Katanning’s salty soil woes

Daryna ZadvirnaGreat Southern Herald
Community members helping to plant thousands of saltbush across degraded landscapes.
Camera IconCommunity members helping to plant thousands of saltbush across degraded landscapes. Credit: Katanning Landcare

Katanning’s lasting salty soil problem should not be swept under the rug, according to Landcare manger Andrea Salmond, who has called for more action from the Government and community.

Ms Salmond said the region had been suffering from dryland salinity since the introduction of agriculture, mainly caused by over-clearing.

“Clearing deep-rooted native vegetation for shallow-rooted annual crops and pasture changed the water balance, so without big roots to soak it up, water tables rise and carry deeply stored salt in the sub-soil to the surface,” she said.

“Salinity is all around us and many of us may not even notice it in this area anymore — it’s so common.

“But it should be managed to ensure we don’t continue to lose more and more land to its detrimental effects.”

A WA Auditor-General’s report released last year assessed the management of salinity in the agricultural regions of the South West and said it was a major issue.

The report estimated salinity affected between one and two million hectares, potentially rising to five million, and cost more than half a billion dollars a year in lost agricultural production.

“The scale of the problem is daunting, but so is the scale of the action that would be needed to eliminate salinity,” the report said.

“It would require replanting 80 per cent of the Wheatbelt, a huge task requiring significant investment that would make broad-scale agriculture, as it currently exists, impossible.”

Ms Salmond said there had not been enough attention given to the salinity issue in recent years.

“Dryland salinity was very much the No.1 problem here when Landcare first became established in the late 80s, early 90s,” she said.

“But then different governments changed their policies, and salinity fell off the radar — everyone sort of knew what to do, so the Government walked away from it.

“The Government may think that it was all dealt with and farmers should just go ahead and do it off their own backs, but the fact is that incentivising the use of salt-tolerant plants and educating people on how to deal with it costs money and we need grants.”

The WAAG report predicted that without some level of intervention, dryland salinity would continue to be a significant cost and major risk to the State.

“The extent of salinity affected land in the South West is expected to more than double over the next 50-100 years to around 5.4 million hectares — of this, 4.5 million hectares is agricultural land,” the report stated.

“The scale and cost of intervention could be very large, and government needs to decide what is feasible and economically viable.”

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