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ISSUE No. 12

The Magazine of the CRC for Plant-based Management of Dryland Salinity

Personal stories of Australians combating and learning to live with dryland salinity

Dealing with salt as an issue, not as a problem



Welcome to the SALT Magazine Since I wrote the initial plans for SGSL (Sustainable Grazing on Saline Lands) nearly four years ago, I’ve been an admirer of SALT Magazine. So naturally I was delighted when SGSL was able to become a sponsor of SALT, and now to contribute a ‘guest editorial’ for this edition. Yes, there are always good photos and stories in SALT, but on reflection, it’s the issue of ‘Pride’ that has made SALT Magazine stand out for me. While no one wants salinity on their farms, thousands no longer have any choice, and it’s been inspiring to me to see how farmers across southern Australia have battled successfully to turn this affliction into a positive for their farming businesses. Often against the odds, the farmers featured in SALT Magazine cannot help but be proud of their achievements, and are beacons for the rest of us to follow. In SGSL we are attempting to build on this, and while we have a lot of emphasis on generating improved profitability and

reduced environmental impacts from saltaffected land, the third key outcome we are working to achieve is pride - “Pride for participating producers in their property, production system and product”. SALT Magazine has given us a great start, but we think that feeling good about improving salt-affected land is so important that we want to do more. To achieve this, we have adopted the old saying ‘pictures speak louder than words’. The SGSL Pride in Saltland Management photo competition is now underway nationally, to gather and celebrate photos of positive action, with farmers turning saline waste into more productive and attractive land. Get your cameras fired up, as SGSL has been joined by a raft of sponsors (see the full story on page 12) who have contributed over $30,000 to the prize pool for the competition – including $5,000 in cash for the best photo. Who would have thought five years ago, that we’d be holding a

SALT Magazine is published by the CRC for Plant-based Management of Dryland Salinity (CRC Salinity) in partnership with Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) and Australian Wool Innovation Limited (AWI).

Important: The information contained in this publication has been published in good faith by CRC Salinity to assist public knowledge and discussion and to help improve sustainable management of land, water and vegetation. Neither CRC Salinity, MLA and AWI nor the other partners in the CRC endorse or recommend any products identified by tradename, nor is any warranty implied by CRC Salinity and its partners about information presented in SALT Magazine. No person should act on the contents of this publication, whether as to fact or opinion or other content, without first obtaining specific independent professional advice which confirms the content contained within this publication. Readers should contact the authors or contacts provided and conduct their own enquiries before making use of the information in SALT Magazine.

Our Core partners are Charles Sturt University (CSU); Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO); Departments of Agriculture (DAWA) and Conservation and Land Management (CALM), WA; Departments of Primary Industries (DPI) and Sustainability and Environment (DSE), Victoria; NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI); Departments of Primary Industries and Resources (PIRSA) and Water, Land and Biodiversity Conservation (DWLBC), SA; The University of Western Australia (UWA); University of Adelaide (UA). Our supporting partners are Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), Australian Wool Innovation Limited (AWI), Office of Science and Innovation, WA (OSI), Grains Research & Development Corporation (GRDC), Land & Water Australia (LWA), Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA), Murray-Darling Basin Commission (MDBC), National Farmers’ Federation (NFF), Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC), Landmark AWB.

For further information about the CRC Salinity visit 2

For further information, contact the CRC Salinity on Tel.: (08) 6488 8559 or E-mail: ISSN (Print) 1445-9442 ISSN (On-line) 1445-9450 Published June, 2005 Editorial design & production: Kondinin Group

photographic exhibition showing pride in saltland management – how the world turns! I’m hoping we’ll be able to feature the winning photos in upcoming editions of SALT – there are lots of categories, and all Australian residents other than the judges can enter, so get those outstanding photos in, and help the rest of Australia to understand the positive things that are happening in saltland management. Warren Mason SGSL National Coordinator

Our cover James Darling with Duck Island GS-31, top steer out of 3500 in Elders/Metro Meat Feedlot Market Link Program (1995). • See full story p3. Photo: J Darling

The Sustainable Grazing on Saline Lands initiative

You’re probably familiar with SGSL from stories in SALT magazine, and you may have even visited one of our grower network or core research sites, but for those who aren’t, SGSL is part of Land, Water & Wool, the wool industry’s major natural resource management program that is a joint venture between Australian Wool Innovation and Land & Water Australia. For further information, visit



Evolution of saltland management in the farm system

Salt is a component of our soil profile - as natural as rocks. From earliest association more than 40 years ago, through nearly 30 years of living at Duck Island, right up until now, I have always been aware of the presence of salt. But it was the 1981 floods, the largest single event in my farming career, that really drove home how destructive activated salt can be.

Key points Salt is a natural part of our landscape and can be managed to minimise its impact Saltland pastures form the corner stone of a productive grazing enterprise A minimum input saltland agricultural system needs discipline and careful management

Location: Keith, Upper South-East of South Australia Size: 6600 ha Mean annual rainfall: 400–450 mm Soils: Sand over clay Enterprises: Composite cattle (Angus-Simmental-Poll Hereford) for premium EU market; breeding composite bulls; harvesting saltland seed

Duck Island, like so many other properties in the Upper South East (USE) watercourse country, lost every low-ground acre to the depth and duration of the 1981 floods - which then bared the ground mid-spring and activated the salt in summer. Keeping a cover on saline ground through the heat of the James Darling with Duck Island composite steer that summer then became entered the feedlot at 14 months weighing 450 kg and our first axiom of high grew at 2.2 kg/day water table saltland agronomy. We really water management. Not only would realised we couldn’t get rid of the vast this impact on pastures, but it would also quantities of salt; instead we acknowledged have a profound effect on bushland and its presence and aimed to bed it down wetlands. minimise its impact - manage it. This re-think of wider issues inspired a The next year was a drought. Country, cohesive neighbourhood of landowners in drowning under a metre of water in 1981, the Duck Island watercourse to form the had been dry-seeded in June ‘82 and was Duck Island Watercourse Conservation now blowing - nature administering yet Committee. Backed by the Department of another salutary lesson. Agriculture at Keith, they set out Pioneering saltland agronomy ambitiously to implement a district flood mitigation scheme, halt the spread and In the early 80s little was known about reduce the severity of soil salinity, renovate saltland agronomy. I was among a group of the existing salt-affected areas, and USE farmers who observed that puccinellia preserve wetlands. (Puccinellia ciliata) was the only plant that might persist in salt-affected and inundated The committee was extraordinarily active areas for long periods. It became on all fronts - meeting with the district imperative to learn how best to use the councils, writing submissions to plant. In a few short years this was to government ministers, surveying become the mainstay of Duck Island’s community attitudes, and conducting farm agricultural system. walks, open inspections, and the first unofficial field site trials. In 1983, a farmer-initiated field day at Duck Island to look at saltland pasture In 1988 the committee secured funding options revealed that the bigger issue was to employ a soils project officer and to start

The Magazine of the CRC for Plant-based Management of Dryland Salinity


Photo: J Darling


ames Darling is a farmer and an artist. He is also a member of the South Australian Dryland Salinity Committee. Bruce Munday, when he interviewed James, was looking for useful tips about how to establish and manage saltland pastures. James agrees that this is an important story to tell, but believes that it is the collective experiences of many farmers in his region that should be brought together in a more substantial volume than this. He also insisted that this interview be recorded on a much larger broadsheet. Bruce should have seen this coming James has been a consistent voice arguing that salt is an unavoidable component of the Australian landscape and we need to learn to live with it. Given that, he then advocates the need for serious research into just what is the optimum proportion of salt-affected land in an environmentally and economically viable farming system.


Photo: J Darling

Spring herd on a saltland pasture – Duck Island pasture in January

water table monitoring, saltland management and group learning. Among other things, this project began the long, hard haul to get saltland agriculture treated as an important component of Australian agriculture and funded as such. In 1996 I was founding chairman of Saltland Solutions Inc, - the first farmerinitiated organisation formed to promote saltland seed production and research. At that time, the whole region became a research focus catchment for the National Dryland Salinity Program and is now implementing the USE Dryland Salinity and Flood Management Program - one of the largest natural resource management projects in Australia. Profiting from saltland

Duck Island now has more than 500 hectares of pure puccinellia and over 1000 ha of puccinellia mixed pasture that can


include tall wheat-grass, strawberry and sub-clovers, phalaris and perennial rye. Balansa clover also performs well, particularly on wetter sites, but presents real management challenges. It is so vigorous that it can crowd out all the other pasture species, but then fails to set seed in spring, leaving bare ground the following year. Throughout all this, the most important saltland pasture plant for our grazing enterprise undoubtedly continues to be puccinellia. Pucci is reliable, it lengthens our growing season, it is resilient, and it provides predictable and good quality cattle feed especially during the most demanding time of the year - autumn. From a breeding herd of 950 cows, we aim to bring grass-fed steers to between 300 and 350 kg carcass weight within 15.5 to 19.5 months. These growth rates can only come about from good genetics, sound

management and productive pastures. Cutting lucerne early for silage has proven to be a very effective means of conserving high quality fodder and controlling annual grasses and weeds. Calving half the herd in the autumn and half in the spring has long been an essential feature of our operation. It spreads the grazing pressure, enables us to maintain a cover on saltland over the summer, and provides all-year-round sales opportunities. Management at Duck Island has always been flexible and opportunistic to take advantage of the variability of the seasons and the economic conditions of the times. With the recent run of dry years we have even been able to successfully seed lucerne along with pucci on about 200 ha of previously wet flats. Until recently this would have been too risky as lucerne certainly does not appreciate wet feet.

