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Oil mallee harvest set to reap rewards

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					                                                                                              ISSUE 6 DECEMBER 2008




                              focus
                                                                                              issn   1835-3118




                                                      ON       PERENNIALS




    in this issue




                        6
 Tough island perennials
 offers local opportunities




                    10
 Weed risk protocol hits
 the paddocks




                    15
                                                Oil mallee
 Enrich set to bring on
 the revolution and the
 tree crops                                  harvest set to
                                             reap rewards
                                      New harvest technology investment could give
                                               the industry the vital boost it needs

i n n o v a t i o n           i n   p R o f i t a B l E   p E R E n n i a l   f a R M i n g     s y s t E M s
     Oil mallee industry
     prepares to reap rewards
                                                      By Laureta Wallace                             ABOVE: Suitable harvesting technology could
                                                      Kondinin group                                 see the oil mallee industry surge into full-scale



     t
                                                                                                     production.
             he future farm industries
             Cooperative Research Centre
             (FFI CRC) is firing up the            “The oil mallee was first planted for             the form and size of the oil mallee requires
    nation’s oil mallee industry — driving         environmental purposes — to manage water          a unique harvester design — one that is
    the development of the specialised             and combat salinity in the Western australian     more robust than existing forage harvesters,
    technology needed to harvest the               wheatbelt,” Mark said.                            but also lighter and more efficient than
    oddly-shaped trees.                                                                              conventional forestry equipment when
                                                   “However, the oil mallee is proving to be a       applied to small trees.
                                                   versatile plant with a number of promising
    australia oil mallee industry is ready to
                                                   market options such as activated carbon, oil      During the late 1990s, WA Department of
    take off and capitalise on new market
                                                   feedstock and as a component in Medium            Environment Conservation (DEC) engineers
    opportunities once the necessary technology
                                                   Density fibreboard (MDf).                         tackled the problem drawing on the
    is engineered.
                                                                                                     sugarcane harvester for inspiration. The
    the ffi CRC has embarked on a project          “There also has been research into using          sugarcane harvester was modified to travel
    to put together the technology needed to       oil mallees as a renewable energy source —        continually while harvesting and having
    cost-effectively harvest Australia’s growing   many people think of renewable energy as          the ability to convert whole trees directly
    number of oil mallees. the completion of the   sun, wind and water but oil mallees present       into bulk whole-tree biomass in a single
    project will see a new industry open up for    a very practical source of energy.”               operation.
    Australian farmers, many who are struggling
                                                   Supporting change                                 Along with DEC, the Oil Mallee Association
    with decreased rainfall and the resulting
                                                                                                     and WA’s Verve Energy invested in the initial
    reduced production in traditional rural        Mark said essentially the FFI CRC is preparing    engineering process. During 2005 Verve
    commodities such as grain and livestock.       farmers for the uncertainties of climate          Energy proved that mallee biomass could
    ffi CRC Commercial Director, Mark stickells,   change and the impact that would have on          commercially generate electricity while
    said the ability to economically harvest oil   their businesses.                                 producing carbon and eucalyptus oil. The
    mallees would provide farmers with a new                                                         company remains committed to investing in a
                                                   “oil mallees are well placed to provide
    set of options.                                                                                  commercial-scale oil mallee processing plant.
                                                   farmers, particularly those in marginal areas,
                                                   with another weapon in their armoury,”            The harvesting system was, in theory,

       i key points                                Mark said.
                                                   “it is not too far-fetched to expect that
                                                   oil mallees could soon become an important
                                                                                                     correct, but the modified machine needed
                                                                                                     significant engineering to make the process
                                                                                                     commercially viable. it was determined that
       •   New and developing markets for          part of farm business in the not too
                                                                                                     a machine needed to be capable of harvesting
                                                                                                     at least 20 tonnes of oil mallee biomass per
           oil mallee oil and biomass include      distant future.                                   hour to be cost-effective. it was estimated
           renewable energy, oil feedstock
                                                   “they could also play a role in a carbon          the project would cost about $5 million.
           and fibreboard
                                                   trading scheme.”
       •   An efficient and economic
                                                   Mark said there also needs to be significantly
                                                                                                     FFI CRC involvement
           harvesting system is key to the                                                           as part of its initial project commitments,
           success of the alternate crop           more oil mallees planted, and on a larger
                                                                                                     the FFI CRC had a first-year target to
           and the FFI CRC is coordinating         scale, to ensure the viability of an australian
                                                                                                     finalise a commercial business plan for the
           the engineering of an oil mallee        oil mallee industry.                              engineering of a viable oil mallee harvester —
           harvester                                                                                 based on the principles developed using the
       •   The project has recently received
                                                   The harvest challenge
                                                   there are about 12,000 hectares of oil
                                                                                                     modified sugar cane machinery.
           a commitment of $1.5 million of
           funding from the WA Government          mallees in Wa’s wheatbelt. Crops of the           the CRC realised the potential for oil mallees
           dependent on additional public          native tree are also becoming increasingly        to provide farmers with another stream of
           and private sector funding.             popular in central new south Wales, victoria      income while delivering land sustainability
                                                   and south australia.                              benefits. The CRC was interested in oil




2
        focus N E R E N N I L L
        focus O O NP P E R E N NAI A S S           i n n o vat i o n      in    p R o f i ta B l E   pEREnnial             fa R M i n g      systEMs
mallee research from the point of view of
genetic development, biomass production
and the development of possible end
markets. But the state’s cultivated mallee
population was growing and the FFI CRC
realised the urgent need to find a way to
economically harvest the native trees.
“in a sense we want to reward the farmers,
who have invested in oil mallees for their
environmental commitment, with additional
options for economic returns,” Mark said.
“The benefit of a body like the CRC driving
this project is that we can work with the
Commonwealth and state governments, as
well as industry partners to solve the oil
mallee harvesting challenge.
“It’s about industry, government, scientists
and engineers working together.”

Team effort pays off
As a result of industry and government
collaboration the Wa state government
recently put $1.5 million towards the oil
mallee harvester project. The funding is
through the Government’s Low Emission
Energy Development (LEED) initiative and
is dependent on the CRC attracting private
sector funding.
“The money will be used for the design,
fabrication, commissioning and field testing
of a new prototype harvester,” Mark said.
“the necessary private sector funds could
come from people looking to invest in an
                                                               ABOVE: A visiting delegation at Verve Energy’s Narrogin Integrated Wood
exciting new industry, as well as those with a
                                                               Processing Plant during 2005 to see the trial processing of harvested oil mallees.
vested interest such as potential processors,
end users and even farmers.”


                                                 WA moves forward with
a phase one (p1) prototype of the harvester
is planned to be ready for a field trial
in Narrogin during December 2009. By

                                                 industry development plan
December 2010, designs and specifications
for the final harvester, P2, are expected to
be ready for commercialisation.
“By the end of the project, the ffi CRC aims
to have an operational harvester capable
of reliably harvesting mallee trees at a high
rate,” Mark said.                                   a  nother positive sign the oil
                                                       mallee industry development
                                                 is maturing was the announcement
                                                                                                    in the development of the industry. the
                                                                                                    importance of the need to develop and
                                                                                                    locate specific industries best suited to
“The most efficient rate of production           by the Western australian                          regional biophysical characteristics and
is anticipated to exceed 50t per hour.           government of the oil Mallee                       available infrastructure is also emphasised.
However, the rate will be determined after       industry plan in november.
further systems analysis has been carried                                                           it is anticipated the Wa oil Mallee industry
out including an analysis of the nature of       announced by the new Wa forestry Minister,         will continue to gain momentum through
the chipped biomass.                             terry Redman, the industry Development plan        the current interest shown by resource and
“The final outcome will be a machine that        (iDp) provides an outline of Wa government’s       energy-intensive industries in planting tree
can be commercially viable for a harvest         favoured strategy to launch the industry’s         crops to offset carbon emissions.
contractor — perhaps an operator already         expansion into the State’s emerging carbon
engaged in the harvesting of similar             and renewable energy markets.                      the iDp is a joint project between the
crops.”                                                                                             Wa forest Commission and the oil Mallee
                                                 In the plan, FFI CRC is acknowledged as
                                                                                                    Industry of WA with funding from the
                                                 a leading stakeholder and makes specific
     More information                            reference to the CRC’s responsibility in
                                                                                                    national action plan for salinity and Water
                                                                                                    Quality. The 106-page strategy can be
Kevin goss,                                      overseeing the design and commercialisation
                                                                                                    downloaded from the Wa forestry products
CEo, ffi CRC                                     of an oil mallee harvester — viewed as a
                                                                                                    Commission website: www.fpc.wa.gov.au
T: (08) 6488 2555                                critical milestone.
E: kevin.goss@futurefarmcrc.com.au               Central to the IDP is the identification of             More information
                                                 the roles the Wa forestry Commission, other
Mark stickells,                                                                                     Greg Lawrence,
                                                 government agencies, the private sector,
Commercial Director, ffi CRC                     research institutions, natural resource            Communication Manager, FFI CRC
T: (08) 6488 1429                                management groups, industry bodies,                T: (08) 6488 7353
E: mark.stickells@futurefarmcrc.com.au           landholders and rural communities will play        E: greg.lawrence@futurefarmcrc.com.au




