Salinity still looms over rural Australia

The environmental debate may have shifted but Australia still cannot afford to overlook the threat of salinity.

Future Farm Industries CRC (FFI CRC) CEO Kevin Goss told the Second International Salinity Forum Science Brief in Adelaide today that recent drought conditions had taken the spotlight off salinity.

“Concerns about water over-allocation and the onset of climate change have become a priority for government policy makers, but the plight of farmers and rural communities immediately affected by dryland salinity should not be overlooked,” Goss said.

“There is already two million hectares of farmland affected by salinity which has caused major productivity and habitat losses, and which threaten extinction of about 300 plant and animal species.

“The amount of land subjected to salinity could possibly double if investment into research and adoption of water efficient farming systems is wound down or discontinued.”

He said that while earlier predictions regarding the extent of salinity were exaggerated, 30 years of media campaigns, training programs and extension initiatives to reduced salinity had proved largely ineffective.

“But I was pleased to see in 2007 all State Governments adopt a set of new salinity management investment principles that guided them to more targeted and effective application of public funds.

“However, I am yet to see any evidence that they are being followed except in regional trials in the North Central Catchment Management Authority of Victoria and the South Coast Natural Resource Management Group within WA that are working with FFI CRC.”

He said research into salt-affected land, such as that done by the former CRC for the Plant-based Management of Dryland Salinity (CRC Salinity), had already come up with new ways to be productive and reduce environmental impacts.

“Much of the research done to reduce the impacts of salinity, particularly the use of more drought tolerant perennial plants, can be applied to more productive and sustainable farming systems.

“In other words, much of the dryland salinity mitigation research done by CRC Salinity can now be used to help farmers remain productive in a drying climate while still providing them a salinity benefit.

“For example, saltbush and other perennial plants that remain green throughout the year can provide an additional source of fodder during the drier months or in periods of drought.

“In higher rainfall areas these plants can increase farm productivities by 50% through efficient use of rainfall and groundwater.”

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