All gung-ho on dung as bee­tles per­form

Shepparton News - Country News - - NEWS -

A new na­tional re­search ef­fort is hop­ing to turn 80 mil­lion tonnes of dung pro­duced by Aus­tralian live­stock each year into a multi-mil­lion dol­lar ben­e­fit for farm­ers, with the use of the hum­ble dung bee­tle.

The $23 mil­lion project, led by Meat & Live­stock Aus­tralia, is part­ner­ing with re­searchers at Charles Sturt Uni­ver­sity through the Gra­ham Cen­tre for Agri­cul­tural In­no­va­tion.

Gra­ham Cen­tre di­rec­tor Pro­fes­sor Michael Friend said the project aimed to build knowl­edge of the role that na­tive and im­ported dung bee­tles pro­vided in farm­ing sys­tems, in­clud­ing im­prov­ing pas­ture and soil health and re­duc­ing the spread of flies and par­a­sites.

A CSIRO-run pro­gram from 1964 to the mid-1990s pre­vi­ously in­tro­duced dung bee­tles from south­ern Africa and south­ern Europe in Aus­tralia, with 23 species estab­lished.

CSU pro­fes­sor Les­lie We­ston said this new project would de­velop in­for­ma­tion and path­ways for dung bee­tles to be in­cor­po­rated more widely into live­stock pro­duc­tion sys­tems.

‘‘A key part of this re­search is de­vel­op­ing a re­gion­ally spe­cific dung bee­tle ser­vice to farm­ers sup­ported with ex­ten­sion and mon­i­tor­ing ac­tiv­i­ties,’’ Prof We­ston said.

‘‘We’re also go­ing to in­ves­ti­gate the im­por­ta­tion and mass rear­ing of three new species and two en­demic species that should be more suited to con­di­tions en­coun­tered across in­land Aus­tralia.’’

The five-year project is sup­ported by MLA through fund­ing from the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment’s Ru­ral Re­search and De­vel­op­ment for Profit pro­gram.

MLA’s sus­tain­abil­ity in­no­va­tion man­ager Doug McNi­choll said the project would en­able pro­duc­ers to gain greater knowl­edge of and ac­cess to dung bee­tles that could pro­vide sig­nif­i­cant pro­duc­tiv­ity and en­vi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fits on-farm.

‘‘Dung bee­tles play a crit­i­cal role in graz­ing ecosys­tems,’’ Mr McNi­choll said.

‘‘By bury­ing dung in the soil, the bee­tles im­prove the flow of wa­ter, nu­tri­ents and car­bon into the root zones of pas­tures, which im­proves pas­ture pro­duc­tiv­ity.

‘‘And by dis­turb­ing the dung, they pre­vent build-up of flies and worms which, in turn, im­proves an­i­mal pro­duc­tiv­ity.

‘‘In ad­di­tion to in­ves­ti­gat­ing new bee­tle strains and giv­ing some ex­ist­ing species a pop­u­la­tion boost, the project will quan­tify the eco­nomic and en­vi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fits bee­tles pro­vide to the red meat in­dus­try.

‘‘We’ll also learn more about how to look af­ter these lit­tle crit­ters so that they can con­tinue to do their good work into the fu­ture.’’

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