                                                                                                    focus O N
                                                                                                     focus               PERENNIALS
                                                                                                                                                    3
                             Genie provides online
                                 salinity solutions




                                                    ABOVE: The saltland genie website provides              By Laureta Wallace
                                                    farmers with the tools and knowledge needed to          Kondinin group
                                                    turn their salt-affected land into profit.




     f     inding the right solutions for                                                             Collaboration proves fruitful
                                                    The interactive, easy-to-navigate,
           tacking your salinity problem            site provides customised, on-farm
                                                                                                      Saltland Genie, and the 11 saltland solutions
           can now be found on one easy-            recommendations on how to make more
                                                                                                      are the result of a huge body of research and
    to-use website — the Saltland Genie.            money from salt-affected land.
                                                                                                      development carried out by the successful
                                                    ffi CRC researcher Dr nick Edwards, south         national Sustainable Grazing on Saline Lands
    the website is the result of almost seven       australian Research and Development               (SGSL) initiative between 2001-07.
    years of research into sustainable farming on   institute (saRDi) says Saltland Genie is the
    salt-affected land and has been brought to                                                        Dr Edwards currently leads ffi CRC’s Saltland
                                                    first of a new generation of land management
    life by the ffi CRC.                                                                              Knowledge Exchange project and was
                                                    websites that allows users to quickly bypass
                                                                                                      previously the national coordinator of the
    the new Saltland Genie website,                 irrelivant information and get the answers
                                                                                                      SGSL research sites.
    www.saltlandgenie.org.au is the one-stop        and information they want.
    shop for farmers, agronomists and others                                                          “a lot of really useful and practical
                                                    “The site has a fresh and modern design,          information on managing saltland came out
    tackling salinity.                              but more importantly it is well laid-out with     of the SGSL initiative and we want to make
                                                    farmers able to quickly find the information      sure people who need this information can
                                                    they are looking for,” Dr Edwards said.

       i key points
                                                                                                      get hold of it easily and use it by having a
                                                    “Visitors to the website can go straight to the   single, credible source of information,”
                                                    ‘your saltland: genie’s advice’ section and by    Dr Edwards said.
                                                    answering four simple questions about their
       •   The new Saltland Genie website           property can find out which of a possible 11      Information at your fingertips
           will provide farmers, agronomists        solutions is suited to their situation.”          Saltland Genie users can view research
           and other land managers with the                                                           papers, case studies, videos and stories from
           information they need to manage          The questions relate to region, rainfall, the
                                                                                                      farmers that provide scientific and personal
           salinity                                 severity of the salinity and waterlogging,
                                                                                                      insights into how salinity can be managed
                                                    and the motivation for seeking a remedy —
       •   By answering a few simple                productivity and/or profit. The proposed
                                                                                                      to boost productivity and improve the
                                                                                                      environment.
           questions farmers and extension          solutions are diverse ranging from excluding
           officers can determine the best          grazing through to establishing saltbush,         “the website is even able to provide farmers
           management strategy for their            salt-tolerant grasses and legumes.                with knowledge of what work is being done
           salt-affected paddocks
                                                                                                      on salinity in their area by accessing the
       •   The website includes research
                                                    As well as providing advice on the most
                                                    suitable pasture options and how to best
                                                                                                      ‘What’s Happening Where’ section,”
           papers, case studies, videos                                                               Dr Edwards said.
                                                    manage salt-affected land, Saltland Genie
           and farmer stories as well as an
                                                    contains one of the largest information           “you click onto whichever state you are in
           interactive forum.
                                                    collections about australian dryland salinity,    and a map will come up outlining all the
                                                    in the website’s ‘genie’s library’ section.       research, farmer trials and case studies




4
        focus        ON PERENNIALS                  i n n o vat i o n      in    p R o f i ta B l E   pEREnnial           fa R M i n g    systEMs
                                                    information on the site. for those farmers
                                                    who have a unique problem or would just
                                                    rather talk directly to an expert they can.
                                                    By clicking on the ‘Interactive’ tab and then
                                                    ‘forum’, farmers can post a question so
                                                    that one of the Saltland Genie team can
                                                    promptly reply.
                                                    the forum also allows farmers to interact
                                                    with each other — share their stories,
                                                    experiences and solutions.

                                                    Getting back to basics
                                                    For those land managers who are new to
                                                    tackling salinity, the ‘Saltland Uni’ section
                                                    covers seven units outlining the basics of
                                                    salinity, its history in australia, its effect
                                                    on livestock and the environment, the
                                                    economics of rehabilitating saltland and
                                                    a glossary.

                                                    A dynamic resource
                                                    the Saltland Genie website is regularly
                                                    updated with the latest results from the
                                                    ongoing saltland research and development         For those new to salinity problems the ‘Saltland
The ‘Advice’ section guides farmers as to which,    by the ffi CRC and its partners.                  Uni’ provides a masterclass in the basics of
out of 11 possible solutions, is the best way to                                                      salinity including its history in Australia and the
tackle salinity on their property.                  Saltland Genie is an initiative of the land,      current status of the problem.
                                                    Water and Wool program and the FFI CRC,
                                                    both of which receive funding from Australian
relevant to your district — and this will be        Wool innovation (aWi).
added to as work continues.”
                                                    for more information visit:
the resources section of the website includes       www.saltlandgenie.org.au
other information applicable to the whole of
Australia along with other material such as              More information
an electronic version of the SALTdeck plant
species identification cards produced by            Dr nick Edwards, saRDi
SGSL. the 50 individual cards cover common          T: (08) 8762 9184
grasses, legumes, herbs, shrubs, rushes and
trees associated with saltland or used in           E: edwards.nick@saugov.sa.gov.au
saltland rehabilitation.
Each card has pictures of the plant to help
identification, along with a description,
information on its value, growing conditions             Saltland Genie: out of the bottle
and salt tolerance.

Interact and stay informed
the interactive features of Saltland Genie
                                                            U  ser-friendly, thorough and very
                                                               impressive’ were the words
                                                        Dan Ferguson of the Avon Catchment
                                                                                                           of salinity — extension officers who are
                                                                                                           giving information direct to farmers,”
                                                                                                           Dan said.
complement the wealth of digital                        Council (aCC) used to describe the
                                                        Saltland Genie website.                            “Before they go out to the paddock, or
                                                                                                           after they come back, they can use the
                                                        Employed as the aCC’s sustainable                  website to find the best and necessary
                                                        Agriculture Program Manager, Dan recently          management actions for their client.”
                                                        attended a Saltland Genie workshop and             As a part of the workshop, the group
                                                        was suitably impressed with the                    travelled to some salt-affected paddocks
                                                        innovative resource.                               south of Doodlakine, to test the website’s
                                                        “i think the level of information available        accuracy. After assessing the paddocks,
                                                        was excellent — there really is just about         Dan entered the information into
                                                        all you need to know about salinity on             the website.
                                                        the site.”                                         “it returned the recommendations i
                                                        “i particularly like the land capabilities         thought it would,” Dan said.
                                                        assessment, whereby answering a few                “Because the website is continually being
                                                        simple questions, people can find out              updated it will be a great site for people
                                                        the best options for dealing with their            like myself, to jump onto and check out
                                                        salt problem.                                      the latest developments when it comes to
The ‘Explorer’ section provides farmers with a          “i foresee Saltland Genie as being a really        salinity in australia.”
range of resources on salinity including research       useful resource for people at the coal face
papers, case studies, photographs, videos and
farmer stories.




