Level of Confidence in Saltbush & understorey

1.     Farmer experiences
Farmers with saltbush & understorey pastures report many benefits (such as increased production, enhanced amenity, delayed grazing of other pastures after the autumn break, more land for livestock during the cropping season and out-of-season green pick) but the costs and returns are rarely quantified. Comments such as this are common.
Since the mid 1990s, we have planted about 100,000 seedlings of saltbush and the results have been encouraging. We generally get a good survival rate and the sheep can graze the areas after a year or so. We also have more grass and medics returning to complement the saltbush. Last year we tried some Frontier balansa clover, but the season was unkind. However we know of others who have had success with Frontier, so we will try again this year.

2.     Research
In 1998 a research paper titled ‘Saltland pastures? They are feasible and sustainable – we need a new design’ outlined the saltbush & understorey concept and effectively revitalised R&D into saltland pastures. Since that time, saltbush & understorey has been the most researched saltland pasture and is now underpinned by a high level of confidence.

3.     Risks and challenges
Establishment of both the saltbush and the understorey on saltland sites is always more risky than for non-saline areas.

Young saltbush plants, especially if direct seeded, are very susceptible to weed competition and insect attack. Controlling these pests and weeds to allow the saltbush to establish will automatically improve the situation for the under-storey species

4. Future prospects
There is now a considerable body of research evidence and farmer experience to show that ‘saltbush and understorey’ has three main benefits:

  1. Improved whole farm profit from the extra feed produced, particularly if the extra feed can be utilised in autumn and replace hand feeding;
  2. Improved visual amenity for the saltland;
  3. Environmental benefits in the form of lowered watertables and biodiversity improvements.

This suite of benefits and the large areas to which this solution is suited mean it has significant future prospects and will continue to be a focus for researchers and farmers.

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