet (just Google ‘samphire’), including the following from an episode of ‘The cook and the chef’ on ABC TV in August 2006

 

Method

“Samphire is a native succulent. Woody at the base and with many branches it grows freely on many of southern Australia’s salty flats. Samphire is considered best for use in summer when the fleshy leaves are bright green and aromatic. In winter the leaves turn a reddish/ pink but as Simon discovered there is still some green to be found at the base of the plants. Simon also finds that blanching winter samphire before cooking gives him the lovely, salty taste of the sea that he’s after for his dishes.”

Pickled Samphire

Samphire, Salt, Vinegar
Gather the young and green samphire at the beginning of summer, before it flowers and sets seed. Break into 5cm lengths, lay on a dish and sprinkle with dry salt. Leave for 24 hours. Drain, then cook gently until tender in enough vinegar to just cover it, but don't allow it to get soft. Plain vinegar is best for this as the samphire has its own spicy flavour. Seal down securely in hot jars.

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Amenity & environmental benefits

Improvement in visual amenity is a strong driving force behind many farmers revegetating saline land. The most severely affected saltland will often be bare salt scalds if the site is not protected from grazing. Under suitable conditions (extreme salinity and waterlogging), samphire will colonise the site and provide groundcover which can be a significant improvement to the visual affront associated with saline scalds. Germination on bare areas can be improved by disc pitting or creating furrows to trap seed and moisture. Samphire might be best described as ‘better than nothing’, and on these sites, there are no practical or commercial alternatives.

With careful landscape design it may be possible to fence out areas suited to samphire at no additional cost. For example, areas suited to saltbush will generally occur higher in the landscape than areas suited to samphire. If a belt of saltbush was established higher in the landscape and fenced off then the samphire zone in the lower part of the landscape could automatically be protected.

A stand of samphires will stabilise sites to some extent, making them less susceptible to water erosion. Samphire also catches sand from wind erosion and will build mounds of sand around their bases in susceptible areas. They may also provide some benefits by slowing surface water flows so as to decrease the severity of flash flooding but this has not been investigated.

Research on the biodiversity value of saline sites that have been fenced and excluded from grazing to allow samphire to colonise has not been done but it can be surmised that a samphire-based ecosystem would provide significantly better environmental outcomes than a bare, untreated saline scald.

 Most Australian samphire species are endemic (not found in other countries) and therefore have a biodiversity value in their own right. It is also likely that other salt-tolerant plants will co-exist with the samphire and provide a contribution to both plant and animal biodiversity. In WA, interconnected samphire areas occur across the lines of ancient drainage. These systems act as wildlife refuges for kangaroos and probably for a range of other native animals.

Although samphire areas are generally highly saline and waterlogged, such areas are rarely uniform in shape and fencing them off will inevitably include some less severely affected land. These islands of better ground could be suited to the growth of salt-tolerant trees like Casuarina obesa. Like samphire this tree will also spread naturally if seed is present and the plants are protected from grazing. 

Though many samphire species are very common, Halosarcia flabelliformis (bead glasswort), a small shrub found on the margins of some salt lakes in Victoria and South Australia is nationally listed as a vulnerable species. It is threatened by excessive flooding, extraction of salt and gypsum deposits, and from grazing by domestic stock and rabbits. Protection of threatened or vulnerable species can make a significant contribution to biodiversity. Where Puccinellia is an option for productive land use in South Australia, the clearance of samphire is restricted where it is considered historical. Dispensation from clearance regulations can be obtained where it can be demonstrated that the samphire is an invasive species on previously cleared farming land. 

It is unlikely (though it has not been researched) that samphire encourages any of the remediation services (ie increased water use, water table drawdown, reduced salt accumulation in the surface soil) that are sometimes associated with other saltland alternatives. It must be kept in mind that sites selected to fence and exclude from grazing have been selected specifically because the salinity and waterlogging are so severe as to exclude other options.

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How do the $$$s stack up?

Put simply, they don’t.

The fence and exclude from grazing produces no dollars. There has been some discussion about the potential for samphire sites to become a commercial source of glycinebetaine because the plants are high in this compound. However, it is unlikely an industry will be developed in the next decade, so no financial outcomes should be factored into any planning for this saltland solution.

Fencing off an area of severely salinised/waterlogged land and excluding grazing is a last resort management option on a commercial farm. Any sort of economical assessment is meaningless as these severely salinised sites are beyond agricultural production and are fenced off to achieve entirely non-financial outcomes.

For a farmer to be interested in implementing this Saltland Solution, there must be motivation other than production or profit (unless the fencing is carried out for some other purpose). Farmer surveys suggest that visual amenity (improving the appearance of a highly degraded area of the farm, particularly if that area is visible from the house or the road) is a major driver. In addition, farmers often establish saltland pastures with the hope that such pastures can reduce or slow the spread of dryland salinity, but it is unlikely that the sort of severely salinised/waterlogged land suited to fencing and exclusion from grazing would provide any such benefits.

The mix of benefits being sought will vary significantly from farmer to farmer and therefore each situation has to be assessed on the cost of implementation and the value of the non-financial benefits to the individual farmer.

Minimising the cost of implementation:

  • Larger areas are cheaper per hectare to fence. If a saline area is expanding, fencing off a larger area will reduce the cost per hectare and possibly reduce the need to replace the fence in the future.
     
  • Fences have two sides. While there is no potential for commercial gain from the highly saline area, the fencing operation may be used to increase subdivision and therefore grazing management options adjacent areas. Such fencing might be to allow saltland pasture to be developed on the less saline, less waterlogged land, or could become part of a laneway system on the farm that can simplify stock movement.
     
  • Community co-investment may be an option. Some Natural Resource Management Councils and Catchment Management Authorities are providing fencing subsidies to assist farmers fence off vulnerable land classes and to increase environmental outcomes. In some cases, these community grants can be used to fence off, establish and protect samphire areas.
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