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SOLUTION 2

Fence and volunteer pasture

 

2.2  Most likely situations for fence & volunteer pasture?

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The concept of ‘most likely situations’ is used in the other Saltland Solutions to identify the niche where a particular saltland species is most likely to be suited. However, for this Saltland Solution it is not possible to nominate a ‘suitable’ mix of salinity and waterlogging – something will volunteer and form a ‘pasture’ in almost all situations. In the decision making process of what is the best course of action for a particular site there should be some site assessment of the plant species growing on or adjacent to the area that would grow and cover the area if it was protected from grazing.

Recent research has led to the following general conclusions.

  1. There are few situations where this option is likely to fail – the exception being areas where there is no seed source for regeneration or where there is major inundation such as the beds of lakes or rivers. In many situations, it will be a viable option even if it is not the most profitable option.
     
  2. The SGSL initiative has demonstrated that the difference in production between improved species and volunteer species gets smaller as sites become more severely affected by salinity and waterlogging. Figure 2.1 shows this effect for sown and volunteer pastures at a site near Hamilton, Victoria. At this site the volunteer pasture included a significant proportion of saltwater couch grass that would normally have to be propagated vegetatively. This is an expensive and labour intensive operation as explained in Section 7.3 - How do the $$ stack up. Data are also available from a saltbush site near Tammin, Western Australia, where sown under-storey was no better than volunteer under-storey at high salinity levels. 
 

Figure 2.1. Pasture growth vs soil salinity (from a sown saltland and volunteer pasture) at the SGSL site near Hamilton in Victoria. ECe values were measured in the upper 10cm of the soil profile.The volunteer pasture in this example had a significant proportion of saltwater couch that made it a better financial proposition to fence and graze without renovation.

  1. The picture is more complex than the two scenarios above.

re-examination of the data from SGSL reviewed the economics of this option (see Section 2.3 - How do the $$$s stack up?) to determine the likely situations where fencing and volunteer pastures might be the preferred option.

Using whole farm economic modelling, different conclusions emerged for the wheat belt of WA compared to the eastern states.

In the summer dry areas of  WA, there was little increase in whole farm profit from simply fencing saltland because the bulk of the volunteer pasture that established was from annual species that hay off in summer and provide little benefit in the late summer/autumn period when farm feed supplies are lowest. On the other hand, saltbush-based pastures can impact significantly on this major feed gap – a benefit that declined with increasing areas of saltbush as the autumn feed gap was filled.

In the more temperate and summer rainfall areas such as through NSW, the modelling showed simply fencing off saltland gave significant increases in whole farm profit, and that the net benefit increased as the area increased, indicating that the volunteer pastures were able to fill a feed gap(s).

In summary, this suggests that the fence and volunteer pasture option is suited to:

  • Farms where the areas of saltland are too small to make a significant contribution to the farm feed supply even if a more productive saltland pasture could be easily and cheaply established. In these cases, revegetation with non-grazing species should also be considered.
     
  • Climatic zones where perennials rather than annuals are likely to establish – ie less Mediterranean climates – as the annuals will have a lesser impact on feed gaps.
     
  • Areas of summer rainfall where salt may be leached down the soil profile that reduces the severity of soil salinity.
  • Larger areas of saltland in WA, or smaller areas of saltland in eastern Australia.
     
  • Any sites where after a site assessment the risk of failure of saltland renovation is thought to be high.
     
  • Sites where available funds allow fencing but not pasture improvement.
     
  • Sites where the farmer does not have the time or skills to establish a saltland pasture.
     
  • Sites where the decision to sow an ‘improved’ saltland pasture may be taken at a later date.
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