                                                                                                           focus         ON PERENNIALS
                                                                                                                                                            5
                                        g i E s
                                n o l o
                   E    t E C H
           D l i n
     H E a




     Island safari finds tough
     perennials with local possibilities
                                                       By Laureta Wallace                             ABOVE: Tedera’s ability to survive the hostile




     D
                                                       Kondinin group                                 environment of the Canary Islands could see it
             epartment of Agriculture                                                                 adapt easily to Western Australia’s wheatbelt.
             and food Western australia’s
             (DafWa) senior plant breeder
    Dr Daniel Real is, along with his
    Spanish collaborators, are developing a
                                                    chat with spanish farmers and spend time          Tough going
                                                    studying Spanish breeding plots.
    perennial plant that has been left alone                                                          it is no surprise tedera has excelled in Wa’s
    for thousands of years.                         the Canary islands are the only place in the      wheatbelt — it’s homeland is a much more
                                                    world where the plant in its many varieties,      hostile environment.
    Bituminaria bituminosa var albomarginata,       albeit in small quantities, is found. During      the Canary islands cluster is made up of
    or tedera, as it is more commonly known by      his trip, he spoke with spanish researchers       seven islands each with their own distinct
    Canary island farmers, has the potential to     who have been working with the plant for the      climate. the islands are characterised by
    offer a solution to lucerne’s shortcomings      past 15 years. Daniel was excited to learn        volcanic activity, rocky, poor-quality soils,
    in Australian farming systems. Dr Real is       that the legume had withstood 2000 years of       low rainfall and extreme temperatures —
    determined to develop the perennial to its      goat grazing and more than 500 years subject      both hot and cold.
    full potential even if it means battling the    to rabbits, all while battling the arid climate
    unforgiving land of the Canary Islands.         of the Canary islands.                            islands, lanzarote and fuerteventura,
                                                                                                      are the closest to africa and the warmest
    Most people visit spain’s Canary islands with   as a result, a fruitful collaborative project     of the islands. it is on these islands that
    a holiday in mind, but not Dr Real. Rest and    began between Spain’s Murcian Institute           albomarginata or albo tedera is found.
    relaxation were not on the agenda when he       of Agriculture (IMIDA) and Australia’s FFI
    set out in search of the rare legume. The       CRC and DafWa . the project has seen Dr           Lanzarote, is of volcanic origin, and is
    trip, which was funded by the australian                                                          characterised by a surface smothered with
                                                    Real work closely with iMiDa plant breeder
    academy of science, was Dr Real’s second                                                          volcanic rock. it was on inspection of the
                                                    Enrique Correal and pilar Mendez and arnoldo
    Canary island expedition. this time he                                                            island, with his spanish counterparts, that
                                                    Santos from Canarian Institute of Agricultural
    combined plant collecting with a chance to                                                        Dr Real began his hunt for the promising
                                                    Research (iCia) .
                                                                                                      perennial.
                                                    “it has so far been a very successful             “i was joined by the Canary islands main
                                                    partnership with Spain providing us with

       i key points                                 the germplasm and the previous breeding
                                                    and agronomy experience to develop a joint
                                                    breeding program,” Dr Real said.
                                                                                                      botanist, Arnoldo Santos, and forage
                                                                                                      researcher from iCia, pilar Mendez,”
                                                                                                      Dr Real said.

       •   A collaborative plant breeding           Dr Real has had exciting test results in
                                                                                                      “Without these two colleagues I could not
                                                                                                      have found what I was looking for.”
           project between Australia and            australia with two tedera varieties,
           Spain saw breeder, Daniel Real           albomarginata and crassiuscula . the results      The trio’s plant collecting endeavours were
           travel to the Canary Islands                                                               carried out at the end of June this year — in
                                                    have seen tedera become a star student in
           to investigate Bituminaria                                                                 the middle of spain’s summer and when the
                                                    the FFI CRC’s plant breeding program.
           bituminosa var. albomarginata, or                                                          landscape was at its most baron. after some
           Tedera as it is better known             “The thing about these plants is their            careful searching Albo Tedera was located
       •   The plant has impressed with its         remarkable ability to maintain green foliage
                                                    throughout a tough summer and withstand
                                                                                                      — looking green and healthy despite the
                                                                                                      toughest of conditions.
           drought tolerance and hardiness
           against grazing, particularly when       heavy grazing,” Dr Real said.
           pitted against lucerne                                                                     At home in the desert
                                                    trial plots in south-west Wa have
       •   Farmers in the Canary Islands are        demonstrated Tedera’s willingness to survive
                                                    in areas that had, during the past two
                                                                                                      next stop was the island of fuerteventura.
                                                                                                      The island is relatively flat, by Spanish
           endeavouring to graze their goats
                                                    seasons, an annual rainfall of 200 mm.            standards, and the countryside resembles
           more heavily on Tedera as they
                                                                                                      the sahara desert with an annual rainfall of
           highly rate its nutritional value.
                                                    “The plants are both drought tolerant and         just 150-200 mm. Goat farming, for cheese
                                                    productive,” Dr Real said.                        production is the main rural industry and




6
        focus          ON PERENNIALS                i n n o vat i o n      in   p R o f i ta B l E    pEREnnial            fa R M i n g      systEMs
while the goats require supplementary fed        how they believed their goats did better, and    Dr Real says he continues to be impressed by
they spend much of their day grazing native      were healthier, when grazed on the native        tedera hardiness, ability to withstand
forage — mainly Tedera.                          forage alone. But with an increasing number      drought and palatability and is excited about
                                                 of goats, there is not enough Tedera to          the role it could play in Australian farming in
“We walked four hours over very difficult-                                                        the future.
                                                 sustain the whole flock.
to-negotiate rocks into to a group of cacti,
where the plant was growing, protected from      “One innovative young farmer has collected
goats by the cacti,” Dr Real said.               seeds and is attempting to replant Tedera in          More information
                                                 a more coordinated manner to allow him to        Dr Daniel Real, DafWa
“Every plant outside the cacti had long ago
                                                 obtain a sustainable mix of native forage
been eaten but the protected ones were                                                            T: (08) 9368 3879
                                                 and supplementary feed for his flock,”
thriving, even flowering , during the middle                                                      E: dreal@agric.wa.gov.au
                                                 Dr Real said.
of summer.”
                                                 “the farmers were able to afford corn and        BELOW: Tedera has the ability to flourish under
High on the mount                                grain when they became part of European          conditions that would find lucerne struggling.
the island of tenerife is home to spain’s        Union, but lately subsidies have been going      (Photo: Dr Real)
highest peak, Teide Mountain. The mountain       down and the price of grain, especially, has
is home to the variety crassiuscula or           been going up.”
teide tedera.
                                                 Trial plot investigation
“Here this variety of tedera spends six
months under snow, which demonstrates it is      Returning to Murcia and Alicante in the
very cold tolerant and would be most suited      extremely dry south-east corner of spain,
to our colder climate farming areas,”            Daniel caught up with his Spanish research
Dr Real said.                                    partners to check out their latest tedera
                                                 breeding plots. Where Tedera was
Fact finding from farmers                        compared with lucerne, the results
                                                 were startling. Lucerne, a deep-rooted
Canary Island farmers are struggling with        perennial, had completely dropped its
input costs, mainly that of corn and grain
                                                 leaves as a survival mechanism while the
needed to feed their goats.
                                                 Tedera was still covered in green foliage.
on the small island of la palma, farmers         After he had selected the promising
are returning to what they believe is their      tedera varieties, Dr Real made sure they
best source of native forage, Tedera. Dr Real    passed Biosecurity Australia’s vigorous
spoke with farmers who reported about the        Weed Risk Assessment before bringing
excellent nutritional value of tedera and        them into australia.




Turning on to Tedera’s hardiness
   t  he challenge ahead is to
      find why Tedera, a shallow-
rooted, perennial is more drought
                                                 “other students have also been fantastic
                                                 in their encouragement and said from their
                                                 experience they had found unexpected
tolerant than lucerne.                           results.”

PhD student Kevin Foster (UWA) has made it       With two field trials of Tedera in low- and
his mission to get to the bottom of Tedera’s     medium-rainfall areas of Wa’s wheatbelt,
hardiness, determined to leave no stone          Kevin will spend two years examining the
unturned in his investigations.                  plants across a range of parameters.