Salt and its role in the Australian landscape is first and foremost a problem of culture, not agriculture. The Australian landscape suffers from inadequate description. We have not understood landscape processes and we have not given due place and due regard to the make-up, the components, of our many and varied landscapes. The highest priority in terms of environmental and educational need is an understanding of water table management. The component of the Australian landscape that has been most disregarded is salt. The two are inextricably linked.


James Darling, February 2003




The science behind the story

Photo: J Darling

By Dr Nick Edwards

Triangle 2 by James Darling and Lesley Forwood – The Esplanade National Performing Arts Centre, Singapore March 2005. 8 tonnes of mallee roots, 3.5 m (h) x 8.8 m x 1.0 m

A manageable system

We value the native vegetation on Duck Island just as much as we value our agricultural land. About half of the property is native bush and we pay the same strict attention to its management, employing the flood-in flood-out surface water system that we use for the pasture. Two thirds of Duck Island is watercourse country and floods in a wet year. In the early days at Duck Island it would flood about three years in five, but it must be said that we have not had ‘a wet year’ in the past six. A critical issue for us has always been to find an appropriate balance between saline and non-saline land. Duck Island alone was always vulnerable, with a disproportionate area salt-affected. In this respect, acquiring the adjoining properties Naberoo I, Naberoo II and Siberia higher up the watercourse, in the period from 1991 to 2001, was a great step forward. Salinity is much less of an issue on Naberoo, and adding this to Duck Island has given us far more flexibility in pasture management. It enables us to avoid undue pressure on the fragile hills when the flats are under water, and also allows us to maintain cover on saltland in summer. Just what proportion of saltland is optimum for a grazing enterprise is a research question still to be answered. We have now renovated 400 ha of Naberoo with a very productive lucerne stand. The recent advent of 11 km of drain - part of the USE Dryland Salinity and Flood Management Program - has now further improved our opportunity for growing lucerne-based pastures on the flats. Duck Island would never have survived as a farming enterprise without puccinellia. Now, notwithstanding drought, the expanded Duck Island is both economically and environmentally viable and makes a significant contribution to the overall health of the catchment.

James Darling is a clear example of where researchers are following farmers in puccinellia management and utilisation. While James has developed a management system for puccinellia-based pastures that suits his enterprise and his saline land, like most producers in the area he has been unable to fully quantify the benefits from this system. This is where the Sustainable Grazing on Saline Lands (SGSL) research site at Mount Charles, only about 10 km as the drain flows from Duck Island, is benefiting the local farmers with this sort of saltland. The SGSL research is putting some definitive production and economic figures to these pasture and animal systems. At the same time we are also trying to demonstrate a management system that will lead to consistent and reliable re-establishment of balansa clover in the pasture - an issue raised by James as a weakness. A unique feature of the Keith-Mt Charles farming community is their keen interest in, and sustained support for the generation of new knowledge. An area where some of the results from our SGSL work already differs from the conventional wisdom is the use of nitrogenous fertilisers. Many local producers use no fertiliser on their puccinellia saltland, considering it to be low value, and therefore low input, farming land. Others apply low rates in the belief that they will maintain an adequate level of phosphorus in their soil and obtain at least some grass growth benefits from a low level of nitrogen. Results from our Mt Charles fertiliser studies indicate that low rates of N result in no pasture response whereas high rates of N result in very significant increases in productivity. While these studies are continuing, initial indications are that rates of 25-50 kg N/ha in winter are likely to greatly increase pasture growth during this critical time of pasture shortage. The ultimate test for farmers is not so much the increased productivity of their pastures but the economic bottom line for their grazing enterprise, and that is the area of our research that has everyone watching with interest. • Dr Nick Edwards (SARDI) leads the CRC Salinity’s subprogram Livestock Production on Salt-tolerant Pastures.

CONTACT Bruce Munday CRC Salinity Communications Manager Tel.: (08) 8538 7075 E-mail:

CONTACT Dr Nick Edwards Tel.: (08) 8762 9184 E-mail:

The Magazine of the CRC for Plant-based Management of Dryland Salinity



Farming smarter in the central wheatbelt of WA Case study: Robert, David and Glenn Beard Location: Northeast Meckering & North Cunderdin, central wheatbelt, WA Property size: 4000 ha (3 properties) Mean annual rainfall: 325-350 mm (75% between May & October) Soils: Everything from grey clay to ‘sandplain type’ country over gravel and clay Enterprises: Wheat and sheep

My father and grandfather before him have farmed in this area since the early 1900s. Beyond the ‘density trial’ site we are running is an area of 10-15 hectares that used to produce my father’s best crops. In the Robert Beard with lucerne in wheat stubble. early ‘80s we planted a mix of gum trees there because it was going saline, but all this did was Luckily we don’t have a huge salinity hide the problem, which is now creeping problem on our property. We’ve seen a up beyond the treeline. slow encroachment in the last 15-20 years and we’re doing our best to get on top of the problem before it gets worse. We will be much better off preventing it than letting it go and then trying to fix it. Key points We’ve tried earthworks, interceptor banks and oil mallees. Everything has its place Partnerships between but we’re not doing any of that now. researchers and farmers can Changing our tillage methods has meant be rewarding for both that we don’t have the same problems with We prefer to prevent salinity run-off, and the dams fed by the interceptor now than try to cure it later banks are now all dry. Our problem with salinity is caused by excess rain unused by The economics for lucerne in annual plants raising the water table, but our enterprise appear sound these other options just used up cropping and grazing land without addressing the cause. 6

Why lucerne?

I first tried one 60 ha paddock of lucerne in 2000, hoping to maintain productivity while dealing with waterlogging and salinity, but had a bit of a failure due to insect damage and weeds. Then I saw a call for expressions of interest from the Department of Agriculture to be part of a new project with lucerne. In WA many farmers have tried and failed, and I didn’t want to risk a second go on my own because of the costs. So it was great to participate in a trial with better information and support. The lucerne research in 200102 was funded by the GRDC under the project Low Recharge Cropping Systems and since 2003 by the CRC Salinity project High water-use farming systems that integrate crops with perennial pastures. Dr Diana Fedorenko (Department of Agriculture) has been coordinating this research on our properties. A rewarding aspect for me has been the opportunity to help formulate the research in partnership with Diana since 2001. I’ve had a say in choosing the sites, I’m using my own machinery and we’re doing it on a large scale - not just using a plot seeder - so I know the findings will translate into onfarm results. I am also interpreting what the results mean for my whole farming enterprise including the economics. Being part of the team I have been able to ask the sort of questions farmers often ask but which researchers might overlook. Photo: The Countryman


he Beards have had lucerne research of one kind or another running on their property since 2001. They see lucerne as currently the only perennial legume commercially available to manage salinity in broadacre agriculture and they are keen to make it work and fit in with their farming practices. Robert Beard spoke with the CRC’s Chris Twomey.



Photo: J Russell, DAWA

the lucerne pastures were For example, I wanted to know rotationally grazed over four the minimum sowing rate for paddocks with no adequate dry matter production supplementary feed. The mob and recharge reduction, and to on the annual pastures grazed on compare this with my best-bet stubbles and were hand fed with serradella pastures. So we grain and hay during the designed a density trial that ran summer and autumn as over three years and found that 2 required. kg/ha is enough lucerne seed for The lucerne system proved us to get a good result, provided much more profitable than the we’ve got our establishment traditional pastures because it factors under control. We also produced more wool and meat found that lucerne uses more and did not require water than deep-rooted annual supplementary feeding. serradella and has the potential These remarkable results are to produce as much dry matter partly a result of the lucerne as serradella in years with out-oftaking advantage of out-ofseason rain. season rainfall, and the story Now I know that to get might have been different if we establishment right, good weed hadn’t had summer rain. and insect control is absolutely Long-term research is needed essential - that’s what did us in to understand the costs and on our first shot at lucerne, but benefits of this system across a it’s easy enough to manage when Daya Patabendige (DAWA) describing soil types at a range of seasons, but the you understand what you are farm walk on the Beard property economic and environmental doing and why. I’d still benefits of lucerne in a year with recommend sowing lucerne at 4 we’ll leave the lucerne in the system as long some out-of-season rain are quite clear. kg/ha just in case of errors. as it survives. In the ley systems we will Under the annual system most of the outIn 2004 we modified the design of the have a 1:1 rotation of wheat:serradella, of-season rain would have gone straight density trial to compare production, water wheat:subclover and wheat:volunteer through to the water table, adding to our use and gross margins of different farming pasture. We’re looking at how we mix already significant salinity risk. systems: phase farming, companion phase farming, intercropping and ley We’ve now got about 10 per cent of the cropping (intercropping) and ley farming. farming to find the smartest way to get the farm under lucerne, and will probably stay This experiment will be running over 8-10 best result. at this amount until we see a need to plant years. more on other areas of the farm. If we do In phase farming we will be looking at The livestock component nothing we’ll end up losing a percentage of three years of lucerne then three to four Sheep are very important in our the farm to salinity. This may still happen, years of cropping and then back to pasture. operations, with 1800 breeding ewes, so it but if we can slow its progress we will have In companion cropping we will sow lucerne is essential for us to know the impact of productive land while more permanent at row spacings of 23, 46 and 92 cm with a lucerne in our farming system on sheep solutions are sought. wheat crop at 23 cm. Once or twice production and its economics. I guess I’m now a bit of a research junkie. throughout the season we will use In an eight month grazing trial we I’m keen to get involved when I get a chemicals to suppress the lucerne and compared one mob of ewe weaners on a chance to find out the results and learn reduce the competition with the crop. traditional system with annual stubbles and more about my land. I enjoy working with Basically, if we don’t see much of a pastures against another mob on a system researchers who show some respect for the that also incorporated lucerne. Those on reduction in grain yield and quality then experience of the farmer and make the most of our first-hand knowledge of our soils and Mean meat and wool production per hectare during the experimental conditions. We want to get some feedback period under traditional annual stubbles/pastures and the same system on the results of the study that helps us with lucerne farm smarter and make our system work Annual Lucerne Change % better - for the land and for our families. Stocking rate (animals/ha)




