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Article << Previous     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 46(7)

The role of livestock in the management of dryland salinity

D. Masters A H, N. Edwards B, M. Sillence C, A. Avery D, D. Revell A, M. Friend C, P. Sanford E, G. Saul F, C. Beverly D, J. Young G

A CSIRO Livestock Industries and Cooperative Research Centre for Plant-based Management of Dryland Salinity, Private Bag 5, Wembley, WA 6913, Australia.
B South Australian Research and Development Institute and Cooperative Research Centre for Plant-based Management of Dryland Salinity, PO Box 618, Naracoorte, SA 5271, Australia.
C School of Agricultural & Veterinary Sciences, Charles Sturt University and Cooperative Research Centre for Plant-based Management of Dryland Salinity, Locked Bag 588, Wagga Wagga, NSW 2678, Australia.
D Primary Industries Research Victoria and Cooperative Research Centre for Plant-based Management of Dryland Salinity, RMB 1145, Rutherglen, Vic. 3685, Australia.
E Department of Agriculture and Food Western Australia and Cooperative Research Centre for Plant-based Management of Dryland Salinity, Albany Highway, Albany, WA 6330, Australia.
F Primary Industries Research Victoria and Cooperative Research Centre for Plant-based Management of Dryland Salinity, Private Bag 105, Hamilton, Vic. 3300, Australia.
G Farming Systems Analysis Service, RMB 309, Kojonup, WA 6395, Australia.
H Corresponding author. Email: david.masters@csiro.au
 
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Abstract

Management of dryland salinity in Australia will require changes in the design and utilisation of plant systems in agriculture. These changes will provide new opportunities for livestock agriculture. In areas already affected by salt, a range of plants can be grown from high feeding value legumes with moderate salt tolerance through to highly salt tolerant shrubs. A hectare of these plants may support between 500 and 2000 sheep grazing days per year. The type of plants that can be grown and the subsequent animal production potential depend on a range of factors that contribute to the ‘salinity stress index’ of a site, including soil and groundwater salinity, the extent and duration of waterlogging and inundation, the pattern and quantity of annual rainfall, soil texture and chemistry, site topography and other site parameters. Where the salinity stress index is high, plant options will usually include a halophytic shrub that accumulates salt. High salt intakes by grazing ruminants depress feed intake and production. Where high and low salt feeds are available together, ruminants will endeavour to select a diet that optimises the overall feeding value of the ingested diet.

In areas that are not yet salt affected but contribute to groundwater recharge, perennial pasture species offer an opportunity for improved water and salt management both on-farm and at the catchments. If perennial pasture systems are to be adopted on a broad scale, they will need to be more profitable than current annual systems. In the high rainfall zones in Victoria and Western Australia, integrated bioeconomic and hydrological modelling indicates that selection of perennial pasture plants to match requirements of a highly productive livestock system significantly improves farm profit and reduces groundwater recharge. In the low to medium rainfall zones, fewer perennial plant options are available. However, studies aiming to use a palette of plant species that collectively provide resilience to the environment while maintaining profitable livestock production may also lead to new options for livestock in the traditional cropping zone.

Keywords: environmental management, halophytes, nutritive value, perennial pastures, salt tolerance.


   
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