“We know how lucerne survives drought and        “I will be looking at a many different issues
summer, its deep roots simply access another     including stigmata control, leaf folding,
water supply and it decreases evaporation by     light-avoiding mechanisms, water usage and       ABOVE: Rain out shelter containing drought-
shedding its leaves,” Kevin said.                leaf water content,” Kevin said.                 tolernt perennial legumes as part of Kevin
                                                                                                  Foster’s research. (Photo: D Real)
“But tedera is shallow-rooted and it does not    An integral part of the study will involve
                                                                                                  “The seedlings were amazing, growing even
drop its leaves.                                 comparing the Tedera with lucerne in both
                                                                                                  in the hot of summer, while the large lucerne
                                                 irrigated and non-irrigated environments.
“I’m taking an extremely lateral approach                                                         plants with canopies did not perform well,”
and not closing my mind to any possibility.”     “Research into understanding how plants use      Kevin said.
                                                 water has become popular recently with the       “I will be also looking at the plants levels of
Kevin is progressing with his three-year study
                                                 increased focus on climate change,”              drought tolerance at varying times during
under the supervision of one of australia’s
                                                 Kevin said.                                      its lifecycle.”
leading plant biologists, Hans Lambers of the
University of Western Australia (UWA). Prof      “and while it is early days yet, tedera has      preliminary results of Kevin’s research are
lambers is accompanied in supervision by         performed so well it could just be what          expected to be available during April/May
plant breeder Dr Megan Ryan, also of UWA,        Australian farmers are looking for.”             2009.
and Dr Real.
                                                 Kevin said Tedera seedlings in a trial plot at
“Hans has provided me with some invaluable       Lake Grace, WA had performed better during
                                                                                                       More information
physiological input on measurement,”             the past summer than mature lucerne plants       Kevin foster
Kevin said.                                      in the same trial.                               E: kfoster@agric.wa.gov.au




                                                                                                       focus        ON PERENNIALS
                                                                                                                                                    7
    Did we forget to mention...
    D        uring the past 12 months the              Following are just a few of the wallflowers
             ffi CRC has achieved some                 from the past year that deserve a special
             significant outcomes across               mention as the year draws to a close. some
                                                       of the following projects have received
    its program portfolio. Many of these
                                                       coverage in Focus on Perennials and Future
    have been featured in the past five                Farm, many have not. It just goes to show
    editions of Focus on Perennials — but              how much is going on behind the scenes with
    by no means have they all received the             ffi CRC researchers and our collaborators
    limelight they deserve.                            across the country.




    Even more new Lotus varieties hit the hot spot                                                       Woody perennials establish their way

    the development of new perennial pasture           rainfall of 500-1000 mm, particularly where       The benefits of woody perennials such as
    varieties is a key focus for many CRC’s            winter waterlogging is an issue,”                 saltbush are well know. During the past
    researchers. Their quest is to breed or find       Dr sandral said.                                  year researchers in the Future Livestock
    new and better-adapted variety options for                                                           Production Program have made inroads into
                                                       “sale of these cultivars to farmers could
    southern australia to improve producers’                                                             successful establishment techniques and
                                                       transform areas of land previously thought
    ability to adapt to a rapidly changing climate                                                       technology to facilitate their use.
                                                       as being too difficult for a productive
    in a sustainable way.
                                                       perennials legume.”                               “New technology for the establishment
    While John ayres’ work on the development                                                            of specific woody perennials has been
    and commercialisation of two new Birdsfoot              More information                             developed to increase efficiency and lower
    trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) varieties has                                                           costs,” project leader Dr phil nichols said.
    featured twice in Focus on Perennials recently     Dr graeme sandral, nsW Dpi
    (see issue 2 and issue 5) there have been some                                                       “these technical advances make it likely that
                                                       T: 0409 22 6235                                   oldman saltbush will be reliably established
    other quiet achievers waiting in the wings.
                                                       E: gsandral@cyllene.uwa.edu.au                    from seed with conventional agricultural
    ffi CRC Researcher Dr graeme sandral,                                                                equipment using a combination of seed
    nsW Department of primary industries                                                                 harvest, physical and chemical treatments.”
    (nsW Dpi) said his work with Dr Daniel Real,
    Department of Agriculture and Food WA                                                                Specific treatments have been identified
    (DafWa) had lead to new Birdsfoot trefoil                                                            to enhance establishment of a number of
    cultivars, which have extended the species’                                                          recalcitrant species.
    range well beyond the boundaries set by
    current varieties.                                                                                         More information
    “these new varieties come with the                                                                   Dr phil nichols, DafWa
    expectation of being highly productive and
    hardy when grown in acidic and low-fertility
                                                                                                         T: (08) 9368 3547
    soils in areas receiving an annual average                                                           E: pnichols@agric.wa.gov.au

    New species: new opportunities
    FFI CRC researchers look not only at adapting      several trial sites and seasons in south          overcome, research from this project
    existing species, but identifying new and          australia and Western australia.                  will result in the release of a new
    novel species that could prove useful.                                                               salt-tolerant pasture legume cultivar and
                                                       “Recent measurements have shown about 70          an accompanying salt-tolerant rhizobial
    an example is the Understorey project, a           per cent of plants are failing to nodulate in     inoculant. This will represent a significant
    new salt- and waterlogging-tolerant pasture        the year after establishment,” andrew said.       advancement for Australian agriculture
    legume (Melilotus siculus) has been identified                                                       which will allow greater utilisation of this
    as having substantial stress tolerance             Eliminating or significantly reducing
                                                       nodulation failure is the first research          marginal land.
    advantages over current commercial options.
                                                       priority for this project.
    Understorey is now developing a new                                                                       More information
    salt-tolerant Melilotus siculus cultivar as part   “Considerable effort is being directed
    of the CRC’s PastureSearch initiative. the         towards identifying a rhizobial inoculant that    Andrew Craig, SARDI
    challenge is now to find better performing         will persist in highly saline pastures,”          T: (08) 8762 9193
    root bacteria suited to saline environments.       andrew said.
                                                                                                         E: craig.andrew@saugov.sa.gov.au
    Project leader Andrew Craig, South Australia       In addition, studies of various agronomic
    Research and Development institute                 practices that may increase rhizobial
    (saRDi) said nodulation failure has occurred       survival and reduce the impact of salt are
    repeatedly in regenerating plots across            being assessed. After these constraints are




8
        focus        ON PERENNIALS                     i n n o vat i o n       in   p R o f i ta B l E   pEREnnial           fa R M i n g     systEMs
Research expands pasture species’ range                                                            Wireless sensing still on the radar
it’s not all about new varieties and species     of persisting in medium- to low-rainfall          Developmental research continues to
though — researchers in the Future Livestock     cool temperate/mediterranean regions that         develop wireless sensing technologies for
Production program have been investigating       receive some summer rainfall.                     vegetation studies.
the options with existing varieties.
                                                 lucerne remains a key focus for researchers       This offers benefits of improved experimental
“our team has discovered the unrealised          in the livestock production team and the          design via flexible equipment deployment,
potential of sub-tropical perennial grasses in   hardy perennial continues to prove its            improved monitoring access in logistically
northern new south Wales. grasses that can       superior drought tolerance and persistence        challenging environments (such as tall
greatly extend the perenniality of pastures in   across a diversity of sites, justifying further   tree canopies) and increased density of
regions receiving a high proportion of summer    efforts to extend the limits of adaptation        observations for better validation of models
rain,” program leader Dr Joe Jacobs said.        of this valuable species with a focus on          and hypotheses.
The research optimised the agronomy of           increasing tolerance to grazing, waterlogging
pasture establishment in the region and          and acid soils.                                        More information
produced benchmark performance standards         “We also have recognised the excellent            Steve Burgess
for production, quality, water use and           persistence of the Australian native grass
water-use efficiency. All the information        Austrodanthonia caespitosa, which is
                                                                                                   T: (08) 6488 2073
was combined to demonstrate the economic         enabling the subsequent development and           E: ssb@cyllene.uwa.edu.au
implications of the new techniques.              release of the first cultivar of this species,”
the potential of chicory as a short-term,        Dr Jacobs said. “Austrodanthonia caespitosa
high-quality forage break crop in the cereal     also has a low-to negligible environmental
belt and medium-rainfall permanent pasture       weed risk, compared to cocksfoot and
                                                 phalaris.”
zone of southern australia has been further                                                        Postgraduate training
explored, extending its use well beyond its      For low-rainfall areas legume germplasm
traditional use in the high-rainfall zone.       has been consolidated with lancelot trefoil       ffi CRC has seen the successful recruitment
                                                 (Bituminaria bituminosa var. albomarginata)       of 18 new postgraduate students for this first
“We have investigated the role of winter-
                                                 showing the greatest potential.                   year of the CRC.
active Mediterranean ecotypes of cocksfoots,
fescues and phalaris in the medium-rainfall
wheatbelt and the need to select for increased        More information                                  More information
levels of summer dormancy,” Dr Jacobs said.
                                                 Dr Joe Jacobs, Dpi victoria                       Daryll Richardson
Researchers have also been busy identifying
                                                 T: 0427 947 692                                   M: 0409 312 574
the value of Lotononis bainesii as the
perennial subtropical legume most capable        E: joe.jacobs@dpi.vic.gov.au                      E: drichardson@agaveeducation.com.au




