Thursday, 20 June 2013

Social connectedness helps regional weed control

The Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation recently published research on impediments to the adoption of weed control. It appears to make a lot of sense, and while specific to serrated tussock, is probably relevant to most weeds. I have summarised the research below.

Weed infestations often derive from collective inaction. Any solution will therefore need to involve collective action, where individuals can trust that a critical mass of their neighbours will be adopting weed control just as they are. Community-based approaches may help to foster this trust by strengthening social norms and informal monitoring and sanctioning.

The research identified barriers to weed control:

·         Poor control on neighbouring properties, resulting in continual reinfestation for those who attempt to manage the weed.

·         Lack of time, money and labour, and off-property commitments.

·         Information not necessarily reaching all end users.

·         High ‘turnover’ of property owners (and absentee landholders).

·         Turnover of extension and government agency staff, resulting in loss of local knowledge and positive relationships.

·         A sense of apathy and futility regarding control.

·         Inability to correctly identify weeds.

·         Aversion to herbicide use.

·         Inadequate enforcement.

Motivation to adopt effective management practices include:

·         Protecting profitability and nipping new outbreaks in the bud

·         Protecting social cohesion with their community

·         Having a strong environmental stewardship ethic

Weed monitoring and early intervention makes economic sense

Mimosa covers a floodplain in the southern Daly
The Northern Territory will forever be haunted by a diary entry made by weed control officer Lofty Pickering on Wednesday 18 August 1966. At that time, Mimosa (Mimosa pigra) was confined to Darwin and the upper reaches of the Adelaide River. Realising that he was dealing with a major weed, Lofty asked for an extra agricultural labourer. He was told that he was glorifying his job.
A recent phone survey of Adelaide River producers suggests that about half a million dollars is spent controlling mimosa annually in that catchment. I know of one Mary River producer who spends $250,000 annually and a Finniss River producer who spends $170,000 annually. Then there’s Tipperary Group of Stations that spends massive amounts in the Daly Catchment, and significant infestations on Aboriginal lands from Wadeye to Oenpelli. We are talking millions of dollars spent annually for one weed. Time machine please!

Industry associations recently acquired funding under the Caring for our Country Community Landcare Grants to contain emerging weeds in certain Top End catchments. The Douglas Daly Community under the auspices of NT Farmers Association will take on rubber bush. They will also be involved in a NT Cattlemen’s Association project raising awareness and management of exotic rat’s tail grass with Finniss and Adelaide River landholders. Both projects will run trials to increase efficacy of control.

Integrated Pest Management

A pest is an organism that threatens a valued resource. In agricultural environments, monocultures can help pest populations to expand if there is no food or refuge for natural predators, or if natural predators are killed by pesticides. Pest species tend to bounce back quicker after treatments, and there is a risk that they will develop resistance to pesticides or that other pests will replace them.

Long-term use of broad-spectrum pesticides for invertebrate pest control is not sustainable.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is the management of pest populations using all relevant control practices in a complimentary manner. The aim is to maintain populations below the economic injury level and reduce impacts to the environment.

An effective broadacre IPM strategy works by:

·         providing refuge for beneficial species that act as natural pest biocontrols (e.g. native vegetation, grass interrows, stubble retention);

·         adopting cultural controls that reduce pest populations and boost beneficial insect populations;

·         using selective pesticides/ biopesticides that target specific pests; and

·         applying economic thresholds to avoid unnecessary spraying and to take advantage of a crop’s ability to compensate for pest damage at certain crop stages.

Mango production and ecosystem services

Ross Maxwell has been growing mangoes for almost 30 years and recently moved to the NT to manage Jabiru Farm at Berry Springs. I spoke to him about improving water use and pest management.

‘Quality fruit is the big driver for us, and that’s dependant on irrigation and stress. You’ve got to scare them into producing fruit, and then you give them more water. 

‘Most farms I’ve worked on have problems regulating irrigation. There are scientific papers around saying how much water you need to use, but figures vary widely. With sandier soils compared to Queensland it’s hard to know how much rain you need before you don’t irrigate. Without specific information for your farm you tend to apply more water than less.

