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New options coming for salinity management

1 October 2004

There is no single solution for dryland salinity but we are better placed now to chart a well-considered path forward than we have ever been.

This was the good news provided by Professor David Pannell from the CRC for Plant-based Management of Dryland Salinity, speaking today at the 4th International Crop Science Congress in Brisbane. The Congress has brought together over 1000 delegates from 65 countries to focus on the key issues for cropping systems that provide food, feed and fibre for the world.

Professor Pannell says knowledge of salinity has advanced rapidly in Australia but has revealed how prevention is particularly difficult.

“Each of the sets of existing farm-level options for salinity management has problems or limitations of various kinds,” he says.

“Existing perennial plants are usually not profitable on a sufficient scale to fully control watertables but there are good prospects among plants currently being investigated,” says Professor Pannell.

“It will, no doubt, take some time before these are delivered as commercial products. However, at least we can say for the first time that a serious effort is underway to develop the technologies that farmers have, in fact, needed all along.”

“The dominant engineering response being explored by farmers is using deep open drains but this is variable in its effectiveness and hampered by uncertainties about where it will work and what the downstream impacts will be,” he explained.

Professor Pannell told delegates the availability of salt tolerant crops such as wheat would be of great benefit to many farmers and while likely to be some time off, eventual success in their development seems likely.

“If ultimately successful, one can envisage a system based on cropping between alleys of salt-tolerant and waterlogging-tolerant shrubs, which could lower water tables locally and allow some improvement in growing conditions for crops,” he said.

The lessons learned in Australia according to Professor Pannell are that one cannot expect dramatic action from farmers to address environmental problems unless they have available effective management options that are cost-effective.

“If the environmental impacts occur primarily off farm, and a large response is required of land managers, the management options need to be profitable in their own right. If the benefits occur on farm but will be in the distant future, or the required response is large relative to the impacts avoided, again the management options need to profitable (or nearly so). “

“If government policies are designed and implemented without there being suitable options that farmers can adopt, they will fall far short of their objectives, despite the expenditure of very large sums of public money.”

“Policies for such issues need to pay attention to the availability of economically viable management responses for farmers, and support the development of new responses if needed,” Dr Pannell concluded.

4ICSC would like to thank all its supporters including the following major sponsors:
AusAID, CSIRO, Pioneer Hi-Bred International and QDPI

More information:
Cathy Reade, Media Manager, 4th International Crop Science Congress
Mobile: 0413 575 934

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