Eco Farming

NARRATION
Much of the farmland in Australia is environmentally degraded. Many past farming practices from England and Europe simply didn’t work here, and now we desperately need to repair our farms.
DR GRAHAM PHILLIPS
Now here’s the problem. You’ve only got a fixed amount of money you can spend on improving the farm land. How do you get the best bang for your buck? Do you, for example, remove the gorse – the introduced weed here – and replace it with native vegetation. Or would you be better just writing this area off and instead spend the money on better protecting already existing native bushland?
NARRATION
Simon Falkiner grew up on this farm but spent his adult life away. Two years ago, he moved back, with his family.
SIMON FALKINER
We’ve got problems with weeds and vermin, and there’s some salinity problems. So if we can get on top of them it’ll come out on our bottom line.
NARRATION
Simon’s concerns are echoed by other farmers in this region – the Corangamite catchment around Geelong in Victoria. Fixing degraded land demands a district wide solution – because what’s done on one farm will affect and be affected by what’s done on others… and managing that requires some very impressive scientific modelling. Over the last decade Mark Eigenraam has developed a computer land-management tool called the Catchment Management Framework – the CMF.
MARK EIGENRAAM
The Catchment Management Framework is a tool that allows natural resource managers to access all of the science that we’ve accumulated over the last 100 years. So fundamentally we’ve had soil scientists, plant scientists, ecologists, hydrologists, they’ve all been working on the landscape in discrete areas to understand how the landscape operates.
NARRATION
If we wanted to revegetate this pasture the computer model shows how the regrowth will affect everything – from soil dynamics, to water run-off and carbon accumulation.
MARK EIGENRAAM
This, Graham, is the catchment management framework and what we’re looking at is the Corangamite area here, and this is a picture of the land use as it currently is. So down the right hand side here these codes represent the land use of each particular point.
The dark blue is grazing modified pastures. We can see that this red dot here which is very near Simon’s farm. When you click on it, it comes up and tells you there is a mean annual rainfall of 650 millimetres there, it’s grazing modified pastures and the soil type is a DY5.33
DR GRAHAM PHILLIPS
So you know just for every 20 by 20 metre square in Victoria you can click on that and find all that detailed information?
MARK EIGENRAAM
Absolutely.
DR GRAHAM PHILLIPS
That is a complex model!
MARK EIGENRAAM
Certainly is. There’s certainly a lot of information.
NARRATION
The CMF predicts how the environment is affected by changes made to the land.
MARK EIGENRAAM
Let’s say we changed some of Simon’s land from grazing pasture to reintroducing the local species. On the top curve here is the run off events as it accumulated between 1957 and 2005.
DR GRAHAM PHILLIPS
Right.
MARK EIGENRAAM
And on the green graph here we’re looking at it when you’ve started to supplementary plant that site. It is collecting more of that rain fall and the run off events have changed.
Now there is less erosion going to the stream, less nutrient transport going to the stream. The stream is healthier.
DR GRAHAM PHILLIPS
Now it’s all very well to know what should be done to fix up a landscape but how do Governments and landowners actually make that happen. Well for that, they turn to an economic model.
NARRATION:
The Victorian government ecoMarket team has created an economic program called Ecotender, which allows landowners to bid for government money to restore and revegetate areas of their farm.
MARK EIGENRAAM
With Ecotender we’ve taken ideas from traditional economics where we undertake transactions – so landholders provide sheep, wheat, wool and other goods and services and we thought can we apply that in the environment. Can we just get land holders to provide environmental services in the same way they provide these other goods and services?
NARRATION
The buyer of the environmental benefit services – the Government – has to know what the current land damage is and what repairs or benefits its money will buy.
NARRATION
Michelle Butler a field officer who helps assess that. Using a hand held GPS and data recorder, she collects as much information as possible about the land.
DR GRAHAM PHILLIPS
What are some of the problems with this site?
MICHELLE BUTLER
As you can see the ground is very bare. It’s been bared out by stock and rabbits, we’ve got rabbit holes in front of us.
DR GRAHAM PHILLIPS
Yeah.
MICHELLE BUTLER
A lot of the trees are dying or are already dead like this one. It’s missing a lot of the understorey that would have typically been here in its original state.
So Simon can you give me a bit of a history of this site?
SIMON FALKINER
20 years ago there wasn’t a lot of gorse here.
NARRATION
Michelle helps landowners prepare their bids by identifying the environmental priorities for each property. All the scientific and economic information is processed in EcoTender, and the environmental gains and monetary costs are reduced to a single number…the Environmental Benefit Index. This score allows competing projects to be judged against each other, so the limited government money gets the best outcome.
One of Simon’s EcoTender contracts is to clear the introduced gorse. Over the next 5 years he’ll replant this paddock with native vegetation. He’ll earn some income from repairing the land, but there are also other benefits.
SIMON FALKINER
I look at it as improving the farm, and again a cliché but you’re looking after it as, you’re custodian for the next generation. So we’d like to leave it a better state than we inherited it.

Ref: http://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories/2613779.htm

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