NEED TO FIND A FIX: Member for Mallee Andrew Broad, MSF chairman, Daniel Linklater, and MSF program manager, Tanja Morgan, are pictured at this week’s announcement. Photo: PAUL MENSCH

By JOHN DOOLEY

The issue of Mallee seeps has been under the microscope in recent years, and now it is set to be addressed in earnest.

The Federal Government yesterday announced a $965,500 funding grant to Mallee Sustainable Farming (MSF), with the money, which will be spread over four years, comes under the National Landcare Program’s Smart Farming initiative, which aims to develop and implement the next generation of sustainable farming practices across the region.

In addition to the Federal funding, MSF will also receive a further $300,000 from the Grain Research Development Corporation (GRDC) – and $80,000 will be contributed by The South Australian Murray-Darling Basin Natural Resources Management Board (SAMDB NRM), taking the total funding package to  almost $1.35million.

Making the announcement at the offices of MSF in Mildura, Member for Mallee Andrew Broad said the organisation will use the funding to create a holistic approach to seep management, and to preventing land degradation across our farming landscape.

Mr Broad said that Mallee farmers are very good at what they do, and despite the adverse conditions they often face, they grow quality product.

“I have a 20-year background in farming, and I used to come up to this region and wonder how they grew things up here – the fact is they grow crops very well,” he said.

“The Mallee sands have proven time and time again to be some of the most resilient soils, particularly in dry periods, and it’s really been because of innovation that we have seen a growth in broad-acre agriculture in this region, and at the forefront of this has been organisations like Mallee Sustainable Farming.”

Mr Broad said, however, that one of things that is a real problem are the ‘seeps’.

“Salt incursions were identified more than 30 years ago. I have a bit of a background in this because my father actually developed the first Victorian salinity project in the early 1980s when they started realising that water coming into one area would raise somewhere else, and bring salinity with it,” he said.

“They realised then that this was actually impacting yields and affecting productivity in our farming sector.

“The funding of this new project will help develop strategies to manage and prevent seeps across the region’s low-lying farming lands, and it’s about working with MSF to continue to drive productivity, and deliver better outcomes in land management.”

MSF Chairman, Daniel Linklater, said it was a terrific funding announcement which would further enhance and facilitate the partnership with GRDC and SAMDB NRM.

“I think this recognises the fact that this is both an environmental issue, but more so a production issue for our Mallee farmers, which is why it’s so important to investigate ways in which we can get on top of this complex problem,” he said.

“The level of the funding commitment recognises the challenges involved to get to the bottom of this. It’s predicted to increase tenfold over the next 10 years if we don’t do anything about it.”

Mr Linklater said the specifics of the project will now need to be worked out, and a strategy formulated with the partners involved in the project.

“We’ve also taken the lead from our members, our farming community in Victoria and South Australia, who have identified this as a serious problem that we really need to get on top of,” he said.

MSF program manager, Tanja Morgan, said the project will employ a multi-strategy approach to combatting the seep issue.

“We’ll be looking at it from a number of different angles, which will include the early identification of seeps, which will help farmers know where they need to take corrective action and focus their efforts to address the seeps,” she said.

“To this end, we are working with the CSRIO to develop a model that will predict the years when seeps will become more severe.

“We are also looking at new technologies including NDVI (Normalised Difference Vegetation Index which are the indices calculated from satellite imageries) which can identify where the hotspots are going to be in the paddock.

“Then we can look at what are the best crops and what are the best strategies that we can employ to remediate seeps in these areas.”