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Eco Farming -

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Eco Farming (02/07/2009)

Topics: Environment

CommentsReporter: Dr Graham Phillips

Producer: Matthew Lovering

Researcher: Ruth Beran

Camera: Phillip Hankin

Matthew Lovering

Sound: Graeme Fettling

Editor: Andrew Scott

TRANSCRIPT

NARRATION

Much of the farmland in Australia is environmentally degraded. Many past farming practices from
England and Europe simply didn't work here, and now we desperately need to repair our farms.

DR GRAHAM PHILLIPS

Now here's the problem. You've only got a fixed amount of money you can spend on improving the farm
land. How do you get the best bang for your buck? Do you, for example, remove the gorse - the
introduced weed here - and replace it with native vegetation. Or would you be better just writing
this area off and instead spend the money on better protecting already existing native bushland?

NARRATION

Simon Falkiner grew up on this farm but spent his adult life away. Two years ago, he moved back,
with his family.

SIMON FALKINER

We've got problems with weeds and vermin, and there's some salinity problems. So if we can get on
top of them it'll come out on our bottom line.

NARRATION

Simon's concerns are echoed by other farmers in this region - the Corangamite catchment around
Geelong in Victoria. Fixing degraded land demands a district wide solution - because what's done on
one farm will affect and be affected by what's done on others... and managing that requires some very
impressive scientific modelling. Over the last decade Mark Eigenraam has developed a computer
land-management tool called the Catchment Management Framework - the CMF.

MARK EIGENRAAM

The Catchment Management Framework is a tool that allows natural resource managers to access all of
the science that we've accumulated over the last 100 years. So fundamentally we've had soil
scientists, plant scientists, ecologists, hydrologists, they've all been working on the landscape
in discrete areas to understand how the landscape operates.

NARRATION

If we wanted to revegetate this pasture the computer model shows how the regrowth will affect
everything - from soil dynamics, to water run-off and carbon accumulation.

MARK EIGENRAAM

This, Graham, is the catchment management framework and what we're looking at is the Corangamite
area here, and this is a picture of the land use as it currently is. So down the right hand side
here these codes represent the land use of each particular point.

The dark blue is grazing modified pastures. We can see that this red dot here which is very near
Simon's farm. When you click on it, it comes up and tells you there is a mean annual rainfall of
650 millimetres there, it's grazing modified pastures and the soil type is a DY5.33

DR GRAHAM PHILLIPS

So you know just for every 20 by 20 metre square in Victoria you can click on that and find all
that detailed information?

MARK EIGENRAAM

Absolutely.

DR GRAHAM PHILLIPS

That is a complex model!

MARK EIGENRAAM

Certainly is. There's certainly a lot of information.

NARRATION

The CMF predicts how the environment is affected by changes made to the land.

MARK EIGENRAAM

Let's say we changed some of Simon's land from grazing pasture to reintroducing the local species.
On the top curve here is the run off events as it accumulated between 1957 and 2005.

DR GRAHAM PHILLIPS

Right.

MARK EIGENRAAM

And on the green graph here we're looking at it when you've started to supplementary plant that
site. It is collecting more of that rain fall and the run off events have changed.

Now there is less erosion going to the stream, less nutrient transport going to the stream. The
stream is healthier.

DR GRAHAM PHILLIPS

Now it's all very well to know what should be done to fix up a landscape but how do Governments and
landowners actually make that happen. Well for that, they turn to an economic model.

NARRATION:

The Victorian government ecoMarket team has created an economic program called Ecotender, which
allows landowners to bid for government money to restore and revegetate areas of their farm.

MARK EIGENRAAM

With Ecotender we've taken ideas from traditional economics where we undertake transactions - so
landholders provide sheep, wheat, wool and other goods and services and we thought can we apply
that in the environment. Can we just get land holders to provide environmental services in the same
way they provide these other goods and services?

NARRATION

The buyer of the environmental benefit services - the Government - has to know what the current
land damage is and what repairs or benefits its money will buy.

NARRATION

Michelle Butler a field officer who helps assess that. Using a hand held GPS and data recorder, she
collects as much information as possible about the land.

DR GRAHAM PHILLIPS

What are some of the problems with this site?

MICHELLE BUTLER

As you can see the ground is very bare. It's been bared out by stock and rabbits, we've got rabbit
holes in front of us.

DR GRAHAM PHILLIPS

Yeah.

MICHELLE BUTLER

A lot of the trees are dying or are already dead like this one. It's missing a lot of the
understorey that would have typically been here in its original state.

So Simon can you give me a bit of a history of this site?

SIMON FALKINER

20 years ago there wasn't a lot of gorse here.

NARRATION

Michelle helps landowners prepare their bids by identifying the environmental priorities for each
property. All the scientific and economic information is processed in EcoTender, and the
environmental gains and monetary costs are reduced to a single number...the Environmental Benefit
Index. This score allows competing projects to be judged against each other, so the limited
government money gets the best outcome.

One of Simon's EcoTender contracts is to clear the introduced gorse. Over the next 5 years he'll
replant this paddock with native vegetation. He'll earn some income from repairing the land, but
there are also other benefits.

SIMON FALKINER

I look at it as improving the farm, and again a cliché but you're looking after it as, you're
custodian for the next generation. So we'd like to leave it a better state than we inherited it.

Related Info

EcoTender, Dept. of Sustainability & Environment

Story Contacts

Mark Eigenraam

Mark.E.Eigenraam@dse.vic.gov.au

Manager Landscape Economics: Economics Branch

Project Director, ecoMarkets

Department of Sustainability & Environment