Saltbush demand doubles production

27 Apr, 2018 04:00 AM
North Katanning farmer Tom Patterson among his Anameka saltbushes which he planted to help prevent the spreading of salinity.
North Katanning farmer Tom Patterson among his Anameka saltbushes which he planted to help prevent the spreading of salinity.

CHATFIELDS Tree Nursery in Tammin is expecting to double its production of Anameka saltbush to about one million seedlings in the 2019 season, on the back of increased demand from livestock producers.

Nursery owner Dustin Chatfield said the business had sold out of the saltbush this year and had already taken orders for next year.

He said farmers would usually call back next year if they couldn’t source the stock they were after but this year, possibly due to the high prices for wool and sheep meat, they were placing orders to secure their supply 12 months out.

“This year we sold about 500,000 seedlings, and that was up from 300,000 last year,” Mr Chatfield said.

“We are doubling this year’s orders to one million for next year, and already have orders 200,000.

“We have the capacity and plenty of staff.

“We are already capacity building, that’s never been an issue because we will just reduce other projects to meet the demand.”

Mr Chatfield said 90 per cent of his customers were from WA, with 10pc coming from across all other Eastern States.

“There’s no straight answer to who is buying it but clients range from cattle producers in Longreach, Queensland, to sheep studs in South Australia,” he said.

He said while some may be buying to help manage their salinity issue the main reason was for supplementary feeding.

“Salinity is less an issue, it’s really about trying to fill the feed gap this time of year, providing sheep with Vitamin E and having green feed in the paddock,” he said.

Mr Chatfield said saltbush helped reduce supplementary feeding, provide shade and shelter to dry windswept soils and allow sheep to go on marginal land and still have feed.

Anameka was commercialised by CSIRO in 2014 after 10 years of research and has proven to be a successful feed source in mid summer and during autumn, when feed is generally short on supply.

Chatfields Tree Nursery was awarded the national licence to grow Anameka saltbush in 2015 and it has had a significant uptake by farmers across Australia in lower rainfall zones with salinity issues and by farmers with non-saline soils.

A recent CSIRO experiment demonstrated that a diet of about 25pc Anameka saltbush leads to a 25pc increase in wool growth.

CSIRO principal research scientist Hayley Norman said the result may be due to the “high crude protein and sulphur in Anameka”.

Ms Norman said saltbush “improves profitability because it enables poor-quality crops and pasture residues to be utilised”, which “reduces the need for supplementary feed (up to 60pc per pasture hectare)”.

“The benefits of Anameka are greatest in poor seasons, so it’s a good risk mitigation strategy,” she said.

The CSIRO is investigating ways to reduce the up-front cost of the plants to remove the financial barrier that may turn some growers off purchasing them.

Chatfield’s sells Anameka saltbush seedlings for $0.75 plus GST, which are available in trays of 72.

The March issue of Beyond the Bale, an Australian Wool Innovation and Woolmark Company publication, featured the use of Anameka saltbushes by Tammin woolgrowers Rodney and Janet Stokes.

The Stokes planted 60 hectares of salt affected land to Anameka almost four years ago, not long after it was made commercially available and within six months their Merino-based flock was grazing on it.

The 60ha was described as unproductive land prior to the saltbush plantings and now it provides about five kilojoules of energy to each sheep per day when grazing, which would supplement the flock’s feed of hay and grain during autumn.

Mr Stokes said the plantation had been an effective strategy for his operation and he was planning to double his area of plantings in the next 12 months.

The saltbush allowed them to “free up paddocks we need to spray or clean up in the pre-seeding period,” he said.

NORTH Katanning farmer Tom Patterson has found through experience that planting saltbushes on his saline affected lowlands near Lake Dumbleyung has helped to stop its spread, while at the same time provide additional feed for his sheep.

Mr Patterson said the family had been through about four different types of saltbushes until settling on the Anameka saltbush, sourced from Chatfields Tree Nursery at Tammin.

“My dad tried four different varieties over the past 10 years and this one is the last,” Mr Patterson said.

“We are happy with the results.

“We get it to grow where we can’t grow anything.

“Sheep smash it.

“We graze it, let it grow and then graze it.

“But planting saltbush is really about salt prevention than anything.

“I wouldn’t do it if there was no salt.”

The Patterson’s have about 200 hectares which is totally salt affected and is “earmarked for saltbush” and a total of about 500ha that has been affected by salt.

Mr Patterson said as part of his farming operation he has included an on-going planting program of 20,000 seedlings per year to push the salinity back and reclaim the land.

He said the long-term return on investment from using saltbushes was “huge”.

“It’s like buying land but better because there was no production from it before,’’ he said.

“You plant about 5000 seedlings per hectare (equalling about $3750 per hectare) which would take about five to seven years to get back.

“It takes about five years to get established.

“The biggest profits come from your least utilised land, not your best.

“The returns are irrelevant because we have to act with the salt spreading.”

Mr Patterson said there was a further 700ha on property that was still productive farmland, but was “touch and go” with the spread of salinity.

“If we don’t act we will lose it to salt and that’s where we are using perennials,” Mr Patterson said.

“We only grow saltbushes on country that we can’t grow perennials on.”

Mr Patterson said he had been using a “proactive approach” over the past year, planting Kikuyu, Lucerne and Wheatgrass on his “high risk” country to lower the water table and provide additional sheep feed.

“Kikuyu is more of a maintenance feed,” he said.

“We are trialling Panic grass, which has a higher value and provides better weight gain.”

Mr Patterson said as part of protecting and utilising the high risk low country on the flood plains he had a program to plant perennials in stages over the next few years.

His flock will be grazing on a 100ha paddock already planted to perennials over the coming winter months.

“You wouldn’t have thought you could grow this from that soil,” he said.

“We are hoping to end up with 600ha of Kikuyu – planting one paddock a year.

“Hopefully it will keep the water table down.

“We can’t just do what we want without lowering the water table.”

Mr Patterson operates a 60 per cent cropping, including wheat, barley and canola, a 40pc Merino sheep enterprise of about 5000 head and the Woolkabin Merino stud.

“I’d like to see the laws allow genetically modified pasture crops, to plant on the salt affected land,” he said.

“If regulation wasn’t so tight we could be growing apple trees here.”



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