‘Shrub for Emission Reduction and Carbon Sequestration’ (SERCS) project.
Research from the Future Farm Industries CRC Enrich project showed that Australian native perennial shrubs when grown in combination with pastures can result in increased livestock production as well as provide a range of environmental benefits. They can lower the risk of wind and water erosion through increased ground cover. They also provide more effective water use, improve the microclimate, and create habitat through the addition of diverse species and strata. Shrub systems can also provide shelter for livestock and increase the soil carbon pool. Some of these shrub species also have ‘antimethogenic’ properties that have the potential to reduce enteric methane emissions from livestock.
The primary outcome of the SERCS project was to demonstrate to landholders that multiple-use shrub forage systems can be implemented across a range of soil types and climatic conditions and they are relatively simple to manage and provide benefits to a mixed farming enterprise.
The main aims included raising awareness of the practical implications of incorporating shrubs as a feed source in grazing systems, and to quantify the impacts on greenhouse gas emissions (methane emissions intensity) and carbon sequestration. When used as a ‘green’ feed during summer-autumn, which is usually a feed deficit period, the nutritional value of a diet can be increased in a cost-effective way (i.e. with no or minimal supplementary feeding), which can increase animal performance and thereby reduce Green House Gas (GHG) emissions intensity.
Seven participating properties in WA, NSW and Victoria, each dedicated 20 ha to establishing shrubs to incorporate into their existing grazing system. The sites differed in climates, soil types, enterprises and farming systems. These sites were not intended to be replicates but were designed to demonstrate to landholders that shrub-based systems can be incorporated into their farming operations. The drier sites at Irwin (WA), Morawa (WA), Narromine north-west (NSW) and Narromine east had the benefit of previous research from the Future Farm Industries CRC ‘Enrich’ project. The cool temperate site in Victoria, at Warrenbayne, and the two colder sites at Mulloon Creek near Bungendore (NSW) and Cooma (NSW) did not have the benefit of similar research. Hence local knowledge and experience was essential in ensuring that site management plans were adapted specifically for each site. Site selection, species selection, planting configurations and planting methods were developed into the unique management plans for each site.
Central to the success of shrub-based systems was the successful establishment of the shrub species. Species survival rates were calculated after the first summer at all sites. The two colder sites were revisited after the following winter giving an indication of the resilience of the species planted to heavy frosts. Survival ranged from 38-89%.
Species selection, site preparation, soil moisture and climatic conditions were essential in determining establishment success. This project has confirmed species identified in previous research are well adapted to low rainfall zones of southern Australia. Additionally, it has contributed to identifying species which appear to have potential in cooler and wetter environments. Further work in species selection and management is needed in these environments.
When grazed, the forage shrub species were quickly incorporated into the diet of sheep and cattle. These species recovered from grazing and re-grew well. As the shrub systems mature a range of other benefits such as increased shade and shelter for livestock, soil protection and increased biodiversity will develop.
Soil organic carbon data was collected at the Irwin site. This enables this site to be measured in the future to assess if a net improvement in carbon balance can accrue through increased carbon storage in the planted woody shrubs. Any measurable change in soil carbon due to the perennial shrubs is not expected for some years.
Methane emissions from cattle grazing in the field were monitored using an open path laser at the Irwin site. The study compared the emissions between a group of cattle grazing pasture and a group grazing a combination of pasture and shrubs. Due to the low growth of the shrub species, the shrub component comprised 1% of the total DM intake of the cattle. Methane emissions and cattle liveweight did not show any difference between the two groups. As the shrubs grow and become a greater proportion of the diet of livestock, it is expected that the benefits arising from the shrub forage will be realised. Reduced GHG emissions are also likely to occur.
The project was in collaboration with the Future Farm Industries CRC Enrich project team, Revell Science and the University of Western Australia. It was supported by funding from the Australian Government Department of Agriculture as part of its Carbon Farming Futures – Action on the Ground program.
Read about the participating farmers and the shrubs they have planted.
Craig and Donelle Forsyth run ‘Avoca’ on the sandplain at Irwin, east of Dongara. They’ve planted a range of native forage shrubs in their SERCS block to complement the extensive plantings of tagasaste, rhagodia and sub-tropical perennial pastures that already exist at Avoca. To discover more details about Craig and Donelle and the species they used – Read more under the Forsyth’s profile
The Future Farm Industries Cooperative Research Centre’s magazine Future Farm, did an article on Craig in August 2013, you can read it here
Cameron and Teresa Tubby farm ‘Bundewarra’ just north of Morowa. They have previously experimented with planting native forage shrubs in conjunction with engineering mini-swales, which Cameron saw in arid environments during his Nuffield Scholarship studies. They will integrate their SERCS block into their whole farm grazing system in an aim to to establish native fodder shrubs on marginal soil types and monitoring the performance of both the sheep and shrubs while grazing. To discover more details about Cameron and Teresa and the species they used – Read more under the Tubby’s profile
The Future Farm Industries Cooperative Research Centre’s magazine Future Farm, did an article on Cameron in April 2011, read it here
New South Wales
Bruce and Roz Maynard farm north-west of Narromine on their property ‘Willydah’. They have utilised salt bush on their property for 25 years. They hope that the knowledge they gain from involvement in the SERCS project will be invaluable for the future. To discover more details about Bruce and Roz and the species they used – Read more under the Maynard’s profile
Bruce is interested in Pasture Cropping and No Kill. Read more…..
He also runs Low stress stock handling courses which is an essential part of the farm business. Read more…..
SERCS tree planting…
Robert and Rosemarie Webb run ‘Dappo’ east of Narromine. They have been planting Old man saltbush on their farm for several years. The SERCS project will help them to further produce a productive landscape through increased plant diversity. To discover more details about Robert and Rosemarie and the species they used – Read more under the Webb’s profile
Read their case study…
Tony Coote owns Mulloon Creek Natural Farm just east of Canberra near Bungendore. The farm is a mixed enterprise running sheep, cattle and chickens. SERCS is helping to increase carbon on their marginal land. To discover more details about Tony and the Mulloon Institute and the species he used – Read more under the Mulloon Creek profile
Tony created the Mulloon Institute to increase the public’s awareness of ‘healthy soils’. Read more about the Mulloon Institute…..
Charles and Fiona Massy farm ‘Severn Park’ on the Monaro near Cooma and run Merino’s. They have granite and basalt country and practice holistic grazing management. Over the years they have planted trees on their property for many years to provide windbreaks and shelter belts. The SERCS project is extending this work to planting forage shrubs for multiple benefits including increased health of their stock. To discover more details about Charles and Fiona and the species they used – Read more under the Massy’s profile
Charles is the author of several books including “Breaking the sheep’s back” and has recently completed his PhD where he researched Australian farmer’s adaption to change. See an interview with Charles and read more….
Bill and Debbie Hill run ‘Corramandel’ and ‘Broom Hills’ at Warrenbayne in central Victoria. They have been planting trees and shrubs on their property for many years. They are committed to sustainable agriculture and want to integrate shrubs into their grazing system. To discover more details about Bill and Debbie and the species they used – Read more under the Hill’s profile
See Bill’s website http://www.billhill.com.au/