Dry saline land survey results

Dry saline land or “magnesia patches” describe areas in paddocks that have become saline in the surface layer and toxic to plant growth, resulting in bare, unproductive patches of ground. They are not driven the underlying effects of ground water, stream flows or perched water tables. Their impacts can be highly detrimental to farming practices across a range of landscapes.

Concerns over the growing impacts of dry saline land degradation across the Murray Mallee and Eyre Peninsula have increased in recent years. A survey commissioned by the Murraylands and Riverland Landscape Board and AIR EP was conducted between December 2020 and January 2021, using survey monkey and distributed to farmers through various networks for on-line completion. In total, 100 surveys were completed including 43 from the Murraylands region and 57 representing the Eyre Peninsula.

The results from this survey clearly indicate that the land degradation issue of dry saline land presents a growing issue across a wide scope of landscapes of the Murray Mallee and Eyre Peninsula, affecting a conservative estimated total of 50,000ha, which could double into the future. This is affecting a very large number of farmers, causing a significant financial burden to their businesses (estimated in the vicinity of $50 million over the last 10 years). 36% of farmers had 50ha or more affected, with some as high as 2500ha, incurring very high costs to their individual businesses. Other farmers were currently experiencing smaller impacts (21% at 5ha or less), but are mildly to very concerned about losing more productive land to this issue in the future. Early preventative action could prove to be vital in all of these situations.

This survey shows famers are unsure of what do to about this issue, are looking for answers but don’t know who to ask or where to find the information. There is still a lack of understanding as to what the underlying causes of the problem is, how these are expressed within a variety of landscapes and what practical solutions can be applied. Farmers have tried a number of management approaches with varying levels of success. Many of these involve the addition of organic matter or sand to the topsoil. There are other situations that require further investigation and possible development.

Farmers strongly supported further research, demonstration and farmer case studies to be conducted on solving the dry saline land issues, with a willingness to be involved in some way to find these answers. It is therefore recommended that funding be sort for a large project involving both investigative and applied research and extension, across both the Murray Mallee and Eyre Peninsula regions. It is vital that this occurs within these low rainfall environments where the farm scale is large, seasons are variable, soils in the landscape can be challenging, risks are high and the effects of changing climatic patterns may well be exacerbating the issue.

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