Liveweight gain (kg)




Greasy fleece wt (kg)




Clean fleece wt (kg)




Fibre diameter (micron)




Hand feeding ($/animal)




CONTACT Chris Twomey, CRC Salinity Corporate Communications Tel.: (08) 6488 8553 E-mail:

The Magazine of the CRC for Plant-based Management of Dryland Salinity



Salinity management in a variable landscape

Key points Large areas of productive land can be put at risk by small, unproductive recharge areas Geology influences groundwater on this property Small increases in plant wateruse can have major effects on water tables and expression of dryland salinity An integrated approach is needed across the landscape Stay positive, be proactive and committed to your management plan but be flexible


Case study: The Ive family (John, Robyn, Steven and Carolynn) Location: Murrumbateman, NSW (between Yass and Canberra) Property size: 250 ha Mean annual rainfall: 740 mm Soils: Variable from poorly developed lithosols to deeply weathered silty clay loams Enterprises: Sheep (superfine wool), Angus cattle for feedlot and farm forestry

with dry sheep equivalent (DSE) increasing by an average of 1.7% each year along with an improvement in product quality, be it wool or beef. We’ve taken a multipronged approach to managing salinity on Talaheni. Firstly the nine original square paddocks gave way to 38 paddocks fenced on soil and slope type which helps with our grazing management. Three kilometres of graded John Ive with and contour banks and dams intercept overland flow and protect the lower slopes and flats from erosion. We also noticed that the graded banks intercept shallow groundwater moving down hill slopes. Of the major ‘salt drivers’ on this place rainfall, geology and vegetation - we can really only alter vegetation. All the vegetation across Talaheni contributes to the sustainability of the property by reducing recharge. However to establish pastures for production we had to deal with both saline and acid soils as low as pHCa 3.6. We’ve used sewage ash and now lime to control soil acidity, and soil salinity has improved as the water table has fallen. Pastures consist of a mix of native (predominately microlaena based) and exotic (primarily phalaris) perennial-based pastures, all with a legume component. We have used salt-tolerant species (crested wheat-grass, puccinella, strawberry clover) to get vegetation cover on bare areas

Photo: E Madden


ohn and Robyn Ive certainly found the challenge they were looking for upon purchasing their property Talaheni in 1980. After 25 years of persistence and hard work the family has transformed a severely degraded landscape into a productive agricultural enterprise. John Ive explains to Elizabeth Madden how saline groundwater is managed to achieve production and environmental benefits on Talaheni. Talaheni is located in a major dryland salinity ‘hotspot’ between Dicks Creek and Williams Creek in the Yass River Valley. The signs of salinity were very obvious when we looked at buying the property with saline seeps covering 23 per cent of the land, large areas of bare soil, dams with water ranging up to 10 deciSiemens per metre (dS/m), declining pastures, limited tree cover and actively eroding gullies. Productivity was pretty poor at this stage and as is common around here, the soils were quite acid. On Talaheni we produce superfine wool which averages 15.2 microns from Sharlea wethers and we finish feedlot steers from an Angus herd. Over the last 25 years our carrying capacity has steadily improved

15 year-old red box plantation

and also acid-tolerant species such as serradella. However now we use more productive and higher water-use efficient perennials such as phalaris, caucasian clover, chickory and plantain. The geology on Talaheni influences why we have salinity and how it can be managed and is a good example of how reading the variation in the landscape improves management decisions. Talaheni sits on Ordovician metasediments which have been lifted and steeply tilted. As a result we can get potential recharge ranging from 3 mm on the heavier flats to an astonishing 3000 mm per hour on our hills. To deal with this, our ongoing tree planting program targets the low productivity and highest recharge hills to ‘turn off the hilltop recharge tap’. We’ve also planted trees for their timber value in some of these sites. Native remnants are managed for multiple benefits. They have been linked with mixed-species corridor plantings mostly

along the rocky ridge lines. As a result, threatened woodland species such as hooded robins, Jackie winters and doublebarred finches have returned to this landscape. We undertook break-of-slope plantings when we saw the amount of subsurface groundwater intercepted by the graded banks. Increasing vegetation cover on Talaheni has helped lower water tables and improve dam water quality as well as providing wildlife habitat and wind protection for stock and pastures. The 12,000 Eucalyptus polyanthemos trees planted in 1989 have improved dam water quality by reducing salinity to less than 1 dS/m, significantly lowered water tables, and reduced waterlogging and groundwater salt levels on the northern side of the property. These changes are confirmed by the piezometer, groundwater and dam water data collected each week over the last 16 years. It also allows us to estimate that for each hectare planted to trees some 50 ha of downslope pasture is now benefiting. We aim to continue with our on-farm activities while remaining proactive, positive and committed to our management plan - but also flexible. Some of the issues we’ll be looking into include the effect of sheep camps on nutrient redistribution and groundwater quality, salinity and ferrihydrite scavenging, developing a website, hosting a virtual field day, and linking our piezometer readings to our spatial water balance model.


Photos: J Ive


Talaheni, December 2002 shows hills well covered by native revegetation, break-ofslope tree planting, vigorous perennial pastures on valley floor and area in view now fenced to nine paddocks based on landscape characteristics. INSET: Talaheni, December 1973 shows poor tree cover, declining tree health and low recruitment on hills, salinity and erosion in drainage line and poor pasture cover.

CONTACT Elizabeth Madden, CRC Salinity, Communications Coordinator (NSW) Tel.: (02) 6938 1985 E-mail:

The science behind the story By Dr Peter Orchard

The response of John and Robyn Ive to salinity on their property is a great example of understanding that salinity is a symptom and not the problem. As such, land management changes need to be made on an integrated landscape basis. Managing the water balance to control salinity was the key to remaining productive in this situation. The first task on Talaheni was to identify the assets and hazards across their landscape and to gain a significant degree of control of grazing management and therefore groundcover and pasture composition. This was achieved by redesigning paddock layout based on landscape characteristics.

Addressing soil acidity increased pasture production and plant water-use which lowered saline water tables. Integrating strategic tree planting on low productivity and high recharge hills and improved pastures came from an understanding of geology and landscape processes. These strategies clearly minimise forgone pasture opportunities from land given over to trees while maximising the environmental benefits and in time, delivering the sought after production benefits. John and Robyn’s property is a prime example of the need to understand the implications of variation in slope, aspect, soil depth, geology and vegetation and their impact on landscape processes to successfully manage salinity. The NSW

Department of Primary Industries has recently developed a landscape management course titled LANDSCAN to enable land managers to interpret and manage their landscapes using many of the principles which the Ive family has been applying for 25 years. • Dr Peter Orchard, NSW Department of Primary Industries, leads the CRC Salinity project Promoting salinity solutions through agribusiness in collaboration with Landmark AWB.

