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Beyond the Bale : Jun - July 08
F or the past two years, farmers and researchers have been crawling around on hands and knees setting traps for insects, laying cotton strips in the soil and looking up into the sky. They are part of the Biodiversity in Grain & Graze (BiGG) project, which is investigating the relationship between biodiversity and on-farm production on 47 mixed farms across Australia. BiGG set out to explore the links between enterprise diversity and biodiversity, with the ultimate aim of finding how to improve natural diversity in agricultural landscapes. BiGG researchers and farmers found more than 181 bird species (including 33 rare and threatened species). Team members logged more than 230,000 individual ‘bugs’ representing more than 504 different species of beetles, 858 ant taxa and 330 different spiders. New beetles and several rare native weevils were also found. “Many of Australia’s mixed-farming landscapes have been extensively cleared, and species that relied upon them – such as woodland birds – have declined in number,” says Dr Kerry Bridle, national coordinator of the BiGG project. “This makes on-farm remnant vegetation of considerable national value and significance, and its value to farms is also significant.” The remnant vegetation areas on farms had the greatest wealth of bird, plant and invertebrate species. According to Dr Bridle, good-quality remnant vegetation helps to preserve threatened species and even remnants that are small or in poor condition can provide habitat for a wide variety of native plants and animals. However, the key message from the project is that biodiversity does not start and stop in the remnants. It is found across the entire farm and can be a benefit to production. As he nears retirement age, Victorian mixed farmer Chris Lang has become more reflective about what life on the land means to him and his family and the other living creatures that share their 2500-hectare property ‘Titanga’, at Lismore. Merino sheep comprise two-thirds of the Lang’s business and cropping the remaining third. “People farm for different reasons,” Chris says. “My aim is to enjoy myself and make sure I don’t stuff it up for the next farmer.” In tandem with the local Landcare group, Chris and his wife Val started restoring the vegetation along the creeks and gullies of ‘Titanga’. Chris’s brother Andrew has started developing woodlots, some with a harvesting cycle of more than 30 years. Now a tenth of the farm is shelter belts or woodlots. Some of the non-financial impacts of the trees planted over the past 25 years are clearly visible – and audible – to the Langs. “The greatest benefit is probably from the shelter they provide,” Chris says. “We’ve got about 90 species of birds. You can also tell if a crop has an outbreak of grubs by the line of crows on the fence posts. And it gives us a buzz to hear the brolgas calling in the early morning.” Lifestyle consideration is an important part of the decision-making process. Chris says that on a long-term average, the woodlots return a gross margin of $120 a hectare per year, the sheep return $250/ha a year and the cropping returns more than $350/ha a year. However, the family is prepared to accept a slightly lower return on crops by taking actions that encourage biodiversity. “I didn’t have any idea at the start that all this was going to be such an important issue.” ú More information: Richard Price, Grain & Graze national coordinator, 02 6295 6300, 0409 624 297; Gillian Stewart, 02 6263 6042; Merryn West, 02 6263 6013; www.grainandgraze.com.au BiGG effort to improve on-farm biodiversity The Biodiversity in Grain & Graze (BiGG) project is investigating if there is a connection between enterprise diversity and increased biodiversity Grain & Graze Beyond the Bale a Ready ReckoneR foR GRazinG deciSionS When grazing cereal crops, knowing how much feed is available at the start of the grazing period is essential. as part of the Grain & Graze program, two new ‘ready reckoners’ have been developed for livestock producers. available free from aWi, the ready reckoners provide an easy way to estimate the amount of dry matter available for grazing. To use the high-rainfall version ready reckoner Simply stand the measurement tool up in the crop and read the estimated dry matter from the ruler on the spine. The broad relationship is that each one centimetre of crop height is equivalent to 65 kilograms of dry matter per hectare. Therefore, a crop 10cm high is equivalent to 650kg/ha of feed. To use the low-rainfall version ready reckoner Use the guidance provided on the ready reckoner to take crop cuts at five random locations across the paddock. Compare the weight of the sample collected with the table on the ready reckoner to determine the amount of dry matter per hectare available for grazing. The ready reckoners are particularly helpful in explaining the different estimates depending on crop type (wheat, barley or triticale), row spacing and sowing rate. They also give farmers simple steps for calculating a grazing budget, and explain how to accurately determine growth stage 30 – a critical stage to cease grazing to avoid a loss of grain yield. More information: the Grain & Graze ready reckoners are available free from the aWi helpline, 100 070 099 Thinking Bigg a case-study booklet, Thinking BiGG: mixed farming families tell their stories of biodiversity, and accompanying audio CD, Talking BiGG, will be released in June. To order your free copy of the booklet or CD, contact CanPrint on 1300 656 863 or email firstname.lastname@example.org, quoting Land and Water australia and the following product codes: Pn20689 (Thinking BiGG), Pn20691 (Talking BiGG). Victorian farmers Val and Chris Lang have been working to ensure their Merino enterprise will continue to exist profitably within a landscape that also accommodates diverse and healthy natural habitats. Part of this plan has involved fencing off the property’s gullies and creeks to allow them to revegetate. PhoTo: BraD CoLLiS
Jun - Jul 08 Supplement
Aug - Sep 08