Bushfire study underway

NSW DPI district agronomist at Wagga Wagga, Nigel Phillips, is studying the impacts of the January bushfires in the Junee and Humula districts.
NSW DPI district agronomist at Wagga Wagga, Nigel Phillips, is studying the impacts of the January bushfires in the Junee and Humula districts.

Junee and Humula farmers whose properties were burnt out by the January 2006 bushfires have thrown their full support behind a novel study being conducted by the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI).

Wagga Wagga-based DPI agronomist, Nigel Phillips, today said the study is investigating the impact of bushfires on soil nutrition and crop and pasture production.

“More than 20 farmers have offered 50 trial sites for the study signalling a large amount of interest from local farmers who want to know exactly how the fires affected their farming land,” Mr Phillips said.

“Surprisingly, there is very little information available on the agricultural impact of bushfires. However, there is plenty of information on the impact on forests and ecology.

“Quantifying the capital losses like fencing, machinery and sheds is simple, however the cost of fire on productive crop and pasture areas is not as easy.

“What we do know already is that there are significant differences between agricultural burning such as stubble and the very hot bushfires that occur during summer.”

NSW DPI research agronomist, Guy McMullen, said soil samples are being taken from both burned and unburnt sites in the same paddock so that comparisons can be made and differences identified.

“Our work is sampling soil to measure any variation in soil fertility caused by fire,” Dr McMullen said.

“We are also assessing plant species and whether or not weed or pasture species were benefited or disadvantaged by the fire.

“We expect to see some annual weeds disadvantaged by the fire, for example rye grass and silver grass, however the loss of these weeds may create new opportunities for other weeds to dominate.

“However, this may be an opportunity to consolidate weed control.

“There may also be significant loss of seed reserves, particularly productive pasture species of sub clover.

“Subsequent wind erosion caused by the lack over ground cover is also accounted for by the soil analysis.”