10 December 2004

Integrating farm forestry with conventional beef production in the Fitzroy Basin could deliver better economic returns for cattle producers while reducing damaging run-off into the Great Barrier Reef lagoon, award-winning new University of Queensland (UQ) research has shown.

Caroline Harris, a farm manager who yesterday graduated from UQ with a Bachelor of Natural Resource Economics, found an alley cropping system of improved pasture and Leucaena trees or Brigalow regrowth delivered superior economic and environmental returns than typical fully cleared paddocks sown to improved pastures.

However, the same alley cropping system using native hardwoods was found to be significantly less profitable than clear-sown pasture due to high establishment costs and the long delay for timber income.

Ms Harris was awarded the prestigious AF Bell Memorial Medal for her research, which used economic analyses to identify preferred land management systems from both landholder and community perspectives.

“Much of the Fitzroy basin has been identified as presenting a moderate to high dryland salinity hazard and the basin is also the largest area draining into the Great Barrier Reef lagoon,” Ms Harris said.

“My research examined the economic returns from introducing various forestry systems to a typical beef cattle grazing property in the Basin as a means of addressing the salinity and sediment run-off issues and compared them with a typical paddock that’s been totally cleared and sown to improved pastures.”

While all the forestry systems were effective in preventing sediment discharge to the Great Barrier Reef Lagoon and to ameliorate salinity in the Fitzroy basin, each presented very different economic outcomes.

Alley cropping of Leucaena and improved pasture was clearly the preferred land management system for landholders, generating a net present value (NPV) over 30 years of $376,003, followed by an alley cropping arrangement of Brigalow regrowth and improved pasture that generated an NPV of $307,429.

An existing improved pasture system with no woody vegetation was the third preference with an NPV of $206,309 while the least preferred for landholders was a native hardwood/improved pasture system which generated an NPV of only $152,411.

When community outcomes were included, the Leucaena system remained the most preferred with the Brigalow system second. However, the hardwood system became more attractive than the pasture system.

“The results indicate farm forestry can generate good returns, although commercial hardwood systems are clearly disadvantaged by high establishment costs and the long delay for timber income,” Ms Harris said.

“Unless and until that issue can be addressed, it’s likely most graziers would look to other land management and systems before they would consider developing hardwood plantations.”

The Australian Institute of Agricultural Science and Technology’s (AIAST) South East Queensland branch has awarded the Bell medal since 1947 to the fourth year UQ agricultural science/economics student judged to have submitted the best research project.

Media: contact Ms Harris (phone: 07 4164 8168), Project Supervisor Dr Wegener (phone: 07 3365 2939) or Brad Henderson, Marketing Coordinator, Faculty of NRAVS (phone: 5460 1229, 0409 265 587)