Remarkable salt success story

03 Dec, 1999 04:00 AM

FROM bare salt land two years ago to an estimated five tonnes per hectare wheat crop this season is indeed a remarkable salinity success story. But it's the story told by Bruce Rock farmer Kevin Jones, who has reclaimed a part of his farm that had been written off to salt, and left out of production for 15 years. His solution was deep drainage, and the success on his own property has him convinced that an engineering solution is on the only answer to WA salinity problem. "It really grates on me that we constantly hear how bad our salinity problem is, and that we will never win the battle," Mr Jones said. "The evidence that we can turn it around is here on my farm, and others in this area, and the reason for it has been drainage." Mr Jones with his wife, Heather, and son, Ian, are cropping 1000 hectares (2500 acres) this year on their farm between Merredin and Bruce Rock. Their victory in the salt war has taken place on a block of land bought in 1968. Since then, salt had surfaced on significant areas of the property's heavy clay sections, which have been out of production for the past 15 years. But, two years ago, at about a cost of $3000 per kilometre plus fuel, Mr Jones implemented strategic deep drains through parts of his farm. Installed after negotiations with neighbours < many of whom have undertaken similar work < these drains are designed to run salty water into a nearby salt lake system through its natural water flow. Deep drainage has been a contentious issue, with critics suggesting the drains were not effective over large areas, and simply transported the problem from one area to another. But Mr Jones believes his two metre deep drains have completely reclaimed 30ha of bare salt and turned the tide on a much larger area, which was to succumbing to the salinity scourge. "The drains have immediately relieved the amount of water in the soil and had an impact on land that is almost a kilometre away," he said. "And at the rate the salinity was spreading, the area that could have potentially been lost, and which is now even more productive, could have been considerably more." The crop of Halberd wheat the Jones planted this year on that area is expected to be the best on the farm, after an outstanding germination on land that was once white crusted on the surface. This is despite an exceptionally wet year, which left parts of the area flooded in May. Further down the drainage lines, in an area of bush that was being wiped out by salt, young tea-tree seedlings have germinated from the crusted white surface. "It is all about allowing the water to flow where it is meant to go, which is ultimately the ocean," Mr Jones said. He believes strategic drainage systems right across the Wheatbelt, which could be fed by smaller drains, are the only real way to win the war against salt. And tree planting could provide a balance in that solution, but perennials alone would not get the land back. The drains on his own property, which are still trickling with water, have been kept free of sheep traffic, something Mr Jones believes is important to maintain their efficiency. "The drain has to be a drain, and has to be two metres deep, or it is a waste of time," he said. ÿ


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