Land­care anx­i­ety over burnt trees

The Weekly Advertiser Horsham - - News -

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.

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