Perennials make a bold statement
   a   fter more than seven years
       of research and almost
one year in preparation the ffi
                                                 one way mixed farmers can maintain
                                                 their profitability.”
                                                                                                   plants are most suitable for their needs and
                                                                                                   also find out more about different farming
                                                                                                   systems which include perennial plants.”
CRC’s Prospects for profitable                   the Prospects for profitable perennials in
perennials in mixed farming                      mixed farming systems publication is based        Farmer case studies support the scientific
systems publication will soon be                 on six years of research by the former CRC        data and demonstrate, in a practical way,
distributed to farmers, extension                for Plant-based Management of Dryland             how perennial plants are being successfully
officers and other industry                      salinity and provides perennial plant options     and profitability incorporated into Australian
stakeholders.                                    for farming regions across southern Australia.    mixed farming operations.

Put together by UWA researcher Dr sarita         “It takes a region-by-region approach based       The publication also includes a cost-benefit
Bennett, the publication comes as changing       on temperature, rainfall and soil type,”          analysis comparing perennial plants with
conditions threaten the sustainability of        Dr Bennett said.                                  annual forage and out-of-season feed and a
farming operations across southern Australia.                                                      weed risk analysis.
                                                 “During the past lucerne has been the most
“An increasingly variable climate and recent     popular perennial but i have also looked at       the Prospects for profitable perennials in
drought years have led to the realisation        other perennial legumes, grasses and herbs        mixed farming systems publication is set to
that current farming practices in the low- to    such as chicory.”                                 be released early during 2009.
medium-rainfall farming areas of Australia
need to be altered in order for farmers to       Dr Bennett said the publication was a handy
                                                 reference to perennial plants for both
                                                                                                        More information
remain viable,” Dr Bennett said.
                                                 farmers and extension officers.                   Dr Sarita Bennett, UWA
“perennial plants with deep roots can access
water in the soil profile, and as a result       “they can look at the information that is         T: (08) 6488 4841
provide out-of-season feed, are regarded as      relevant to their area, decide what perennial     E: sarita@cyllene.uwa.edu.au




                                                                                                        focus       ON PERENNIALS
                                                                                                                                                    9
      Risk protocol proves its
      worth with researchers
                                                         By Jill Griffiths                                ABOVE: Researchers have used the protocol to
                                                         Kondinin group                                   assess the potential weed risk of Enrich species



      t
                                                                                                          such as Rhagodia preissii. (Photo: J Emms)
              he Weed Risk protocol,
              developed under the ffi CRC
              Biodiversity Program, has               Dr stone said that researchers already had          ffi CRC researchers have been assessed
                                                      well-developed measures for assessing               using the Protocol (see Table 2). Each
     been published on the CRC’s website
                                                      aspects such as a plant’s toxicity, and meat        plant was assessed separately for Western
     and in the Journal of Experimental               and wool taint potential, but methods for           australia, south australia, victoria and new
     Agriculture. But what does it mean for           evaluating environmental weediness are              south Wales, as a plant’s potential as an
     researchers and landholders?                     still evolving.                                     environmental weed depends upon where it
                                                      Dr stone explained that the protocol was            is grown.
     Dr lynley stone, Department of Environment
     and Conservation, Wa (DEC) worked with           developed for southern australia and as such        “When species are found to have a low or
     researchers in the ffi CRC and CRC for           was quite general in the level of information       negligible environmental weed potential,
     Australian Weed Management to develop a          it could provide. she sees the protocol as a        that signals the end of our involvement,”
     Weed Risk assessment protocol. the protocol      dynamic document, which will be refined             Dr stone said.
     uses a series of questions about a plant’s       over time and could be adapted for
     biology and ecology to assess its potential to   specific areas.                                     Take these for example
     become an environmental weed.
                                                      “Natural Resource Management groups may             for example, birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus
     The CRC recognises it has a responsibility       want to develop specific weed risk protocols        corniculatus) (see Focus on Perennials
     to minimise the chance of new perennials         for their catchments, using the Protocol as         issue 2) has a low environmental risk so
     causing harm and to foster a risk-management     a starting point, with information on local         researchers can promote it knowing that
     culture within the organisation.                 conditions and priorities incorporated,”
                                                                                                          it is unlikely to cause problems in
                                                      Dr stone said.
                                                                                                          the environment.
                                                      Invasiveness, impacts and distribution            similarly, Melilotus siculus was found to have


        i key points                                  Questions on the protocol are divided into
                                                      sections relating to invasiveness, impacts
                                                      and potential distribution. plants are
                                                                                                        negligible environmental weed potential.
                                                                                                        Melilotus siculus is an annual legume that is
                                                                                                        highly tolerant to salinity and waterlogging.

        •                                             scored depending on the answers. Scores           Although the plant is naturalised in Australia,
            The Weed Risk Protocol uses                                                                 it is new to Australian agriculture and not
                                                      for each section are multiplied together to
            a questionnaire to assess its
                                                      acknowledge the interactions
            potential environmental weed risk
                                                      between the criteria and
        •   NRM groups can use the Protocol           to give a broad spread of
                                                      scores (i.e. invasiveness
                                                                                         Table 1. Weed Risk Protocol categories
            as a starting point for developing                                         Frequency band                 Weed risk score         Weed risk
            their own risk assessment protocol        x impacts x potential
                                                                                      80 — 100%                      greater than or        Very high
        •   Questions are divided into
                                                      distribution). plants are
                                                      then assigned a score           (top 20% of possible scores)   equal to 236
            sections relating to invasiveness,        and one of five weed risk       60 — 80%                       <236                   High
            impacts and potential distribution        categories (see Table 1).
        •   Researchers are embracing the             Dr stone said that it is a
                                                                                      40 — 60%                       <111                   Medium

            Protocol in their investigations of       lengthy process to assess       20 — 40%                       <49                    low
            potential plant species.                  a plant and, to date,           0 — 20%                        <18                    Negligible
                                                      15 plants of interest to




