New report shows saline bush food production good for degraded soil health after trials on Badgebup farm

Headshot of Sean Van Der Wielen
Sean Van Der WielenGreat Southern Herald
Katanning Landcare's Ella Maesepp and Andrea Salmond with the report.
Camera IconKatanning Landcare's Ella Maesepp and Andrea Salmond with the report. Credit: Supplied

A new locally-produced report has been released highlighting the potential benefits of growing saline bush foods to boost soil rejuvenation.

The Environmental Reporting for Saline Bush Foods Production — Soil, Water and Habitat report produced by Katanning Landcare and Terra Perma Design, reports the findings of soil health during a saline bush foods trial at a Badgebup property from 2019-21.

Katanning Landcare officer Ella Maesepp said the trial had been “pioneering” in commercialising the saline bush foods market.

“The concept was exciting, as there is the assumption that actively managing and farming these lands with native species would help to improve the degraded condition of those soils,” she said.

As part of the trial, soil scientists Dr Joelene Otway and Dr Bede Mickan monitored changes in soil carbon, microbial activity, organic and inorganic compounds, groundwater and arboreal habitat.

Two different types of production were used, with a plantation-style system and a wild harvest system being monitored.

The trial found soil carbon levels had generally regenerated in the plantation area, while measurements of salinity were also decreasing.

“Continuation of these key positive trajectories are anticipated due to the plantation’s perennial plant growth, the harvest pruning activities, increased fauna diversity due to increased habitat above and below ground, and year-round soil protection increasing the system’s resilience to the seasonal extremes,” Ms Otway said.

However, there were surprising results when it came to the wild harvest, with non-scarified areas performing better than scarified areas.

“Whilst soil carbon within the scarified versus non-scarified treatments of the Wild Harvest Area was similarly higher under the plants compared to between them, the poor re-establishment of plants following scarification suggested the total area soil carbon was depleted both through the removal of existing plants and the poor ongoing soil coverage,” Ms Otway said.

In addition to the differentiation in soil carbon, the scarified area also experienced a higher increase in salinity measurements between 2020 and 2021, where there was increased rainfall in the region.

Ms Maesepp said although the monitoring time was short, the plantation sites were recovering from establishment disturbances and that soil improvement is on a positive trajectory.

“It gives us further confidence that encouraging saline bush foods production for the gourmet market has positive environmental outcomes,” she said.

The saline bush foods project was funded through the Federal Government’s Smart Farming Partnerships program.

To view the final report, visit katanninglandcare.org.au/nlpbushtucker.

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