Woody crops for dryland areas

The hunt is on to find new applications for woody crops that can be introduced successfully to Australian farmers operating in dryland areas.

The search will focus on new types of wood production, rather than the tall straight timber tree that is the hallmark of the timber industry.

'We are looking at different wood uses to the usual sawlog,' said project leader Brendan George of the NSW Department of Primary Industries.

'We looking at wood production which could be used to make particle boards, provide energy, or foliage for oil production.

'We are trying to focus on products that are already available for which there are established markets.

'We will look at how farming systems can be adapted to increase perennial-based woody crops into areas that have lower rainfall than ‘traditional forestry’ production systems.'

The project team is looking at species that will grow quickly and can be continually harvested.

'These typically will be wood species that will coppice after harvest and which we can return to in, say, four years,' Mr George said.

'This could include some acacias, or oil mallee.'

The outcome of the work is focusing on developing options for farmers to increase the amount of perennial vegetation that offer commercial returns and can address environmental issues such as salinity.

The team is also undertaking an examination of data from existing trials to help speed the process.

'There are sites all over the country, particularly in Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia where we can interpret existing data,' Mr George said.

'We can draw on the results of 10 or 15 years of trials, where we can see what has survived and what has been grown.'

Progress had already been good, with a number of differences detected between species.

'This is enough to show us which ones should be trialled for different uses,' Mr George said.

Further work would be needed to model whether selected species were suitable for block planting, or for strip planting.

'We want to find new industries that can be introduced to low rainfall areas,' Mr George said.

'Farms might have five per cent perennial vegetation, but we might be able to bring this up to 10 or 15 per cent.'

The project is under the auspices of the CRC for Plant Based Management of Dryland Salinity, and includes the CSIRO, the Department of Primary Industries, Victoria, the Department of Water, Land and Biodiversity Conservation in South Australia and Conservation and Land Management Western Australia.

Further information

Contact: Brendan George, (02) 6763 1100 or brendan.george@dpi.nsw.gov.au.