CONTACT Dr Peter Orchard, NSW DPI Tel.: (02) 6938 1895 E-mail:

The Magazine of the CRC for Plant-based Management of Dryland Salinity



Best practice, best production

We should be looking at utilising what we’ve got and working with it. There are 14 research and evaluation projects operating on Bally Glunin Park ranging from evaluating the EM31 as a salt mapping tool, monitoring grazing to evaluate the feed value of Dundas tall wheat-grass, drench efficiency testing, through to thermal imagery plant identification. Being involved in farm research keeps the mind stimulated, exposes our apprentices to cutting edge information and allows for fast progress in the areas we are researching. It also allows us to tap into intelligence and resources not usually available. One of the projects on the property is aiming to control salinity on the Fern Hill Creek. We are aiming to revegetate the edges of the saline areas with salt-tolerant indigenous species and are also planting saline areas with tall wheat-grass. The area previously supported sea barley-grass and buckshorn plantain and was waterlogged in winter. The overall objective of the project is to improve water quality in the Wannon River catchments and at the same time create a wetland to encourage bird species back, including the brolgas I remember seeing on the site as a child growing up. There are about 200 hectares involved and the problem may well have existed for a long time but escalated back in the late 1940s when a lot of trees were removed to build the airport here at Hamilton, with increased salinity a consequence. Since the ‘70s the salinity of the land has increased and the only thing stopping the further spread of saline land has been the elevation. In an early trial along a recharge area that flows into the Fern Hill Creek, we fenced along class two and three lines and tried Tyrell tall wheat-grass. It did all right but became pretty tussocky over time based on management practices recommended in the early 1980s. 10

Case study: Michael and Cathy Blake Location: Bally Glunin Park, near Hamilton, south-west Victoria Property size: 1800 ha Mean annual rainfall: 690 mm Soils: Volcanic basalt Enterprises: 15,000 dry sheep equivalents – prime lambs, yearling beef, superfine wool Merinos, grain and fodder In a second stage that was developed after an EM31 survey in 2000, we realised some of our fencing was out of place and didn’t truly reflect the salinity problem, but we didn’t know as much then as we do now about planting out saline land. If we had I think the fences would be better aligned to managing the pastures. There are three bores monitoring salinity and we’ve seen a rising water table, which is against the trend for the State.

Photo: J Curkpatrick


ichael Blake takes a best practice, quality management approach to everything he does on Bally Glunin Park and it shows in his results. As Jo Curkpatrick found when she visited Michael Blake, he takes a positive approach to managing dryland salinity.

Michael Blake has been fleece testing for many years and sells his wool to specification.

Quality assurance for excellence


ally Glunin Park operates at the cutting edge of change and continually pushes the boundaries for excellence in product preparation, presentation and delivery to customers. The Blakes operate under a number of Quality Assurance programs including: • Elders Clipcare and Dalgety Dalcare for wool harvesting • Flockcare P300002 for sheep and lamb production (number two in Australia) • Cattlecare P3000038 for cattle production (number two in Australia with dual accreditation with Cattlecare and Flockcare) • Go Mark V 000001 for environmental management beef enterprise • MSA Accreditation for beef meat presentation • EU Accreditation 3GMUL000 for beef meat presentation for European markets.

More recently Michael Blake has established 8000 trees in a plantation under a project to negate fossil fuel use on the farm and make a practical contribution to greenhouse abatement. His Merino sheep management is all about quality as well. Michael is shearing every eight months to meet the specifications of Italian spinners who are looking for a particular length. He has been analysing his clip for a number of years towards moving the fibre diameter below 18 microns and decreasing the coefficient of variation. He has also worked to improve staple strength and has found a relationship between staple strength and feed availability. “Our pasture management program is about maintaining animal nutrition throughout the year and as a result maintaining the specifications required by the companies that buy our wool,” says Michael.

Key points Measurement and evaluation guide improvement on this farm Pasture production linked to animal nutrition requirements Production on saline land lifted from 2.5 dry sheep equivalents to 26

In more recent times we have used Dundas tall wheat-grass, sown at 7 kg/ha through an air seeder. We sowed 30 ha of salt-affected land to Dundas, balansa and strawberry clover in 2000, 30 ha in 2001 and another 30 ha in 2003. Our plan is to use winter-active lucerne on the higher ground to improve the pasture utilisation of the water available, starting with a 17 ha planting this autumn. The whole process incorporates a rotational


system of grazing to maintain a balanced level of nutrition for our superfine/fine wool Merino sheep enterprise. It’s really all about growing wool at a minimum of 2.5 mm a week, every week for eight months to supply to specific Italian markets with a minimum strength of Dundas tall wheat-grass increases productivity 40 Newtons per kilotex. I believe our saline land can be the best The tall wheat-grass and lucerne land on the farm now that we have a combination will contribute to our pasture pasture species that uses the water. It gives availability throughout the year to satisfy us good green feed early in the season to this requirement. wean our lambs onto and it gives us green There is a disadvantage though, with feed well through summer and autumn. increasing production on the saline land we’ve gone from 2.5 dry sheep equivalents (DSE) to 26 and it has been hard to keep CONTACT up with our pasture improvement program on non-saline land. We are now improving Michael and Cathy Blake a saline area with an area not affected by salt Tel.: (03) 5572 2513 to keep the pasture improvement program E-mail: in balance.

Photo: J Curkpatrick


The science behind the story By Luke Fitzpatrick

The Blakes’ tall wheat-grass/balansa/ strawberry clover was established four years ago. After a poor establishment (due to technical sowing problems) the tall wheatgrass was allowed to set seed and then crash grazed during the first summer. Subsequently the pasture stand improved significantly and has supported a stocking rate of 23 DSE/ha during the eight drier months of the year for the past three years (up from 2.5 DSE/ha prior to pasture establishment). In modelling the benefits of a tall wheatgrass pasture we have annualised the stocking rate to 15.5 DSE/ha and made a provision for supplementary feeding on alternative pastures in winter.

The pastures are managed using a two paddock grazing rotation for a fixed interval of six weeks per paddock. Whilst this isn’t recognised as optimal management as it doesn’t allow for seasonal changes in pasture growth, it works sufficiently well to maintain pasture quality. The analysis of the Blakes’ investment in pasture establishment was performed on a gross margin basis for a self-replacing Merino wool flock and accounting for the extra costs of grazing management labour and fertiliser to maintain the pastures. Modelling multi-year gross margins for a self-replacing wool flock showed that gains in carrying capacity resulted in annual increases in gross margin per hectare, up to $162/ha by year 3.

Project analysis for 40 hectares of tall wheat-grass pasture establishment 10 year pasture life

20 year pasture life

NPV (10%)






Payback period

5 years

5 years

The Blakes’ tall wheat-grass pastures were analysed over 10 and 20 years to determine the net present value (NPV) and internal rate of return on investment (IRR) in pasture establishment. The results indicate that the tall wheat-grass and clover pasture may well be a highly profitable investment for unproductive saline areas, even if the pasture is only maintained for 10 years. At this stage the model is a best first effort to evaluate the investment in tall wheatgrass pastures on saline areas. The next step will be a process of proofing and reevaluating via consultation with the SGSL research team and other producers. • Luke Fitzpatrick is a Farm Business Analyst with DPI at Ballarat. In 2004 he undertook an economic evaluation of tall wheat-grass establishment on saline land, as part of the SGSL program.

CONTACT Luke Fitzpatrick Tel.: (03) 5336 6721 E-mail:

The Magazine of the CRC for Plant-based Management of Dryland Salinity



We’re looking for the best shots in the country


egular readers of SALT magazine will be familiar with positive images of farmers telling their personal success stories in salinity management, along with scientists adding their research perspective.

using the camera lens,” he said. “SGSL and competition partners will ultimately end up with a collection of extraordinary images of people tackling Australia’s salinity problem that will be a powerful way of communicating their success and determination to a wider audience.” Entries for the SGSL ‘Pride in Saltland Management Photography Competition’ close on 19 August 2005. Entry forms and full competition Terms and Conditions are available from the Land, Water & Wool website or from Landmark outlets nationally.


Photo: B Munday

Australia’s biggest on-ground salinity research and farmer network program wants to build on the success of this approach by developing a major library of images in 2005 to help raise awareness of success in salinity management - and you’re invited to help us. Sustainable Grazing on Saline Lands (SGSL), part of the Land, Water & Wool initiative, together with the Cooperative Research Centre for Plant-based Management of Dryland Salinity (CRC Salinity), the Murray-Darling Basin Commission, Meat & Livestock Australia, Landmark AWB and State agriculture agencies are behind the SGSL ‘Pride in Saltland Management Photography Competition’, which runs until mid-August 2005. The competition is a creative way of recognising positive salinity management initiatives being undertaken by farmers and researchers across the country. With more than $30,000 in prizes on offer, including a major prize from

Landmark of $5000 to the overall winner, these will be awarded by an expert judging panel to photos with the most originality, creativity, technical excellence and relevance to the competition. The competition comprises five entry categories: • Farmers in Action (sponsored by Australia Wool Innovation Limited) • Science in Saltland (sponsored by CRC for Plant-based Management of Dryland Salinity) • Productive Saltland Pastures (sponsored by Meat & Livestock Australia) • Before and After (sponsored by MurrayDarling Basin Commission) • Saltland Humour (sponsored by SGSL) Cash prizes will also be awarded to category winners, while members of the SGSL research program and Producer Networks are eligible to win further prizes, including the opportunity to win a ‘saltland rescue’ package to tackle saline land on their farm. The significant prizes on offer are a major incentive for people from all walks of life to get involved, according to SGSL National Coordinator, Dr Warren Mason. “We want to encourage people to creatively share the way they feel about their successes in saltland management

Science in saltland: Field trials with balansa clover always looks great in the first year.



Photo: Dr W Mason

Shaping up as a Farmers in Action photo – the look of pride on WA farmer Kim Melvin’s face says it all as he helps his community lead the charge in productive saltland management.

