Salt Burden Put Back at Farm Gate
by Malcolm Quekett
Salinity experts have turned on its head the popular message that farmers have to cooperate to tackle the State's salinity crisis. They say factors beyond the farm gate have been over-emphasised in salinity policy.
Many farmers could prevent salinity on their properties without cooperation from neighbours. It sends a message to farmers who argue there is no point taking up the fight if their neighbours higher up the catchment area do no because water would move down slope, topping up their watertables and bring salt to the surface on their farm.
The paper was written by David Pannell, and associate professor and principle research fellow at the University of WA's agricultural and resource economics department, Donald McFarlane, formerly of Agriculture WA and now Water and Rivers Commission director of resource information services, and Ruhi Ferdowsian, an Agriculture WA research officer.
It argues that for much of the landscape, little groundwater moves across farm boundaries. Groundwater aquifers varied widely in size, shape and geological structure.
Some, known as regional aquifers, extended over tens of kilometres and included many farms.
But local aquifers were structured so that the water that fell in the catchment would discharge on the same farm. The paper says more that half the land in the agricultural region could be located above local aquifers. [Actually we say it is probably somewhere in the range 30-50 percent - DP]
"An important consequence of recognising that an aquifer is local ... is that it removes some disincentives for farmers to implement salinity treatments," the paper says. "The disincentives may include concern that a treatment will be ineffective because of the actions (or inaction) of neighbours. Farmers need to be made aware (where it is true) that they can act unilaterally without fear that their efforts will be thwarted by an influx of groundwater and salt from off the farm."
WA Conservation Council coordinator Rachel Siewart said it was vital that farmers realise it was up to individuals to make decisions. "They can't put off responsibility by saying, 'No one else is doing anything therefore I am not going to'," she said.
WA Farmers Federation president Kevin McMenemy said a decade of landcare had promoted community empowerment which had the effect of removing some of farmers' belief in themselves. He said government money had been directed to community groups and there had been little or no help for individual farmers. "If an individual gets a private benefit and the problem is addressed on his property, the community benefits," he said.
Citation: Quekett, M. (2000). Salt burden put back at farm gate, The West Australian, 24 March 2000, p. 39. http://www.general.uwa.edu.au/u/dpannell/dpap9911n.htm
Pannell, D.J., McFarlane, D.J. and Ferdowsian, R. (2001). Rethinking the externality issue for dryland salinity in Western Australia, Australian Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics 45(3): 459-475. Final journal version (164K pdf file) also available via the Journal homepage: www.blackwellpublishing.com/ajare
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