10
         focus        ON PERENNIALS                   i n n o vat i o n      in    p R o f i ta B l E      pEREnnial            fa R M i n g       systEMs
   Table 2. Completed weed risk assessments of species in the FFI CRC
 Species                                      WA            SA            Vic           NSW
                                                                                                      “The guidelines will be for land managers,”
 Orange wattle (Acacia saligna)               Medium       High          High          High
                                                                                                      Dr stone said. “the protocol is for plant
 old man saltbush (Atriplex nummularia)       low          low           Negligible    low            researchers but the management guidelines
                                                                                                      will give land managers information so they
 Wallaby grass (Austrodanthonia caespitosa)   low          low           Negligible    low            can make informed decisions about how they
                                                                                                      use a species, or if they use it at all.”
 Chicory (Cichorium intybus)                  Negligible   Negligible    Negligible    Negligible
                                                                                                      Guidelines may cover management aspects
 Cullen (Cullen australasicum)                low          low           Negligible    low
                                                                                                      such as preventing seed set or recommending
 Cocksfoot (Dactylis glomerata)               High         Medium        Medium        Medium         that a plant is not grown in particular
                                                                                                      areas, such as near watercourses. such
 Perennial veldt grass (Ehrharta calycina)    Very high    Very high     Medium        Medium         recommendations would depend upon an
 flat-topped yate (Eucalyptus occidentalis)   Negligible   Negligible    Negligible    Negligible
                                                                                                      understanding of the plant’s biology.
                                                                                                      Dr Stone said for many plants, management
 Flooded gum (Eucalyptus rudis)               low          low           Negligible    Negligible
                                                                                                      for profitability would also lead to
 Birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)       Negligible   Negligible    low           low            appropriate management for environmental
                                                                                                      weed risk. for example, the best pasture
 Panic grass (Megathyrsus maximus)            Medium       low           low           Medium         production of perennial grasses is generally
 Melilotus (Melilotus siculus)                Negligible   Negligible    Negligible    Negligible
                                                                                                      when plants are kept in an active growing
                                                                                                      phase, rather than a reproductive one. in
 Kikuyu (Pennisetum clandestinum)             High         High          Medium        High           their reproductive phase, grasses tend to
                                                                                                      grow rank and unpalatable and are less
 Rhagodia (Rhagodia preissii)                 Medium       low           low           low            nutritious. and it is in this phase that they
 Mountain rye (Secale strictum)               Negligible   Negligible    Negligible    Negligible     set seed and disperse propagules, which
                                                                                                      causes them to spread beyond pasture areas.
                                                                                                      for species that are found to have a very
available commercially. saRDi researcher             Some of the same biological traits important     high risk, the CRC policy is to not recommend
Andrew Craig is assessing its worthiness for         for agricultural potential were also important   their use and to remove them from trial
commercialisation and its potential value            for weed potential. others were measured         sites. Veldt grass (Ehrharta calycina) scores
to agriculture.                                      primarily due to their effect on weed            a very high risk for WA and SA so would not
                                                     potential. For example, seedling recruitment     be recommended in those states. in victoria
“We can go through a process to make sure
                                                     is not generally considered when assessing       and nsW it scores a medium risk, so would be
the plant is worthwhile agronomically but we
                                                                                                      subject to management guidelines.
also need to know it has low risk. We have           perennial shrubs’ agricultural potential, as
a duty of care to make sure there are no             they are planted out at optimal density when
insidious side effects, including its chances of                                                      the ffi CRC Weed Risk protocol can be
                                                     a stand is established so recruitment is not
becoming a weed,” Andrew said.                                                                        downloaded from: www.futurefarmcrc.com.
                                                     a necessary attribute. However, seedling
                                                                                                      au/publications.html
andrew, who was also involved in the early           recruitment is a contributing factor to a
stages of developing the Protocol, likened           plant’s weed potential so was measured on
it to insurance. He said it draws upon               species of interest to Enrich researchers.            More information
a different skill set to those that plant                                                             Dr lynley stone, DEC
                                                     Dr Emms said that the protocol provided a
breeders and agronomists traditionally have.                                                          T: (08) 9334 0313
                                                     necessary safe-guard for researchers but
“Plant breeders and agronomists are not              it was important not to consider it to be a      E: lynley.stone@dec.wa.gov.au
necessarily asking those questions that the          licence to proceed without caution.
Protocol asks. You need to ask the right                                                              BELOW: Dr Lynley Stone sees the Protocol as
questions to get the right answers,” he said.        “We don’t really know a lot about Rhagodia.      a dynamic document that can be adapted for
                                                     As our knowledge grows, our assessment may       specific areas over time. (Photo: J Emms)
“With Melilotus, we don’t really know how
                                                     change. It may be prudent for us to come
it will perform. the weed risk assessment
shows its potential as a weed is quite low           back to the protocol and reassess it later,”
— it does not appear to pose a significant           Dr Emms said.
threat. We have the reassurance that we
have a necessary check and balance that we           Management guidelines
didn’t have before.”                                 When a plant is found to have a medium
                                                     to high risk, management guidelines
Enriching experience                                 are developed to minimise its
Dr Jason Emms, a saRDi researcher with               environmental impact.
the Enrich project, said that one of the
Enrich species, Rhagodia preissii, has been          “for example kikuyu (Pennisetum
thoroughly assessed under the Protocol. It was       clandestinum) is widely promoted,
found to have low weed risk in sa, nsW and           but has a high to medium weed risk,
victoria and medium risk in Wa.                      especially in riparian environments,”
                                                     Dr stone said.
Dr Emms said that Rhagodia preissii was not
well researched previously and there were            Dr Stone is currently working on
scarce published data. as such, the Enrich           guidelines for kikuyu. The kikuyu
research was vital to completing                     guidelines will be the first developed
the protocol.                                        under the revised protocol and will
“Data collection has been increased to               provide the prototype for developing
gather information for the weed Protocol,”           future guidelines. they are expected
Dr Emms said.                                        to be completed by mid-2009.




                                                                                                           focus       ON PERENNIALS
                                                                                                                                                      11
                                         g i E s
                                 n o l o
                    E    t E C H
            D l i n
      H E a




     Workshopping the
     business of farming
      p
                                                       By Jill Griffiths                               ABOVE: Workshop participants work in pairs
             laying farmer for a day can                                                               to experience the vagaries of farming during a
                                                       Kondinin group
             have great benefits for anyone                                                            one-day workshop featuring a complex computer
             associated with the agricultural                                                          simulation. (Photo: A Abadi)
     industry, according to researcher
     Dr amir abadi.                                 environment and markets, all of which              one area of the farm can affect other areas
                                                    interplay in a real-world scenario.                of their business.
     Dr abadi, a business analyst with the
     Department of Environment and Conservation     Dr Abadi said that a wide range of people          “it’s not a lecture, seminar or symposium,”
     (Wa) and the ffi CRC, facilitates workshops    have participated in the workshops and all         Dr Abadi said. “It is a group of participants
     where participants experience the sorts of     can benefit in doing so. Participants have         working with a facilitator to go through a
     challenges farmers face on a regular basis.    included scientists, students, researchers,        set of circumstances. the software keeps
     participants use a computer model to make      bankers, natural resource management               us on track and ensures that agronomic and
     planning, managerial and financial decisions   officers and farmers.                              financial requirements are met.”
     for a hypothetical dryland broadacre farm.
     they are confronted with opportunities,        Growers who participate benefit from               the software at the heart of the workshops
     risks and uncertainties posed by climate,      seeing how innovations such as perennial           was developed by Dr Abadi and colleagues
                                                    pastures, trees or drains fit into their           at the ffi CRC. it places participants as
                                                    business from a whole-of-farm perspective.         the managers of a hypothetical broadacre


        i key points                                It helps paticipants see the cash flow,
                                                    profitability and hydrological consequences
                                                    of past decisions and their implications for
                                                    the future. The CRC also benefits because
                                                                                                       dryland farm.
                                                                                                       Credit, topographical and hydrological
                                                                                                       information is provided for the farm’s
        •   A computer model has been               Dr Abadi brings the perspectives of the            nine paddocks. year-to-date and forecast
                                                                                                       rainfall, market information, and commodity
            developed to help simulate a            participants back to the centre to help
            hypothetical dryland                    inform future research directions.                 prices are also provided, but in a limited
            broadacre farm                                                                             way — participants receive the information
                                                    “Farming is complex,” Dr Abadi said.               as ‘news’, piece by piece. they must make
        •   Workshop participants are               “It incorporates many things — biology,            their decisions on the information available,
            confronted with realistic               hydrology, finance.”                               then wait to see what happens in a way
            challenges and opportunities                                                               that mimics real-life, where farmers must
            which replicate real-life, on-farm      Facilitating a greater understanding               make decisions on the basis of available
            experiences                                                                                information but with much uncertainty.
                                                    Dr abadi said it is useful for researchers and
        •   The workshops simulate up to            bankers to see the many different aspects
                                                    that farmers need to contend with in making
                                                                                                       Group interaction
            25 years of farm management
            experiences in a single day.            their decisions. And for farmers, it is good for   The workshop is run over one day, during
                                                    them to see how their decisions in managing        which up to 30 participants work in pairs




12
         focus          ON PERENNIALS               i n n o vat i o n      in    p R o f i ta B l E    pEREnnial            fa R M i n g    systEMs
                                                                                                    H E a D l i
                                                                                                                n E     t E C H
                                                                                                                                n o l o
                                                                                                                                        g i E s




to manage their ‘farm’ for up to 25 years,
dealing with the cumulative impacts of
their decisions and seasonal fluctuations.
Everything is explained to participants —
they are not expected to have expertise
or extensive background knowledge on the
subjects discussed.

