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Wheatbelt farmer given boost to improve soil health

Meckering farmer Colin Pearse has been given a significant boost in the fight against salinity on his farm.
After pressure from his son to address the problem of water logging, the third generation farmer has received a grant of $50,000 to tackle the declining soil health associated with saline land on his farm.
“My 22 year old son Joshua encouraged me to apply, because he wants to be involved in the farm and if this problem continues, it’s going to make it difficult for him to manage later on,” Colin Pearse said.
“To be honest, I was surprised we were successful in the application because I’ve only ever been involved in grants through our local land care groups.
“This is the first time I’ve done it as an individual.”
The funding has come from natural resource management group Wheatbelt NRM’s Soil Conservation Incentive Program, funded by the Australian Government’s Caring for our Country Program.
The project funds will be used to plant up to 100,000 trees and salt tolerant fodder shrubs in just one year.
The group’s project manager for sustainable agriculture Georgie Troup, said it was the largest contribution of all applicants in this round of funding.
“In this project Wheatbelt NRM is providing all the seedlings, but Colin is contributing the largest amount which is the land, labour and equipment to plant them,” Georgie Troup said.
“Providing the tree is only a small part of the overall management picture.”
As part of the integrated approach to tackling the wind & water erosion issues, five sites totaling 120 hectares have been earmarked for revegetation.
Colin Pearse is hoping the strategy will help preserve his productive country on the 2650 hectare mixed farming enterprise.
“Over the years we constantly have had to manage salinity and water logging in this valley floor,” Colin Pearse said.
“In recent years the salinity and water logged areas have started to increase and creep up the hill to the productive country.
“We’d already planted saltbush which had helped, but you need to take an integrated approach.
“Another factor is that we straddle the highway, the railway line and the water pipe and that itself creates water logging.
“It creates a barrier and the water can’t drain through the soil profile because of the compaction.”
Work already done by Colin Pearse included the construction of shallow drains using a three-point linkage grader blade to a depth of 20 centimetres, to relieve surface ponding in flat areas.
“There’s also next to no trees, hence the reason to apply for a grant to plant blocks of trees,” he said.
“We’re going to plant oil mallees and then two types of salt bush in the really salty areas that won’t sustain the trees.”
Wheatbelt NRM’s Georgie Troup said the project could be replicated on many different farms.
“But this application caught our eye because it’s such a large project that is integrated and not just trying to put out spot fires,” she said.
“It’s no secret that funding to tackle salinity has dropped off the radar since 2009.
“But the reason projects like this have been successful is because the Australian government has widened its targets under the Caring for our Country program.
“This project has been developed to address soil health issues at a whole of farm scale by putting vegetation back on the land.
“By revegetating saline land it should reduce the wind and water erosion problem, while also providing feed for Colin’s stock and potential carbon credits in future years.
“It is a win-win situation.”
When it comes to tree farming Georgie Troup brings a wealth of knowledge to Wheatbelt NRM, after working for one of the country’s leading carbon companies.
“With Clean Energy Futures now a reality, we are looking forward to working with farmers on how the potential benefits of carbon farming can be integrated into their farm business.
“I think there has been a complete halt to farmer investment in tree planting because of drought which has led to financial constraints, but also farmers relying on the government and private companies to pick up the slack,” Georgie Troup said.
“Now with the passing of the Clean Energy Futures bill, farmers have the incentive to once again include revegetation activities in their farm budget.
“It could just be 2000 trees each year, and while it doesn’t seem a lot, it’s vital.
“The danger is that if farmers don’t address their smaller, unproductive areas, these areas will grow.
“We can’t rely on others to come in and solve the problem, because there are still plenty of sites on farms that carbon companies don’t want to touch.”
Colin Pearse agreed there had been a decline in farmer investment in tackling natural resource management.
“When we do a budget, tree planting projects are one of the first things that are cut,” Colin Pearse said.
“So in our case, without this funding, we would have only been able to go ahead on a minute scale, and there’s every chance our soil health, water logging and salinity issues would only get worse.”