By JAMES NASON
IF MOST wool producers disagree with Australian Wool Innovation's investment in a re-vegetation and woodlot advisory service, why have producers on the Wool Advisory Group (WAG) continued to back it?
WAG member and Casterton wool producer, Will Crozier, says the advisory service has been mis-understood, and is confident most growers will agree with it once given the chance to hear it properly explained.
He stresses that the advisory service is a small plank of huge, multi-million dollar investment in natural resource management (NRM) in the wool industry.
AWI had been widely applauded for putting wool on a strong environmental footing with its five-year Land, Water and Wool initiative, Mr Crozier said.
But the hard part had been trying to determine where the industry could get a commercial return from the research dollars invested.
The re-vegetation advisory service had been identified as a good way of returning money to producer pockets, by using NRM funding to increase the value of their land asset, he said.
"This program was seen as one definite starting place where we could have something tangible on the ground from an NRM perspective really quickly," he said.
"And it is happening - there are 20 or so growers in the Benalla area already using the service."
Mr Crozier believes major benefits from the advisory service will flow from funding saltbush re-generation in pastoral areas, and controlling woody weeds, such as mimosa in northern Australia and blackberry in southern Australia, which were choking paddocks, rivers and streams.
He said a recent audit by National Land and Water Resources identified erosion and soil transportation as one of the pastoral industry's biggest problems, greater even than salinity.
The advisory service would help producers such as those in South West Queensland deal with significant problems they experienced with lack of soil cover and wind and soil erosion, caused by woody weeds such as hop bush, sandal wool and mulga.
"We are losing about 20 million tonnes of top soil a year, and a fair bit of it is going straight down the Paroo because of these woody weeds."
Growers could also use the service to develop shelter belts from plants that served as fodder reserves during drought, and to identify and develop alternative water sources if fencing off rivers and streams for environmental purposes.
Such work did not duplicate, but rather built upon, existing services, Mr Crozier said.
Growers could access assistance individually or through producer groups such as BestWool 2010 or Landcare.
"We identified a real need for this sort of program, and then looked at how we could get benefits on the ground so we could put dollars into wool producer's pockets, as well as having a marketing advantage further on.
"When we can prove to downstream processors and manufacturers that we're not only saying we're clean and green, we're actually proving it, that will give us a huge market advantage."
Mr Crozier said wool producers had to be aware that their impact on the environment as land managers was increasingly under the microscope from Governments at all levels.
The Federal Government had also firmly stated that industries which fail to include a strong NRM focus in research will be denied Federal funding in future.
"We want to position this industry as the greenest industry going around, and this is the method by which we can do that."