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Making Money Licking Salt

Supplier: Fodder King
11 September, 2009

The financial obstacles presented by one of the most effective salinity fighting tools available have been overcome by patented technology

FodderFacts No. 11

Making Money Licking Salt.

The financial obstacles presented by one of the most effective salinity fighting tools available have been overcome by patented technology.

Lucerne, also known as alfalfa, has been identified in scientific studies conducted by the Victorian Department of Natural Resources, the CSIRO, the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) and the National Farmers Federation (NFF) as a highly effective tool in the fight against rising water tables.

Rising water tables are the root cause of salinity as they bring salt to the surface of otherwise arable land.

Problems of scale and quality control have, in the past, prevented farmers from growing and harvesting lucerne as an economically viable rotation crop. By leaving the harvesting to Australian owned Fodder King, however, these problems can now be overcome.

Fodder King employs patented technology and economies of scale to make high-density lucerne hay for growing domestic and international markets.

As well as protecting their land from salinity using Fodder King's patented lucerne growing processes, farmers can generate a return on outlay of around 100% versus returns of 51% for rice, 47% for corn and 46% for cotton while simultaneously restoring the health of the natural environment.

Fodder King director, Phil Campbell, recently likened salinity to an out-of-control locomotive powered by "200 years of land degradation and inappropriate farming practices", with crash victims including:

  • dead rivers with undrinkable water
  • numerous species of plants
  • birds and animal life lost forever
  • permanent damage to once valuable agricultural land
  • increasing damage to economic infrastructure such as roads, factories and buildings
  • and the dislocation of whole communities which subsequently become burdens on the Australian taxpayer.

Campbell pointed out that "salinity becomes a threat when the water table rises to within two metres of the surface. Lucerne plants help prevent water tables from rising to dangerous levels, because its long tap root draws the water down, like a giant drinking straw".

The Victorian Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE) showed at Bourkes Flat that groundwater levels fell by more than 5.5 metres over six years following the establishment of lucerne.

The CSIRO in collaboration with Australian National University measured reductions in 'leakage' to the water table of as much as 66 per cent at two sites under lucerne in NSW.

Agwest has been promoting the use of lucerne in the salt affected wheat belt of WA. Some farmers have been able to save endangered wheat paddocks by growing thin densities of lucerne to reduce the water table by four metres.

In the Northern Great Plains of the United States in the 1970s, lucerne was used to restore the productivity of 30,000 acres of soils put out of action by water tables within 2 metres of the surface. By the early 1990's the area affected had shrunk to 3,000 acres.

On Fodder King's own demonstration farm, recent excavations to a depth of 3 metres did not intersect the water table, while neighbouring rice farms are known to have experienced salinity problems.

The NFF and the ACF jointly funded a study titled National Investment in Rural Landscapes. That study recommends that 55 per cent of the areas affected by salinity should be planted to 'perennial pastures'. Lucerne is regarded as one of the best perennial pastures.

"Fodder King's technology and expertise in marketing allow farmers to restore the health of their farms while cashing in on growing export and domestic markets", said Campbell.

"The market prospects for lucerne are excellent. Demand is large and growing in export markets and the domestic market is predicted to triple in size over the next ten years. With our technology these markets are accessible, and fortunately they make a good match with the size of the salinity problem in irrigation areas".

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