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Feature Article - Salinity and land management on Western Australian farms
SALINITY - A NATIONAL ISSUE
Across Australia almost 20,000 farms reported showing signs of salinity, accounting for almost 2 million hectares of agricultural land (covering both NAP and non-NAP regions). Of this affected land, around 42% (821,000 hectares) is unable to be used for production. Western Australia is the state most affected by salinity with 6,918 farms and almost 1.2 million hectares of agricultural land showing signs of salinity, and 45.7% (567,377 hectares) of salinised land unable to be used for production. Victoria and South Australia are the next most affected states, farmers reporting 4,834 farms (139,000 hectares of agricultural land) and 3,328 farms (350,000 hectares) respectively as showing signs of salinity.
Strategies to manage and prevent salinity have resulted in just over 3 million hectares of crops, pastures and fodder plants being planted across Australia; 466,000 hectares of land being fenced from grazing; 776,000 hectares of trees being planted; and 208,000 kilometres of earthworks (levees, banks and drains) being constructed by farmers to combat the salinity problem. Western Australia dominates in terms of trees planted (64.4% of national hectares planted) and land fenced from grazing (75.5% of national hectares fenced).
WESTERN AUSTRALIAN FARMS IN CONTEXT
IRRIGATED AND NON-IRRIGATED FARMS
Of the 13,475 farms in Western Australia, 2,460 farms (18.3%) are irrigated and the remaining 11,015 farms (81.7%) are non-irrigated. Salinity is significantly more prevalent on non-irrigated farms, with 60.6% of non-irrigated farms showing signs of salinity compared to 9.8% of irrigated farms. This confirms the priority given to dryland salinity by the National Action Plan. Overall, salinity affects 51.3% of farms in Western Australia.
WESTERN AUSTRALIAN FARMS: IRRIGATED AND NON-IRRIGATED
The major farming industries in Western Australia are beef and/or sheep farming, mixed grain and beef/sheep farming and grain growing. These three industries together account for 74.4% of farms. Mixed grain and beef/sheep farms are the worst affected by salinity, with 86.9% of these farms reporting signs of salinity, closely followed by grain growing farms with 85.0% of farms affected. Salinity affects 34.6% of beef and/or sheep farms.
WESTERN AUSTRALIAN FARMS BY INDUSTRY
NATIONAL ACTION PLAN REGIONS
Western Australian NAP regions capture 85.5% of farms in the state and 67.4% of the land reported by farmers as showing signs of salinity. The Ord region is excluded from this article as it extends partially into the Northern Territory and much of the data cannot be released due to the relatively small size of the region. The largest NAP region in Western Australia is the South West region, with just over one third (34.3%) of the state's farms (4,627). The smallest NAP region in Western Australia (excluding the Ord region) is the Northern Agricultural Region, with 11.8% of the state's farms (1,596).
WESTERN AUSTRALIAN FARMS BY NAP REGION(a)
AREA SHOWING SIGNS OF SALINITY
The worst-affected NAP region in Western Australia is Avon, with 2,297 farms (or 79.8% of the farms in the region) and 451,044 hectares of land showing signs of salinity. Although the South West had the lowest proportion of farms affected by salinity (38.8% of farms in the region), it recorded the second highest area of land showing signs of salinity (156,572 hectares).
In the Avon region, 63.2% of salinised land is unable to be used for production, closely followed by the Northern Agricultural Region with 60.4%. The South West recorded the lowest proportion of salinised land unable to be used for production (50.6%).
AREA OF LAND SHOWING SIGNS OF SALINITY, WESTERN AUSTRALIA
SALINITY MANAGEMENT PRACTICES USED BY FARMERS
Farmers in Western Australia have implemented various practices to manage and prevent salinity. The four major strategies are the planting of crops, pastures and fodder plants; the planting of trees; the fencing of land from grazing; and the construction of earthworks (levees, banks and drains). The choice of strategy depends on the characteristics of the land and strategies may only be partly for the management and prevention of salinity.
