Pollinating a new approach to productivity

While no farmer likes to see their land degraded, the cost of revegetating can sometimes outweigh productivity benefits.

But a new project launched by the South West Catchments Council (SWCC) is aiming to tilt the cost/benefit ratio in the farmer’s favour.

SWCC program manager Dr Mike Christensen said the economics of sustainable practices such as revegetating degraded land and improving pollination were too important to be ignored.

“We know it’s hard to be green when you’re in the red,” he said.

“One of the key aspects of this project is developing personalised management plans with farmers that can boost productivity through revegetation. A unique plant species mix will be selected based on productivity objectives, rather than purely biodiversity objectives.”

The project also aims to increase productivity by improving pollination from honey bees and other insects.

“It’s not as easy as it sounds, particularly in the summer-autumn gap where there is not a lot of native plants in flower for bees to feed on. One of our first jobs will be to identify native plants that flower at that time of year,” Dr Christensen said.

SWCC will develop a flowering calendar that describes which plants are in flower at different times of year and this will be used to assess the existing vegetation, identify gaps in pollinator food sources and develop revegetation plans.

To demonstrate the concept, SWCC has started working with a commercial orchard in Balingup and a mixed broadacre farm at Boscabel, north-west of Kojonup.

“The orchard manager wants to revegetate along a brook with species useful for honey production. He also wants to attract predatory insects like hoverflies to control orchard pests. We will select plants that will achieve these aims,” he said.

The second property in Boscabel is being revegetated to increase canola pollination by honey bees. Studies in Western Australia and Canada have determined that honey bees can increase canola production by up to 30 per cent.

Dr Christensen said beekeepers were important players in the pollination process and finding species that flower immediately after canola would be critical to engaging them. Producing canola honey can be difficult with the plant’s three to four-week flowering period.

“Australian beekeepers are reportedly not keen on canola honey, which is interesting because beekeepers in the northern hemisphere love it and there are strong export markets in places like China,” Dr Christensen said.

“Beekeepers are more likely to come to farms where bees can feed for longer than just the canola flowering period as they don’t need to move their hives as often. The major eucalypt flower period starts about a month after canola so if we can fill this gap, it will generate more interest from beekeepers.”

For more information on the project, contact SWCC on 9724 2400.

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