Photo: K Munday

A potential candidate for the Saltland Humour category – that famous saltland researcher Dr Ed Barrett-Lennard, WA Department of Agriculture, was trying to teach Michael Lloyd’s dog to read the water table depth using his watch to reflect sunlight down the shaft. It was all working very well, till the dog wanted to have a go by itself, and dropped the watch! Back to the drawing board!

Photo: K Mitchell

Photo: Dr W Mason


Not sure if this qualifies for before and after, but Eyre Peninsula farmer Leon Modra looks pretty happy in puccinellia pasture that was bare scald 12 months earlier.

The Productive Saltland Pastures category seeks images that capture productive saltland pastures and healthy livestock utilising such pastures.

The Magazine of the CRC for Plant-based Management of Dryland Salinity



King Island – surrounded by salt Location: 50 minutes by air across Bass Strait from Melbourne at the western entrance of Bass Strait Size: 64 km long and 27 km wide Mean annual rainfall: 900 mm Enterprises: Beef cattle, dairying, sheep, fishing and bull kelp harvesting


We have been using Electromagnetic Induction (EM) mapping and a detailed assessment of the island’s groundwater flow systems to define the salinity hazard in large areas of the agricultural land. Our work to date using EM mapping and a hydrogeological study and involving 40 farmers, has shown us that salinity is a risk within the groundwater flow systems occurring in deeply weathered granite, mainly on the western side of the island. This wasn’t our expectation as much of the earlier work pointed to salinity hazards associated with particular land systems rather than a particular geology. The knowledge we are gaining from the project will be used to produce a salt hazard assessment a manual which will improve landholders’ ability to anticipate where potential salt hazards are likely and the best-bet actions to prevent their occurrence. The manual will also provide management options for land that is already affected by salt. In the meantime, KISMAP (King Island Salinity Management Action Program) is working to educate landholders and the wider community about salinity. There are five salinity management demonstration sites and a tourist trail showing the use of drainage, salt-tolerant pasture and native species and the potential for commercial cropping of beaded glasswort (Sarcocornia quinqueflora). Grass grows very well on the island and most pastures are made up of Victorian ryegrass, fescue, cocksfoot, with some strawberry and white clover. The white clovers and strawberry clover are an integral Photo: J Curkpatrick


ing Island is a small community of about 1800 people in one of the cleanest and greenest environments in Australia. With a reputation as a producer of worldclass meat and dairy products, it is in their interest to protect the land that supports their island economy. Through the King Island Natural Resource Management Group, landholders are trying to understand salinity on the island from a couple of perspectives. Their story is about building the knowledge and understanding of dryland salinity before getting down to the business of particular farm-based management strategies. They are working to identify the risk or hazard it poses and to understand the landscape processes that King Island farmer Simon Vellekoop’s family runs cause the problem. Armed with thousand breeders and sells bullocks to the local this information they will develop abbatoir the options to pursue recharge mitigation, engineering or living for agriculture over the past century, most with salinity. Donald Graham is of the island is now rolling green pastures Chairman of the King Island NRM Group with pockets of paperbark ti-trees and and a beef cattle producer from the east eucalypts. The change in vegetation is of the island. He hosted Jo Curkpatrick certainly one of the factors for concern. in a visit to hear about the Group’s It is what is below the soil’s surface that progress. we need to better understand. From the It is easy to see what we’ve got but not so work we have completed to date it seems easy to see what we might get. that our salinity issues are mostly confined Although there aren’t large areas of salinity to the old deeply decayed granite evident across King Island, it is an issue that landscapes that occur along the western was identified as a high priority in margins of the island. Vast amounts of salt consulting with the community and we introduced through both rainfall and spray needed to get a better understanding of the from ocean have accumulated in these processes that drive salinity and identify lands over very long periods of time. the areas at risk before we started dealing Shallow water tables seem to have with it. followed agricultural development and The island was once covered by temperate salinity now occurs wherever the salt laden rainforests. With fires, milling and clearing groundwater lies close to the soil surface.


Photo: J Curkpatrick

problem with salt, farmers are using fescues and in some cases tall wheatgrass and puccinellia. One of the biggest problems is wallabies; the island has an enormous number of wallabies and they can make pasture establishment difficult and continue to rob the farmers of significant dry The Island’s natural resource management group matter production. meets to discuss EM mapping results Drainage is also being tried as a short-term part of the production system. However response to reducing waterlogging and any sub-clovers tend not to persist, probably salting that might result from that. through competition with the more The process we have undertaken has vigorous perennials. Where there is a revealed a lot about our island and the risks


we might face from dryland salinity. Thanks to the science and technology available we are in a much better position to manage our farms into the future.

CONTACT Donald Graham, Dinibili Pastoral Company Tel.: (03) 6461 1333 E-mail: Ken Baker, King Island Salt Hazard Assessment Coordinator Tel.: (03) 6462 1799 E-mail:

The science behind the story By Phil Dyson

King Island lies on the western margins of Bass Strait about 80 kilometres south of Cape Otway in Victoria, and about 90 kilometres north of the main island of Tasmania. Most of the island is built from very ancient rocks that date from the Proterozoic Era. In this sense the region has more in common with western Tasmania and South Australia than it does with Victoria. The central and eastern parts of the island are formed of a range of folded and fractured fine-grained sedimentary and metamorphic rocks that function as fractured rock aquifers. These rocks are a good source of low salinity stock and domestic water and in the southern part of the island they feed streams through local springs and base flow. Groundwater outflow to streams is not saline, and given the annual rainfall on the island is around 900 mm/year it appears that the landscape is well flushed of salt and poses little salinity risk. On the west coast sedimentary and metamorphic rocks give way to granites. The boundary between the two geological units appears to occur along a north-south fault line. The granites are deeply weathered, that is they have been chemically altered over long periods by water moving through their uppermost horizons at or near the land surface. Decay

of the primary rock minerals has resulted in rather soft undulating landscapes comprising bleached kaolinite-rich clays. It is possible that such weathering occurs to depths of 40 to 50 metres or more. Salt stores within the deeply weathered granites appear to be very high and, accordingly groundwater salinity is high, typically of the order of 10 dS/m or more. The decayed granites contain residual salt that accumulated under native vegetation over millennia. In common with other deeply weathered landscapes in southern Australia salts introduced from the ocean via rainfall and excluded in the root zone during transpiration have accumulated within the zone of deep weathering. Removal of native vegetation has promoted increased water movement through the landscape mobilising salt. The weathered rock is poorly permeable and the flow of groundwater through it is very low compared with the fractured rock systems further east. A consequence of the high salt store, high rainfall, and poor landscape permeability has been the development of shallow saline groundwater after clearing and agricultural development. The transmissive capacity of groundwater system is low relative to groundwater recharge and so it is not easily flushed of the massive amounts of salt it contains. The low transmissive capacity of the groundwater system relative to recharge

causes saline groundwater discharge to appear high in the landscape and at breaks of slope. The deeply weathered granites of King Island, thus, have all of the same characteristics of the salt-prone deeply weathered groundwater systems occurring throughout the southern regions of the mainland. Given the discussion above it should come as no great surprise that there is a remarkable correlation between areas of mapped salinity and the occurrence of deeply weathered granites on King Island. • Phil Dyson is a freelance hydrogeologist/geomorphologist specialising in salinity and groundwater management issues. Over the past 12 months he has assisted the King Island community in understanding: (a) the causes of salinity on the Island, (b) the potential threat that salinity poses to farming systems and ecological assets, and (c) the range of strategies most appropriate to salinity management within the island's groundwater flow systems.

CONTACT Phil Dyson, Phil Dyson & Associates P/L Tel.: (03) 5442 2631 E-mail:

The Magazine of the CRC for Plant-based Management of Dryland Salinity



Sub-tropical perennials walk away with prize

Key points Sub-tropical perennial pastures are proving very resilient over dry summers Mixing annuals and perennials means green feed is available all year-round Siratro legume is doing very well and has been easier to establish than lucerne


Case study: Grant and Elyssa Bain Location: Walkaway, Western Australia Property size: 3600 ha Mean annual rainfall: 450 mm Soils: Non-wetting sands over gravel Enterprises: Beef cattle for live export and feedlotting

Photos: G Wilson

Relax. This won’t hurt a bit,” says the dentist to the new patient, a young child. And he’s right, it doesn’t. But tell that to an adult with 20 years of bad memories under the drill, and relaxing is not easy. So it can be with farming. Grant Bain was a Gascoyne pastoralist until a few years ago, so he didn’t know that you can’t grow subtropical perennial pastures in the WA northern wheatbelt. Instead, he gave them a go, figuring that if wild melons could survive and thrive, so should sub-tropical perennial pastures. The Bain family bought Mount Michael at Walkaway, east of Geraldton in 2002, seeking a reliable rainfall area in which to run and breed cattle after spending a few years further south at Carnamah. Annual pastures in these areas provide plenty of feed over the winter and spring, but leave no green feed for summer and autumn when supplements can be very costly, especially if you are not into cropping. On this sandplain property salt is not a problem, water tables are well below the ground surface, and recharge control through the extensive ground coverage of perennial pastures should keep it that way. However, large areas of perennials on properties like the Bains’ at the top of the catchment will help reduce salinity on farms in lower areas.