Farmers in the Avon region lead the way in salinity management practices, devoting 733,017 hectares to salinity management, which accounts for 9.1% of total farm land in the region. The Avon NAP region accounted for 63.2% of all trees planted in Western Australia as part of salinity management practices and 42.8% of earthworks constructed.
SALINITY MANAGEMENT PRACTICES, WESTERN AUSTRALIA
DRIVERS AND BARRIERS TO CHANGING LAND MANAGEMENT PRACTICES
A total of 6,453 farmers in Western Australia (73.0% of farmers who are affected by, or managing for, salinity) have changed their land management practices to manage or prevent salinity. In the Avon region, the region most affected by salinity, the proportion is even higher, with 81.5% of farmers having changed their land management practices.
CHANGING LAND MANAGEMENT PRACTICES, WESTERN AUSTRALIA
REASONS FOR CHANGE
Across Western Australia the reason that farmers reported as the most important motivation behind changing their land management practices was farm sustainability, with 91.8% of farmers who changed their practices stating this was of medium or high importance. Improved environment protection was the next most important reason, with 84.8% of farmers reporting this as being of medium or high importance. A significant proportion of farmers did not consider improved risk management and increased land value to be important reasons for changing land management practices, with 43.3% and 38.8% of farmers respectively reporting these as being of low importance or not being reasons for change.
REASONS FOR CHANGING LAND MANAGEMENT PRACTICES, WESTERN AUSTRALIA
BARRIERS TO CHANGE
Lack of financial resources and lack of time were the most limiting barriers to changing land management practices, with 82.2% and 64.8% of farmers respectively reporting these factors as being limiting or very limiting. A significant proportion of farmers did not consider age or poor health and insufficient/inadequate information to be limiting barriers, with 84.9% and 68.7% of farmers respectively saying these were not very limiting or would not restrict them from changing their land management practices.
BARRIERS TO CHANGING LAND MANAGEMENT PRACTICES, WESTERN AUSTRALIA
THE ROLE OF GOVERNMENT IN SALINITY MANAGEMENT
Many state agencies and other organisations in Western Australia have become involved in salinity reduction measures including the Department of Agriculture, Department of Conservation and Land Management, Department of Environment Protection, the Water and Rivers Commission, the Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and local universities. Various strategies have been implemented to manage and prevent salinity, including the Rapid Catchment Appraisal scheme and the Rural Towns Program established by the Department of Agriculture, and the Engineering Evaluation Initiative currently being undertaken by the Water and Rivers Commission. Recently the state government replaced its long-running State Salinity Council with a Natural Resource Management Council (NRMC). This new council will aim to provide government with strategic and integrated policy advice on the sustainable management of land, water and biodiversity resources across the state. The work of the NRMC follows that begun by the 1996 Salinity Action Plan and the 2000 State Salinity Strategy.
Department of Agriculture Western Australia, Rapid Catchment Appraisal in Western Australia; About the Rural Towns Program; Farmnote: Townsite Salinity Management; Farmnote: Salinity at a Glance www.agric.wa.gov.au/results.pasp?pid=1&cid=31
Dogramaci S & Degens (2003), Review of engineering and safe disposal options, WA Water and Rivers Commission, Salinity and Land Use Impacts Series, Rep. No. SLUI 20
Government's Response to the Salinity Taskforce report (2002), Salinity: A New Balance
Murphy J (1999), Salinity: Our Silent Disaster http://abc.net.au/science/slab/salinity/default.htm
National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality www.napswq.gov.au/index.html
National Land and Water Resources Audit 2001, Australian Dryland Salinity Assessment 2000 audit.ea.gov.au/ANRA/land/docs/national/Salinity_Contents.html
Salinity on Australian Farms 2002, ABS cat.no.4615.0.
APPENDIX: LOCAL GOVERNMENT AREAS WITHIN NAP REGIONS(a)(b)
PRINTER FRIENDLY VERSION OF "SALINITY AND LAND MANAGEMENT ON WESTERN AUSTRALIAN FARMS"
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