Young, enthusiastic farmers are like gold in the Wheatbelt, providing innovative ideas to make farming life more sustainable.
For Bencubbin’s Jeananne and Chris Jack, their focus is on the development of tree crops in an often marginal farming area, while continuing to keep land within their annual production system.
They have already planted more than 90 hectares of sandalwood, with plans for a new trial backed by natural resource management group Wheatbelt NRM.
The research project will be the first of its kind in WA to establish if forage shrubs can be used as long term hosts for sandalwood.
Sandalwood trees are a plant that need host trees to give them extra water and nutrients by tapping into their roots.
Jeananne and Chris Jack’s enthusiasm for the species comes from their ability to grow a native tree on their sandy, unproductive cropping land, with a proven market place come harvest.
The couple is now keen to extend the value of the species by including it in their livestock program.
“Due to the great work done by the Mt Marshall Sandalwood Inc. we’ve been able to obtain funding to plant more than 90 hectares of Sandalwood plantations,” Chris Jack said.
“With the help of Wheatbelt NRM, we can now trial using sheep forage shrubs in the host mix amongst the sandalwood.”
Wheatbelt NRM has agreed to fund the forage shrub trial to the tune of $17,500.
“We initially became interested in sandalwood plantations because of their ability to regenerate areas of the farm that were unprofitable to crop and prone to soil erosion if grazed,” Chris Jack said.
“The harvesting of sandalwood trees is an age old industry with a proven market, and by using lots of different species as native hosts, this has a great impact on bringing back biodiversity to the area.”
Jeananne Jack said this could also lead to the establishment of other industries such as apiary or bee keeping.
“Due to the fact that sandalwood trees take 25 years to mature, we’re keen to investigate how these plantations could further contribute in the medium term, to whole -farm profitability,” Jeananne Jack said.
“In our existing plantations the land has already begun to regenerate, leading to more ground cover and less wind erosion.
“In time the trees and shrubs will act as an effective wind break and shade in summer for the sheep.
“With this sheep forage trial, by adding more forage shrubs to the already diverse mix of host trees, we increase the availability of feed and time that we can graze on the plantations.”
Part of the trial will involve monitoring the different species of forage shrubs on how they impact on wool production and quality, lambing rates and overall livestock health.
Jeananne and Chris Jack farm a little over 5000 hectares and plan on increasing their sheep program as the forage crops grow.
Wheatbelt NRM’s Jo Wheeler said the project was about finding the best forage for sheep while the trees matured.
“This is a whole of farm solution, tackling unproductive land and making it more sustainable,” Jo Wheeler said.
“Wheatbelt NRM sees this as a valuable project because it can be replicated by other farmers in other parts of the Wheatbelt, regardless of rainfall.
“We already know sandalwood is profitable and there is a market for sandalwood, whether it be for its perfume, oil or timber, but it can take up to 20 years for the tree to become of market value.
“We also know that forage shrubs are playing an increasingly important role in our livestock grazing systems, providing feed over the summer/autumn feed gap as well as providing important nutritional benefits through increased micro-nutrients and trace elements available in the shrubs.
“It would be great to bring these independently profitable and innovative management systems together to give that land a purpose and a return now and over the long term.”
The 10-hectare trial site will be planted in two, three row belts with the belts about 10 metres apart.
The rows will consist of one row with a short-lived host tree and sandalwood with the other two rows containing the long lived host trees and forage species.
The shrubs for the trial have been selected from the Enrich project findings; these shrubs have been found to increase vitamin E levels, reduce methane emissions and reduce worm burden.
The forage species will include Atriplex nummularia, Acacia saligna, Eremophila glabra, Maireana brevifolia, Enchylaena tomentosa, Acacia assimilis, Rhagodia preisii, and Wanderi grass.
One of the pioneers of plantation sandalwood in the Mt Marshall district has been Bob Huxley.
He’s estimated about 2000 hectares of the native trees have been planted in the district, with establishment costs at around $800 a hectare.
For Jeananne and Chris Jack it’s a worthwhile investment, both confident they will have a market for the timber.
“But what I’m more confident about is getting a return on land that hasn’t been productive,” Chris Jack said.
“We’re tackling problems like salinity and wind erosion, providing an important feed source and shelter belt for sheep while at the same time diversifying into something that will give us a return in the long term.”