Economist puts salt on tail of salinity debate

28 Jun, 2000 11:08 AM

SALT concerns must be addressed as a local problem, and not a catchment concern, if progress is to be made in overcoming dryland salinity. University of WA resource economist David Pannell has warned of the damage caused by the common "whole valley" approach to solve salinity concerns. While acknowledging his approach as "almost heretical", he described the whole valley approach as a national mistake, saying most salinity concerns arose on site and could be addressed on site. He said many WA Wheatbelt valleys had very low transmission of water by soils and low slopes, meaning water usually moved less than 10 metres each year. "We have to look at salt concerns as a very localised problem for many towns and farms," he said. "The solutions will have to come in the area that the problem has been caused, and for many farms or owners that means acting on site." Given the localised nature of salinity concerns, Mr Pannell said it was going to be difficult for the community to justify government spending to solve individual on-farm problems. He said the implications of a community salt levy were extreme when there was a low transfer of benefits off-farm or off-site. He also attacked the level of spending on research for salt solutions, claiming it was "a disgrace" there was no government investment in salt tolerant industries in WA. "There are going to be millions of hectares affected and nothing has been prepared to go on there (salt-affected land) or even to begin to cope," he said. "I expect we will see increasing levels of farmer innovation to cope with the problem ‹ that is already happening in many areas." His address to the AAAC conference also included a call for greater research and development programs surrounding perennial species to develop more profitable options.


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