Real-life dynamics
Participants are challenged to make
commercially viable choices. for example,
the program will not allow participants to
revegetate the entire farm at once. The
program will not provide ‘finance’ for such a
project; the software tracks the equity of the
business from year to year and it will only
permit commercially viable options.
Similarly, decisions must be agronomically
sound. Participants will see their profits
continue to decline, and their need for
                                                   unrealistic assumptions or perceptions. the     ABOVE: Each tile (at left of screen) gives a
inputs continue to rise, if they try to crop
                                                   facilitator needs to have knowledge of farm     summary of how a paddock is being managed in
wheat across the entire farm year after year.                                                      any given year. It also shows the returns from
                                                   management, finance, risk, adult learning,
However, if they sow lupins for a year or                                                          the field in that year. Participants learn about
                                                   agronomy, livestock and hydrology. This
lucerne for a few years, then they will see an                                                     the farm and its features including the nine
                                                   helps the facilitator bring out the teachable
increased return on the wheat they sow the                                                         paddocks (fields).
                                                   moments for the cohort of participants,
following year, reflecting the real-life benefit
                                                   who come from different walks of life,”
of crop rotation.
                                                   Dr abadi said.                                  “It’s real enough to perturb people but it’s
The parameters of the game are set, but                                                            not so real as to bog people down. It’s about
                                                   Monica Durcan from Avongro and Michael
the results are contingent on the decisions                                                        having fun and learning something as well.
                                                   stace from Rabobank participated in a trial
made by participants. During the course
                                                   version of the Farm Business Workshop during    “The game is a scenario. Where else are you
some participants find that their earlier
                                                   August this year.                               going to be able to see how your decisions
management decisions impede their ability to
implement desired farm plans. Depending on                                                         will play out 25 years on?
                                                   Monica, who is in the business of promoting
how they manage their ‘farm’, participants         tree crops on broadacre farmland, said the      “You can go to various specialists to find out
may have insufficient funds and equity to          workshop was a “very good” exercise.            about different things, but who tells the big
cover the costs of their proposed farm plan.                                                       picture of how it all fits together? No-one
Understanding this dynamic aspect of               “It’s good for people like me who promote
                                                                                                   sits down and talks about how all these new
running a business is a real eye opener for        tree crops but don’t really know about other
                                                                                                   things fit together. The game lets people see
many participants.                                 farm business considerations and it’s good
                                                                                                   the ‘whole-of-the-farm’ concept. it helps
                                                   for farmers who know all about cropping and
                                                                                                   people manage risk in the short and
Capacity building                                  planning but don’t necessarily know about
                                                                                                   long term.”
                                                   tree crops,” Monica said.
Dr abadi considers this workshop to be                                                             Dr Abadi said that participants work together
a training opportunity that is ideal as            Michael said the workshop was thought
                                                                                                   to bring a new dynamic to the situation.
a capacity-building exercise. It enables           provoking and a worthwhile exercise, but
                                                                                                   the facilitator’s role is to push participants
mutually beneficial consultation between           felt that it was too biased towards putting
                                                                                                   to make new distinctions, to work together
CRC researchers, growers and agribusiness          trees on farms. He added that he thought
                                                                                                   to question each others’ paradigms and
specialists.                                       the program had been fine-tuned since the
                                                                                                   complement each others’ work.
                                                   workshop he did.
a farmer who attended a precursor to the                                                           The workshops are sponsored by the FFI CRC
current workshops said that he enjoyed the         Dr Abadi said the program is updated using
                                                   information from completed workshops so         and attendance is free.
workshop and believed it was “a great tool to
learn more about risk”.                            that errors and biases are removed and the
                                                   program continually improves.                        More information
A commodity marketing advisor who attended
that same workshop said: “no other workshop        “The most important thing is that the           Dr amir abadi, DEC
so clearly illustrates the real profitability      training workshop has evolved as business,      T: (08) 9334 0816
drivers of farm businesses. A good feature is      policy and scientific needs have evolved
                                                                                                   E: amir.abadi@dec.wa.gov.au
that the program encourages participants to        since 1995 (when he first started working
get a feel for risk/reward ratios, or how to       on it),” Dr abadi said. “the workshops are
handle farm business risk according to their       continuing to evolve to address the business
own needs and preferences”.                        and environmental needs of the community.”
                                                   Dr Abadi said that although the software
Expert facilitation required                       package was designed to mimic reality, it is
Dr abadi said that for the workshop to be          not reality; it is a game, and there are no
effective, a skilled facilitator is required.      right or wrong answers.
“It can’t go on the internet or be an off-the-     “it’s about a narrative that we tell that
shelf product,” he said. “Participants benefit     engenders debate and discussion in the room.
from having a facilitator help diagnose the        It’s an awareness-raising exercise,”
issues, integrate the ideas and question           Dr abadi said.




                                                                                                        focus         ON PERENNIALS
                                                                                                                                                      13
                                                                                                        LEFT: The development of perennial crop
                                                                                                        varieties, such as perennial wheat, could be the
                                                                                                        solution to the age-old challenge of ecologically-
                                                                                                        sound food supply. (Photo: C Nicholls)




                                                                                                        grain production — the ultimate goal is to
                                                                                                        grow perennial grains in cropping systems
                                                                                                        that contain more than one species.
                                                                                                        “the simplest system would include a
                                                                                                        perennial cereal and a legume that grows
                                                                                                        only vegetatively, for nitrogen fixation,”
                                                                                                        Dr Cox explained.
                                                                                                        “But eventually, two or more species


     Perennial crop systems
                                                                                                        both grown for seed harvests in as-yet
                                                                                                        undetermined sowing arrangements could
                                                                                                        provide more resilience, closer to the highly
                                                                                                        diverse perennial systems that covered what


      — future of food
                                                                                                        are now agricultural lands.”
                                                                                                        In Western Australia, alternating strips of
                                                                                                        trees and perennial wheat could serve to
                                                                                                        obtain successful production while preventing




      p
                                                                                                        the rise in water tables that causes
             erennial grains combined                  “Unfortunately our ancestors made an honest      increasing salinity problems.
             with established and novel                mistake 5000 to 10,000 years ago,” he said.
             sustainable-agriculture                                                                    Local developments
                                                       “They ended up domesticating exclusively
     practices could help end the conflict             annual crops such as wheat and maize,            Research into suitable perennial wheat
     between food production and                       even though they were gathering seed from        options for australian conditions continues to
     ecological health according to                    perennial plants at the time, they did not       progress (see Focus on Perennials issue 3).
     Dr stan Cox, senior scientist at the              domesticate those.                               CSIRO researcher Dr Phil Larkin is leading the
     Land Institute, United States.                    “that led to a host of problems over the         team of Australian researchers investigating
                                                       centuries. More civilisations have fallen to     the suitability of perennial wheat germplasm
     Visiting Australia to speak at the recent                                                          imported from the US for Australian
     Australian Society of Agronomy Conference,        the plough than to soil erosion.”
                                                                                                        conditions.
     Dr Cox shared his views on the role
     researchers and agonomists are playing in         Legacy of the annual crop                        the perennial wheat team recently met at
     broadening future food supplies through the       Dr Cox explains that before the dawn of          the new south Wales Dpi Cowra research
     development of perennial crop varieties.          agriculture more than 95 per cent of the         station in to consider how to best manage
                                                       planet’s surface was inhabited by a mixture      the trial site to achieve favourable conditions
     “Agriculture’s impact on the Earth has been                                                        that best express the variety’s capacity for
                                                       of perennial crops.
     amplified by industrial farming, but the                                                           perenniality and summer dormancy. How to
     fundamental problem has its origins 10,000        “Agriculture has undone all of that and the      maximise seed increase for more extensive
     years ago, in the domestication of annual         lower layers of the soil suffered because of     assessment of the most promising accessions
     crops that are still the staples of the global    it,” he said.                                    was also discussed.
     food supply,” Dr Cox said.
                                                       One of the most striking results of annual       The team also made new plans regarding
     annual crops with ephemeral, often                cropping has been the emergence of soil          future experimentation to assess extent of
     low-density, root systems have a lower            salinisation in parts of australia.              the root systems, disease resistance and
     capacity than perennials to foster microbial                                                       genomic composition for the different kinds
     ecosystems in the soil or micro-manage            In an effort to resolve a range of modern        of perennial wheat being trialled.
     nutrients and water. and the means                agricultural dilemmas, such as salinity,
     modern agriculture currently relies on to         plant breeders in the US, Australia and          “The accessions we have growing are diverse
     overcome weaknesses of annual crops cannot        other countries are now breeding perennial       and interesting. Some are much like wheat
     simultaneously resolve the key problems.          counterparts of annual grain and legume          in morphology and seed size, while others
                                                       crops, including wheat, wheatgrasses,            more like the Agropyron grass parent,”
     for example, no-till methods curtail erosion      sorghum, sunflower and others. With longer       Dr larkin said.
     in the top layer of soil but, done consistently   growing seasons and a greater opportunity
     on a large scale, require heavier use of                                                           “As well as the prospects of contributing
                                                       for carbon fixation, these diverse systems       a perennial habit, we suspected that
     chemical inputs and leave the lower soil          aim for both grazing and grain production.
     profile unimproved. Conversely, organic                                                            the Agropyron parent would donate
     methods eliminate toxic pesticides but not        “The germplasm and strategies are in place       new resistances to significant diseases.
     the soil erosion and water deterioration that     to develop perennial cereals, oilseeds, and      preliminary experiments are encouraging of
     occur as consequences of tillage.                 grain legumes,” Dr Cox said.                     this expectation.”

