CSIRO hopes ‘green’ agricultural system will provide food security solutions

Posted by Editorial on 8th July 2008

CSIRO Cattle - agriculture

CSIRO research, underway in Central Queensland’s cattle country, is investigating whether the integration of trees, pasture and livestock into a single agricultural system will produce greater net returns for producers and the environment.

The ‘silvopastoralism’ system is gaining worldwide attention as a potentially profitable land-use practice, particularly following the emergence of new market opportunities such as carbon trading.

CSIRO Livestock Industries’ (CLI) project leader and resource economist, Mick Stephens, says that since the 1960s a significant proportion of trees have been removed from the open woodland zones in northern Australia to support the pastoral and cropping industries. “In the Central Queensland region, over 4.5 million hectares of woodland vegetation has been cleared,” he advised. “Given the environmental/economic problems associated with climate change, we now have an opportunity to investigate whether silvopastoralism can provide some of the answers.”

“The environmental benefits would include increased: soil and water retention, nutrient re-cycling and carbon sequestration. Emerging incentive schemes for the sequestration of carbon in forests, and forecast increases in the prices paid for forest products, may act as a driver for silvopastoralism,” Mr Stephens claimed.

The project will utilize earlier research by the Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Water into some of the competitive and stimulatory effects of wide rows of trees on pasture production.

The designs being evaluated include planting well-spaced rows of high-yield eucalypt trees – and 20 to 100m wide rows of native woodland regrowth trees – on pasture lands.

“It is a complex agro-ecological system so we need an economic appraisal that considers the interactions between tree and pasture growth and the relative costs, prices and yields for livestock and forest products,” Mr Stephens reported. “Emerging opportunities for producing bio-fuels and participating in carbon trading schemes are all exciting possibilities.”

Modelling techniques will be employed at a farm level to assess the sensitivity of silvopastoral systems to current and projected cost, price and yield scenarios and help identify under what circumstances these systems are likely to be a profitable land use.

Concerns over the environment have put added pressure on some agricultural industries while fears about a possible food shortage have led to recent volatility in food prices. Consequently, such research could prove invaluable in the future especially as Australia is currently researching the ability for the country to feed itself in the years ahead.