‘Getting the right information comes down to doing empirical trials on your patch. We did a rough irrigation audit, measuring the actual output of water with jugs, and it varies throughout the farm. The trees are surviving in a broad range of irrigation regimes and they don’t seem to produce any differently.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Fish River Station sells carbon credits to Caltex

Caltex has bought more than half a million dollars’ worth of carbon credits from the Indigenous Land Corporation which runs Fish River Station.
Almost 26,000 credits were generated at Fish River Station over two years using the Savanna Burning CFI methodology, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from savanna fires. Projects approved by the Clean Energy Regulator try to reduce emissions by limiting the frequency and extent of late dry season fires which, on average, emit 52% more greenhouse gas emissions than early dry season fires. Late dry season fires are avoided by conducting strategic early dry season burns to reduce fuel loads and create strategic firebreaks.
The Fish River Station project commenced in 2011 and so far has led to a reduction in total area burnt from an average of 69% down to about 40%, and a reduction in the extent of late dry season fires from 35% of the property to about 2%.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Innovation Grants now open

The Australian Government has released funding under its Caring for our Country initiative – sustainable agriculture stream.

Innovation Grants ranging between $250,000 and $1.5 million (GST exclusive) are now available for projects that will be completed by 30 June 2015.

The broad objective of the grants is to increase uptake of innovations and manage resources that will improve productivity and sustainability of resource based industries.

Applicants must target at least one of the priority outcomes and are also encouraged to contribute to additional outcomes.

Priority outcomes include:

·         Increased number and area of farming and fishing entities that have trialled innovative practices for improved natural resource management

·         Increased percentage of land managers with the knowledge and skills to manage natural resources and protect ecosystem services

·         Increased use of institutional, sectoral, market and supply chain-based initiatives to promote adoption of sustainable farm practices

Additional outcomes include (excludes fishing and aquaculture):

·         Increased number and area of farming entities using sustainable land management practices

·         Increased capacity of regional community leaders

·         Increased engagement and participation by regional communities and groups

·         Increased community awareness of the status of Australia’s natural resources (should not focus on collecting baseline data)

Vertebrate Pest Control

Pest Management is an integral part of managing natural resources and agricultural systems. Some of the key principles include:

·         Pest management requires a long term commitment

·         Management should aim to reduce impacts rather than simply pest animal numbers.

·         Management should be strategic in terms of determining where management should occur, timing of management, being proactive and using appropriate techniques.

·         Control works best at a regional scale

·         Research about pests, and regular monitoring and evaluation of pest control activities is necessary to improve pest management practices.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Community Food Grants

The Australian Government is investing $1.5 million in the new Community Food Grants program—a key initiative of the National Food Plan.

Community gardens, food cooperatives, farmers’ markets, food rescue services or groups with an idea for community food initiatives may be interested in applying for funding under the program, which is now open for applications.

For further information please click here.

Non-Kyoto activities become Kyoto compliant

The Australian Government will elect to formally account for soil carbon and human induced regeneration of native vegetation in our national greenhouse gas inventory.

Under past rules, the absence of these activities from national accounts meant that any carbon credits generated from these activities would not have been Kyoto-compliant, and therefore, could not have been sold to businesses with a carbon price (or carbon tax) obligation. Non-Kyoto compliant credits can only be sold to businesses volunteering to offset emissions, and this was likely to affect demand and price.

Now, when Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI) methodologies are developed for these activities, they will generate Kyoto-compliant credits that can be purchased by businesses with obligations under the carbon pricing mechanism (carbon tax).

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Ecosystem services

The aim of funding programs designed to promote sustainable agriculture (Caring for our Country) is to increase producer knowledge, skills and use of sustainable land management practices. The ultimate goal is to increase productivity and improve the quality of ecosystem services.

What are ecosystem services? Firstly, an ecosystem is the interaction between living and non-living things that form a complex network. The benefits that we derive from this complex network are ecosystem services.

Benefits include (Reference):

·         Climate regulation (greenhouse gas regulation)

·         Soil formation

·         Detoxification, decomposition and nutrient cycling by soil organisms

·         Water supply, retention and regulation of flow

·         Erosion control and nutrient retention (e.g. ground cover)

·         Pollination

·         Food production

·         Biological pest control (reduced herbivory by natural predators),

·         Raw materials (fuel)

·         Genetic resources (medicines)

·         Recreation

·         Cultural and spiritual stimulation