Elyssa Bain and Tim Wiley, pleased with young sub-tropical perennial pasture Inset: Grant’s culti-trash seeder adapted to sow beneath the non-wetting layer

In the first year Grant sowed 100 hectares of sub-tropical perennials in late September, using his own seed mix of roughly equal weights of Rhodes grass, green panic, setaria and signal grass, based on advice from the Department of Agriculture and the Evergreen group. The next year he sowed a similar area, followed by 200 ha in 2004. This spring he plans to sow a further 300 ha, increasing to an extra 400 ha each year from 2006. “If I live long enough, the whole place will be covered with perennials,” he jokes. Benefits of having year-round green feed for stock are huge. False breaks to the season can mean annual pastures germinate but then die off in the absence of follow-up rains, but the perennials thrive. In winter dry spells, when annuals stop growing, the perennials power on. Until the area is extended, not all cattle can run on perennials through summer. Grant has noted the advantages for those herds that can. Last summer, those

provided with licks on dry pasture consumed about a block a week per 25 head, while similar cattle on green pasture hardly touched the licks. Grant’s oldest perennial pastures are now over two and a half years old - or three summers - which is his critical milestone. After planting in spring, they are not grazed until the following winter, in June or July, and by then are well established. Although other pasture mixes are now available, Grant is tending to keep to his four main grasses, but plans to reduce the proportion of Rhodes, which appears less palatable than the panic, setaria and signal grass, but does provide good groundcover. Test patches of other species have also been grown from seed provided through Tim Wiley at the Department of Agriculture. Kikuyu has done very well and digit grass looks promising. The subtropical legume, siratro, is proving very drought-tolerant and more persistent than lucerne, which experienced heavy losses

over its first summer. A small area of Wynn cassia is showing promise and will be trialled further this year. Live export to Asia is an important market for WA beef producers. ‘A bit of hump’ is attractive to this market, so Brahmans and Brahman-cross are preferred as they handle the humidity of the tropics better than British breeds. In a herd of about 1150, the Bains have about 750 breeders, many of them station cattle. They are kept as three main groups and rotated frequently through paddocks. This is designed to ensure that the perennials are grazed at high stocking rates for short periods, and then given adequate rest. High stocking pressure means even grazing of all pastures so that the most palatable species are not over-grazed and lost. Moving cattle, especially ex-station cattle, can sometimes be difficult, but selection for temperament is a large part of keeping it simple. Any unruly beasts, including breeders, find themselves on early trucks to market leaving their more sociable fellows behind. And when feed gets low, the cattle

are keen to move onto the next paddock so mustering is easy. Modern air-seeders have not tempted Grant Bain. Instead, he has adapted culti-trash seeders and picked up four at clearing sales, the most expensive costing $2000. All except 10 of the discs are removed to provide row spacings of about 53 centimetres and a Brahmin furrow about 8 to 10 centimetres deep. The seed is planted 1 cm below the surface in the bottom of the furrow and followed by a presswheel. Using low ground speed of about 5 km/h, this enables the seed to be planted into damp soil below the surface, boosting germination in the non-wetting sands. A twin-pull enables about 5 ha to be covered each hour. In 2004 he set them up to sow alternate rows of grasses and legumes, thus preventing excess competition at the establishment phase. Closer sowing is not required, because he wants to keep a balance between the perennials and


Photo: G Wilson


cattle feeling at home on sub-tropicals

annuals for year-round feed supply. “This system is not for every body, especially heavy croppers, but for us, with no cropping, it is working really well,” he said.

CONTACT Georgina Wilson, CRC Salinity Communication Coordinator (WA) Tel.: (08) 6488 7353 E-mail:

The science behind the story By Tim Wiley

The key to the success of sub-tropical perennials compared with alternative temperate species is that they use what is known as the C4 rather than C3 pathway in photosynthesis. This adaptation means they use a four-carbon molecule, rather than a three carbon molecule when fixing carbon dioxide from the air. This modification enables carbon to be extracted from the air much more efficiently. In C4s, the tiny pores in the leaves don’t need to be fully open for photosynthesis so they don’t lose as much moisture to the atmosphere as C3 plants. This enables them to produce the same amount of dry matter using less water. However, they do need more energy from sunlight to do this - almost 100 per cent of full sunlight compared with only a third for C3. Cloudy weather in winter, for example, slows them down more than temperate C3 species. The C3 perennial grasses include species like phalaris, cocksfoot, fescue and perennial ryegrass. From research and experience with the CRC Salinity and Department of Agriculture, I believe that in WA, Gingin just

north of Perth, is about the northern limit for temperate perennial grasses to grow successfully before they are killed by heat in summer. However, C4s have been found in virtually all environments and are more heattolerant. Windmill grass (Chloris truncata) is an example of a native C4. The Evergreen Group and its members such as Grant Bain have been trialling many different sub-tropical perennials or C4s. Most members are in WA but some are on Kangaroo Island in SA and sub-tropicals are also doing well there. The sub-tropicals must be sown in spring as they won’t germinate if the soil is too cold. A major part of successful seeding is to prevent any competition from weeds, particularly for moisture. We recommend spraying to kill weeds or existing pasture in early spring, followed by a second spraying a few weeks later. This ensures a full profile of water which will be around 100 millitres in the top 2 m of most soils. This stored moisture sets the young plants up for a good start, enabling them to survive that critical first summer. Growth of C4s depends as much on light intensity as temperature. In Queensland,

many areas away from the coast would be much cooler in winter than WA, but the subtropicals sit quietly during this time and then come away when temperatures rise. The growth of C4s over dry summers will be helped by roots accessing groundwater. According to the literature, their roots can go down to 3-4 m, but how far they are reaching in the WA wheatbelt we don’t yet know. This will be an area for more research over the next few years. • Tim Wiley is a Development Officer with the Department of Agriculture at Geraldton. He has been closely involved with the Evergreen group that now has 180 members evenly spread across WA and four members in the east. Tim is also involved with SGSL demonstrations that include perennial grass options.

CONTACT Tim Wiley Tel.: (08) 9956 8555 E-mail:

The Magazine of the CRC for Plant-based Management of Dryland Salinity



Ranching sustainably in Colorado River Basin


enterprise has been quite dramatic, because the juniper seems to shade out all grasses and understorey and with them go much of the native fauna. Inevitably when you significantly change one component of the environment you impact on many others. In our case, the juniper seems to have also had a serious impact on the quality of our groundwater. The shallow wells at the base of the mountain range are the principal source of water for the town of Rush. For many years there had been a gradual increase in salinity in these wells, and the US Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) considers that this is related to the excessive runoff from the juniper-dominated uplands leading to recharge of the saline aquifers in the valley floor, and less recharge to the shallow groundwater aquifer where most of the drinking water for the valley is withdrawn. The NRCS is monitoring water quality and helping us relate this to our management practices. Over the years we have tried many approaches to control juniper. Chaining works well when the juniper is large, but it is not long after chaining that a profusion of juniper whips (young trees) become a problem, and these are too small to chain. We have also tried herbicide, but with disappointing results. It was my old sheep-herder uncle who kept talking about fire as the key to juniper control, and eventually in 1990 we secured a permit to burn. As luck would have it lightning struck two weeks before the prescribed burn and took out about 650 ha. We seeded most of this with a mixture Photo: K Johnson


arrell Johnson is a fifth generation rancher in Rush Valley, Utah. Rush Valley is a catchment within the Colorado River Basin - a huge catchment that bears many similarities with the Murray-Darling Basin, including salinity. In fact, farming and ranching in Utah have a lot in common with farming and grazing in Australia. Darrell recently told his story to Bruce Munday who was touring Utah to learn about how salinity is managed in that part of the world - for Australian Darrell Johnson – fifth generation Utah rancher readers all of Darrell’s acres and pounds have been converted to hectares and kilograms Back in the 1970s we recognised that we his ranch and his cattle now seem a lot needed to do something about the smaller. My great-great grandfather was the first condition of our rangeland, where white settler in Rush Valley in 1856. There overgrazing and fire suppression had he irrigated 16 hectares of land from a large degraded or destroyed much of our best forage. We sat down and prepared a spring at the base of the mountains. Five generations later we no longer graze strategic plan that included fencing the land sheep as my ancestors did, but now to manage grazing and exploring ways of Hereford-Angus cattle. We run 250 controlling the juniper. The widespread invasion of juniper across breeding cows year-round on nearly 2800 ha of which we irrigate 40 ha of alfalfa for our property is a very significant problem. hay. We sell our calves (other than Juniper is a native to Utah, but it has benefited greatly from white settlement. It replacement heifers) at about 340 kg. The ranch is in a high desert valley at an has very little practical use other than for elevation of about 1800 metres, with the fence posts, so has not been widely summer range up to 2300 m (a shade harvested; it is also very drought, cold and higher than Mt Kosciusko). Annual rainfall heat-resistant and does well on a wide varies from about 250 millimetres at the variety of soils. About its only weak point is lower semi-desert area to about 400 mm at its vulnerability to fire, but since settlement, whenever a fire starts someone goes and the upland summer area. We run our operation not only to make a puts it out. As a result, juniper has thrived living, but also to increase productivity and and spread way beyond its natural range, to properly manage our natural resources colonising what was naturally grassland. The impact of juniper on our grazing for long-term sustainability.

