Landcare anxiety over burnt trees
Remnant paddock trees severely damaged by fire in autumn have prompted Kaniva and District Landcare members to urge the regional farming community to take care when burning stubble. Landcare facilitator Kim Hawker has put pen to paper to present the group’s point of view.
This year featured a glorious autumn – flames tore through the Wimmera night sky and the smoke haze in the evening light provided us with glorious red sunsets... not to mention a covering of ash and a few breathing difficulties.
Despite the knowledge that stubble retention incorporated into farming practices will produce less erosion, better soil health and soil moisture, and higher yielding crops, many farmers burnt a lot of stubbles this year.
Bumper crops throughout our last Wimmera harvest meant autumn arrived with thick cereal stubbles, snails, mice and large ryegrass populations.
Many considered burning the only solution.
Some farmers routinely slash or mulch stubbles and many work with inter-row cropping systems and can till into the stubbles. But we saw an extensive return to extensive burning throughout the Wimmera.
It is a practice that some wisdom suggests might wipe out microbial activity in the topsoil and set soil health and soil moisture back decades.
So, the question is: can we do it differently next year?
Can we make an effort to mulch, slash or just harvest at a lower level to retain less stubble?
Many Wimmera paddock trees will not survive this year’s burning regimes.
Tragically it is the trees that we all notice. We are leaving singed and dying trees as a lasting legacy to our burning regimes.
Lazy burning practices, such as a lack of firebreaks, burning in the middle of the day and early in the season, contributed to tragic loss of many paddock trees in 2017.
In many cases, some trees have been more than 300 years old – emerging as seedlings before white settlement and home to generations of owls, magpies and many other bird species that as a side benefit help keep down mouse populations.
My own family’s income comes predominately from crops, but that is no justification for decimating a paddock.
As farmers we don’t need to leave our land barren and ugly – we’re all smarter than that.
RIP our Wimmera trees.