     “We’re consequently trying to develop             “The time scale needed to bring such crops
                                                       to the farm varies across species.”
                                                                                                             More information
     perennial grain crops to replace annual crops
     agronomists work with today,” Dr Cox said.                                                         Dr phil larkin, CsiRo
                                                       Although some perennial grain species could
     there are currently no perennial crops            be available many years before others, and       T: (02) 62146 5060
     in production.                                    some could have dual uses — for grazing and      E: philip.larkin@csiro.au



14
         focus        ON PERENNIALS                    i n n o vat i o n      in   p R o f i ta B l E   pEREnnial             fa R M i n g      systEMs
Bring on the
                                                                                                 LEFT: Enrich aims to develop profitable and
                                                                                                 sustainable integrated farming systems.
                                                                                                 (Photo: D Revell)




revolution and
                                                                                                 great interest and funding support from JVAP
                                                                                                 along with Meat & livestock australia and
                                                                                                 australian Wool innovation.”
                                                                                                 for alex, Enrich is the icon of the woody



the tree crops
                                                                                                 revolution in southern Australia, presenting a
                                                                                                 broad range of activities aimed at developing
                                                                                                 profitable and sustainable integrated farming
                                                                                                 systems in the livestock-cropping zones.
                                                                                                 “One of these activities involves modelling
                                                                                                 new farming systems that incorporate shrubs
                                                                                                 in different areas of the cropping-livestock
                                                                                                 zone, exploring scenarios based on biological,
                                                                                                 economic and environmental issues likely to
                                                                                                 affect the whole-farm profitability of shrubs.




 a
                                                   By Bruce Munday                               “the MiDas model has been used to optimise
       gricultural change occurs                   Jvap                                          profitability against familiar factors such
       incrementally, but every so often                                                         as plant density, biomass, nutritive value,
       it takes a leap forward in what                                                           establishment cost, and commodity prices.
we might describe as a revolution.                                                               What is quite exciting is the modelling for
                                                change, emissions trading, alternative energy
                                                                                                 Co2 sequestration.
                                                sources, and a move from drought assistance
The benchmark is probably the agrarian          toward drought preparedness or resilience.       “If agriculture is included in a carbon trading
revolution of 18th century Europe; most                                                          scheme, shrubs could potentially increase
recently we think of the green Revolution       “to my mind this opens the door to a woody
                                                                                                 farm profit by attracting payments for
following World War II with agricultural        revolution based on ‘tree cropping’.             long-term carbon sequestration,” Alex said.
chemicals and improved crops.                   “i use the term ‘tree crops’ rather than         “Preliminary modelling indicates the profit
                                                agroforestry, for several reasons:               maximising area of shrubs on some farms
In a keynote address to the VegFutures
                                                                                                 increases markedly as the price of carbon
Conference in toowoomba, Wa farmer                •    scale will only be achieved if the        increases. if it reaches $50 per tonne of Co2
and board member of the Rural industries               enterprise is profitable to the farmer    equivalent, the optimal shrub area may be
Research and Development Corporation                                                             four-fold higher than without a carbon price.
(RiRDC), alex Campbell, predicted that “the       •    future woody crops in lower rainfall
next revolution of the 21st century will be            areas are likely to be short rotation     “Even without a price on carbon, incorporating
toward ‘tree crops’, or the domestication              and more closely resemble an annual       perennial shrubs into mixed farming
and commercialisation of a host of perennial           cropping system than long rotation        enterprises boosts profit. This means that
woody plants for a multitude of end uses.”             plantation activity                       producers can confidently start plantings now
                                                                                                 and be ahead, regardless of carbon pricing.
alex homed in on four simultaneous                •    Mechanisation of short rotation woody
triggers for this revolution, at least in              crops could well use, at least in part,   “given the economic and environmental
southern australia:                                    existing farm machinery and handling      conditions farmers are operating in, it is no
                                                       and storage infrastructure                surprise that many are taking a very active
  •   the rapid decline of native forests,
                                                  •    A ‘crop’ that is resistant to drought,    interest in the Enrich project as the standard
      or at least access to them                                                                 bearer of the next agricultural revolution.”
                                                       flood, fire and frost and can be
  •   Rising global population and living              harvested throughout the year offers      1
                                                                                                     JVAP — a partnership of RIRDC, Land & Water Australia,
      standards                                        enormous economic diversification,        and Forest & Wood Products Australia.

  •   Global warming and the need for                  social and environmental benefits.
      carbon sequestration                      “Historically the mainstream RDCs have                     More information
  •   post ‘peak oil’ production and its        shown little interest in farm forestry, but      Bruce Munday, Jvap
      implication for the price of fuel and     ffi CRC’s Enrich project, evaluating native
                                                woody shrub species for use as forage in         T: (08) 8538 7075
      oil-based products.
                                                integrated grazing systems, has attracted        E: bruce.m42@bigpond.com
“More than a decade ago the Joint Venture

                                                       Enrich update
Agroforestry Program (JVAP)1 reported that
market potential for environmental services
provided by farm forestry were at best

                                                        t
minimal and generally non-existent,”                        he latest addition to the                  the trial shrubs have been selected from
alex commented.                                             Enrich stable is a native                  an intensive screening of more than 60
“that report added that land use policies             forage shrub evaluation trial                    species for biomass production, nutritive
at the time sanctioned or at least tolerated          consisting of 50 species and 4700                value for livestock, and bioactive
many land use activities with high negative           plants at the Condobolin new                     effects on rumen micro organisms and
externalities. there was little policy                South Wales DPI Agricultural                     gastrointestinal parasites. They were
incentive for activities which generate               Research and advisory station.                   selected from two project planting sites
positive externalities, for example improving                                                          in south australia and Western australia
catchment health, mitigating salinity, or             The trial is exploring the potential             during the past three years.
absorbing CO2.                                        use of native australian shrubs for low
“Of course times have changed and markets             rainfall (300-600 mm) farming systems.                 More information
and government policies now appear to be              Condobolin was selected for the focus
                                                      of the main nsW evaluation as it                 Dr Dean Revell,
catching up with environmental realities.
We now have a government in Australia                 represents a large area of the NSW low           CsiRo livestock industries
that is committed to recognition of climate           rainfall mixed farming zone.                     E: dean.revell@csiro.au




                                                                                                          focus           ON PERENNIALS
                                                                                                                                                              15
  About Focus on
  Perennials
      Focus on Perennials is a quarterly research-in-progress newsletter
published by the Future Farm Industries CRC Ltd (FFI CRC) ACN 125 594 765.

ffi CRC was established in 2007 under the Commonwealth government’s
CRC Programme and builds on the research of the CRC for Plant-based
Management of Dryland Salinity. FFI CRC is a unique co-investment between
meat, grains and wool industry research corporations, the Landmark
agribusiness company, and the combined research power of CSIRO, six State
agencies and four universities. For further information about FFI CRC visit
www.futurefarmcrc.com.au

Focus on Perennials draws on the work of both CRCs, to describe the
potential application of Profitable Perennials™ to innovative farming systems
and new regional industries better adapted to southern Australian               FFI CRC Contacts:
dryland–farming conditions.
                                                                                CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER
The information contained in this newsletter has been published in good         Kevin goss
faith by FFI CRC to assist public knowledge and discussion and to help          T: (08) 6488 2555
improve profitability of farming and sustainable management of natural
                                                                                E: kevin.goss@futurefarmcrc.com.au
resources and biodiversity. neither ffi CRC nor the participants in the
CRC endorse or recommend any products identified by trade name, nor is
                                                                                REsEaRCH DiRECtoR
any warranty implied by the CRC and its participants about information
presented in Focus on Perennials. Readers should contact the authors or         Mike Ewing
contacts provided and conduct their own enquiries before making use of the      T: (08) 6488 1876
information in Focus on Perennials.                                             E: mike.ewing@futurefarmcrc.com.au

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