of perennial grasses and forbs with a fantastic increase in productivity. The other very positive result was the tremendous improvement in the flow of water from the springs and seeps that provide stock water for our cattle. We have now developed the springs, piping the water 16 km to troughs placed on ridges to avoid concentrating the cattle on the sensitive spring areas. The wildfire certainly confirmed our belief that fire has an important role to play in the ecology of this region. However, as ranchers we would far prefer to control the fire so that it conforms to our farm plan. For one thing, when we first planned the burn wildlife was a significant part of our thinking. We had problems with deer on our alfalfa (lucerne) fields so we were keen to attract them back to the mountains by leaving the ridges with browse for travel lanes. Overall our resource management program has been the catalyst for many changes and new ideas in our community. The Clover Creek Watershed Steering Committee, a diverse group representing landowners, Federal, State and local


Photo: N Evenstad


Rangeland re-grassed after juniper removal

governments, and interested resource users now presides over a coordinated research project involving about 36,000 ha in our watershed. Most of our neighbours are now involved in implementing resource management plans to restore healthy and diverse plant cover and wildlife habitat and in turn ensure a higher quality water supply.

CONTACT Bruce Munday CRC Salinity Communications Manager Tel.: (08) 8538 7075 E-mail:

The science behind the story By Norm Evenstad

Rangeland vegetation has been manipulated throughout Utah and the western US for decades. A common thread woven through most of these projects has been the treatment of juniper to mimic nature events (e.g. fire) and reset the succession clock back to grasses and shrubs. The change in vegetation often leads to an increase in spring flows down gradient of the treatments due to less water used by the plants and increased infiltration. Local ranchers in Rush Valley have seen the benefits of range treatments in other watersheds in Utah and the western US. They wanted to try to reverse their steadily increasing salt in the groundwater drinking source by manipulating their upper watershed groundwater recharge zones.

Range scientists and other specialists with the US Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service were consulted on how best to do this and determine the feasibility. Rangelands that were targeted for treatment were the alluvial fans of the valley where there was a dense cover of juniper and very little understorey (grasses, shrubs). These targeted rangelands were typically burned, chained, aerially seeded and then chained back over a second time. This procedure maximised the potential for increasing grass and forb cover and eventually increasing the overall infiltration and recharge of the shallow groundwater aquifer with less saline water. Recently completed modelling of the treated juniper acreage using the Ecological DYnamics Simulation (EDYS) model

resulted in about a 9 per cent increase in subsurface water yield. Treatment of an additional 25% of the watershed by chaining and burning has the potential to increase annual water yield by 3300 megalitres, or an additional 0.5 ML per year for 20 years per additional hectare treated. The simulations indicate that prescribed burning, when following chaining, is a very effective method of increasing water yield, compared to chaining alone. • Norm Evenstad is Water Resource Program Coordinator with the US Department of Agriculture in Salt Lake City, Utah.

CONTACT Norm Evenstad Tel.: 0011 1 801 524 4569 E-mail:

The Magazine of the CRC for Plant-based Management of Dryland Salinity



Planning – that profitable Edge


Photo: MLA


es and Ann Crane run 120 mixed breeding cattle of a Hereford/Shorthorn base and 12001300 head of Merino breeding ewes. The Cranes also crop wheat (mostly hard varieties), barley (malting and feed), lupins, canola and oats (for wrapped silage and hay). Les said the silage is cut as a weed control measure to reduce ryegrass and offers an alternative stockfeed source. Managing salt-affected land is commonplace for many Western Australian farmers and Les and Ann Crane of Bindi Bindi are no exception. However by taking part in a Meat & Livestock Australia EDGEnetwork course they are now set to profit from their saline land. Despite doing a lot over the years to reduce the impact of salt on their 2063 hectare property, Gabalong Farms, when the opportunity came up in 2003 to participate in a Profitable grazing of saline land workshop, the Cranes were keen. They gleaned a lot of information from the workshop and visited a successful local site where a range of pasture species had been planted on saline land. “The good thing about the day was that it was really about making a profit from saltaffected land rather than simply about reclamation,” Ann said. With around 800 ha affected by salt to varying degrees Les and Ann were keen to find ways to reduce its impact. The Cranes’ aim was to profit by removing problem weeds from saline land and replacing them with more productive pasture species. To this end, they found they could complement their existing efforts of planting salt-tolerant tree species, lucerne and saltbush plants and use surface drains to carry away winter floodwaters. Both Les and Ann felt the course offered a broad range of solutions and ideas to choose from. Since the EDGEnetwork Profit from Saline Land workshop they have implemented a number of changes to their livestock production. “I suppose the big change from last year to this year is that we are rotationally grazing our sheep which we haven’t done in the past,” said Les.

Les and Ann Crane with some of their Hereford based mixed breed, mixed age cattle. In the background are salt-tolerant trees planted in the late 1980s with a salt scald behind.

The Cranes plan to amalgamate their breeding ewes into larger mobs and run them on smaller paddocks, which is a challenge when the land is also cropped. They have also used some of their saline land to defer graze their cattle. “2004 was a good pasture year with a very poor finish,” Les said, which has led them to run their breeders on saline land to give their pastures time to get away. “We’ve put our cattle onto the salt-affected country and they have lightly grazed the saline-tolerant bushes quite successfully. “The cows will also calve down in those areas, meaning there should be no need to hand feed them during the busy sowing season.” This year the Cranes had intended to crop 100 ha of saline land, but with heavy opening rainfall and more forecast, they may put this plan aside. “Water logging will be a problem this year, which is only going to exacerbate the salt problem,” Les said. In the meantime the Cranes continue to monitor the water table, plan surface drainage work and establish more salttolerant plant species. Students from the Rosalie Primary School in the Perth suburb of Subiaco will assist

their ongoing effort to improve the landscape by planting 1,500 shrubs and trees on the Cranes property this winter. “Every salt area is unique - there are no two the same - so it’s not a matter of saying that drains will work, or trees will work, or pumping will work.” “They all have a place. It’s a matter of finding it and using what’s best in that circumstance.” Les and Ann liked the fact that the course brought neighbouring farmers together and was run by a local facilitator. This meant they could pool ideas and tackle problems specific to their district rather than try to apply solutions from elsewhere. Ann said the key outcome of the EDGEnetwork course was to come away with a plan for managing their saltland. The most important part of the day was making a plan,” she said, or as Les puts it “the course helped crystallise our farm management plan.”



Learn how to profit from saline land

Training in saltland pasture management is one component of MLA’s activities. Previously as a core partner in the National Dryland Salinity Program and now through the CRC Salinity, MLA is supporting research to: • improve pasture plant species • improve animal production systems while reducing the onset of dryland salinity and impacts on biodiversity • improve management of saline lands.

EDGEnetwork workshop shows how

Information from decades of research and producer trials with saline pastures has been incorporated in the EDGEnetwork workshop Profit from Saline Land.

Photo: J Powell


roducers can learn how to turn saline land into a productive resource through Meat & Livestock Australia’s EDGEnetworkTM workshop Profit from Saline Land. In 2000, the National Land and Water Resources Audit (NLWRA) predicted that areas at high risk or hazard of dryland salinity in Australia due to rising water tables would increase from six million hectares in 1998-2000 to about eight million ha in 2020. Workshops include sessions in the paddock Since the NLWRA report was compiled, water tables in some parts of south-eastern Australia Tall wheat-grass, puccinellia and clover have fallen due to the recent drought, especially in slopes and tableland areas systems prevail in higher rainfall grazing where local groundwater flow systems are country in both the eastern States and the west. highly responsive to rainfall. South Australian systems are dominated Unfortunately, water tables are expected to rise again when rainfall returns by puccinellia in the Upper South East, to average. whereas saltbush forms the basis of saline Notwithstanding the drought’s temporary grazing systems on Eyre Peninsula, in the effect, it seems inevitable that larger areas Western Australian wheatbelt and the northern riverine plains of Victoria. will become salinised in future. Producers have found the main financial Profitable systems do exist benefit from saline grazing systems comes Attempts to make saline land more from the increase in out-of-season (autumn productive and profitable were pioneered and winter) feed quality and quantity - two 40 years ago in Western Australia. of the main profit drivers of grazing Since that time, many producers and enterprises. researchers throughout Australia have In addition to financial benefits, developed and refined productive and producers also get a sense of satisfaction profitable systems to cope with the wide from the improvement in appearance of variation in salinity and waterlogging their properties and from the knowledge conditions found in different States. they are stopping salt and sediment washing from saline sites into streams and waterways.

Workshops are held over two days, with ‘classroom’ sessions as well as practical sessions in the paddock. On completion of the workshop, participants understand how salinity and waterlogging affect plant production, can identify different categories of saline land and understand profit drivers of saline land grazing systems. They are also be able to describe establishment and management methods for saline pastures and design a profitable grazing system for their saline land. The shape of a workshop

Workshops cover the keys to establishing and managing profitable saline land grazing systems: • Planning, including taking account of salinity processes • Reducing waterlogging and inundation • Matching plant species to site conditions • Weed and insect control • Seed quality and sowing rates • Paddock preparation and sowing • Time of sowing • First year of grazing management • Fertiliser • Ongoing grazing management. Wherever possible, local deliverers of the Profit from Saline Land workshops adapt and interpret the EDGEnetwork notes to suit local situations and experience. The EDGEnetworkTM concept is jointly owned by MLA and the Victorian Department of Primary Industries • This article was written by John Powell, Optimal ICM, NSW. John trains extension providers to deliver the MLA EDGEnetwork Profit from Saline Land workshops.

CONTACT MLA EDGEnetwork Tel.: 1800 993 343 Catherine Adinsall, RIST Victoria Tel.: (03) 5537 0943 Ken Solly, EDGEnetwork, SA Tel.: (08) 8762 0895 Kareena May, Kondinin Group, WA Tel.: 1800 200 798

The Magazine of the CRC for Plant-based Management of Dryland Salinity



Salt – from threat to asset Case study: Sid and Patricia Clarke Location: Ladysmith, NSW (east of Wagga Wagga) Property size: 365 ha Mean annual rainfall: 550 mm Soils: Sandy loam Enterprises: Dairy farming with export heifers and market steers good economic and salt sense as we can buy in local grain allowing the whole property to be under perennial pastures which reduces recharge, taps groundwater and produces feed all year. Our aim has been to take action to control our own destiny by maintaining our valley’s viability and controlling the salt reaching the Kyeamba Creek. Thanks to the good Sid Clarke at State Forests of NSW demonstration site quality groundwater on his property (less than 0.4 deciSiemens per metre) in a deeper aquifer found on Samarra in ration of about two tonne per cow annually. 1968 our dairy enterprise includes 40 ha of The remainder of the property is under irrigated pastures. These pastures feed 150 perennial pastures for growing out export milking cows along with an additional grain heifers and market steers.

The science behind the story By Michael Reynolds

The initial investment in planting salt land pastures is a daunting picture for many landholders. The high capital costs of establishment and the risk of pasture failure usually result in a ‘do nothing’ approach. However, for the Clarke Family the investment has created a win-win scenario. The initial establishment of perennial pastures in 1992 on 100 hectares demonstrates very positive outcomes which were then reproduced across the property. The decision was taken to plant perennial pastures on 100 ha even though only 30 ha were directly salt-affected. Treating the


70 ha recharge zone enabled safer pasture establishment, increased carrying capacity by 30 per cent and decreased the risk of pastures dying due to saline, waterlogged soil. By improving the pastures on this area, carrying capacity rose from less than 1 dry sheep equivalent (DSE) per ha to 4 DSE/ha on the original 30 ha of salt scald. Carrying capacity on the remaining 70 ha of land moved from 6 to 8 DSE/ha. Therefore the carrying capacity of the entire block has improved from 435 DSE/100 ha under unimproved pastures to approximately 680 DSE/100 ha under improved pastures. At the same time, the property has increased its

cattle carrying capacity from 43 steers to 68 steers per year. • Michael Reynolds, NSW Department of Primary Industries, is an Economist (Salt Action) and is working on the Beyond Salinity Solutions Project in the Murrumbidgee Catchment.

CONTACT Michael Reynolds Tel.: (02) 6938 1989 E-mail:

Photo: E Madden


t the Dubbo Salinity Summit in 2000, Sid Clarke, a dairy farmer from Ladysmith, was surprised to hear someone say, ‘Salinity was the best thing that ever happened to me’. He was even more surprised when he realised those words were coming from his mouth. Sid Clarke tells Elizabeth Madden how his view of salinity has evolved from unknown threat to a manageable situation and in some cases, an asset on Samarra. With hindsight we can now recognise the early signs of rising water tables and salinity on this property dating back to 1978. There were always some waterlogged areas on our property where the ‘unwary’ would become bogged to the axles, however it was the expanding bare areas in crops and pastures that got us moving. There were quite a lot of small salt-affected areas, but over time what was one hectare became two, and two became four, and so it went on. It was in 1988 that 20 Kyeamba valley farmers got together in our dairy and formed a Landcare group. Since then we have progressed from not knowing what we were dealing with to the land-use change we see across the valley today. Cropping has decreased dramatically and perennial pastures now dominate the landscape and hundreds of thousands of trees have been planted. This makes both



Photo: E Madden

Tell your story in SALT... The CRC for Plant-based Management of Dryland Salinity is developing new farming systems that balance water use and profit to manage salinity. Success stories in salinity management should be told, as your experiences and solutions might help others. Do you have a story to tell about your experiences in salinity management? If so, SALT magazine wants to help spread the news. Contact your nearest CRC Salinity Communications Team Member:

Trees on farms can have multiple benefits

Getting persistence in pastures is the name of the game as far as I’m concerned, which is mainly through grazing management. Our stocking rates and per cow milk average have gone up due to better pastures as we’re more severe in our stock management and pasture improvement has allowed us to run more heifers and steers. Establishing pastures across the property has increased the property’s carrying capacity by 30 per cent. We decided to begin sowing the whole farm to perennial pastures and ‘go for broke’ in 1988 after receiving a $5000 grant to trial pastures on eight hectares of saline land. The salt trial plants included

Key points Salinity was the best thing that ever happened to me Moving out of cropping to perennial pastures has reduced groundwater recharge and makes economic sense Water tables appear unaffected by the drought Salinity can be managed and high water tables can be an asset

puccinellia, tall wheat-grass, red clover (Palestine), balansa clover, sub-clover and phalaris. By 1994 we had achieved that aim and we’re now making use of our groundwater resource and converting it into pasture. I suppose the fact that we have recently purchased some neighbouring saltaffected land shows how far we’ve come in salinity management since 1988. Even with the current drought, water tables are still quite high, although they have slowed from the one metre per year rise seen from 1991 to 1994. We don’t know how long it will take for water tables to fall in response to land management changes in the valley, however local shallow water tables appear to be affected by local recharge. The amount of water in the ground suggests that water is also coming from outside this subcatchment. The deeper aquifer used for irrigation doesn’t appear to be linked to saltier shallower aquifers. Increasing the number of trees in the landscape has also been part of our salt management plan. To date, we have planted 31,000 consisting mostly of casuarinas, river red gums and yellow box. North-south plantings are preferred and have provided excellent shade and shelter value for stock. Salinity really pulled the hand brake for us in terms of best management practice for our property and the valley. It has led to a change of thinking so that we’re no longer growing cereal crops, the whole farm has been sown down to perennial pastures and we can now grow out our own steers on surplus feed.

Communications Manager (National & SA) Dr Bruce Munday Tel. (08) 8538 7075 E-mail:

WA Communications Georgina Wilson Tel. (08) 6488 7353 E-mail:

Victorian Communications Jo Curkpatrick Tel. (03) 9328 5301 E-mail:

NSW Communications Elizabeth Madden Tel. (02) 6938 1985 E-mail:

Corporate Communications Chris Twomey Tel. (08) 6488 8553 E-mail: For further information about the CRC Salinity, visit our website on-line at:

The Magazine of the CRC for Plant-based Management of Dryland Salinity




The Magazine of the CRC for Plant-based Management of Dryland Salinity

“Of the major ‘salt drivers’ on this place - rainfall, geology and vegetation – we can really only alter vegetation. All the vegetation across Talaheni contributes to the sustainability of the property by reducing recharge.” John Ive, grazier, NSW (see story, page 8) “I believe our saline land can be the best land on the farm and now we have a pasture species that uses the water. It gives us good green feed early in the season to wean our lambs onto and it gives us green feed well through summer and autumn.” Michael Blake, farmer, Victoria (see story, page 10) SALT Magazine brings you success stories from people tackling dryland salinity on their land or in their area. Dryland salinity has emerged as a major threat to long-term sustainability and profitability of Australian agriculture and is increasingly impacting on infrastructure in urban and regional areas. However, success in managing salinity is now being achieved across Australia, through a variety of means The Cooperative Research Centre for Plant-based Management of Dryland Salinity (CRC Salinity) is one of Australia’s largest CRCs, with 350 scientists from 11 institutions undertaking research in four States. The CRC Salinity regularly publishes SALT Magazine to share straightforward personal stories of success in managing dryland salinity. SUBSCRIBE TO SALT MAGAZINE If you would like to receive SALT Magazine, or wish to amend details of your subscription or nominate a friend or neighbour who does not yet receive the publication, please fill in the below subscription coupon and post or fax to: Subscriptions, SALT Magazine CRC Salinity 35 Stirling HWY, CRAWLEY WA 6009 Fax: 08 6488 2856 Alternatively, you can subscribe on-line at For further information about the CRC for Plant-based Management of Dryland Salinity, contact you nearest Communications Officer (see previous page) or visit CRC Salinity on-line at

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