Basically, there is this really exciting method of paddock rehabilitation that is called Whole of Paddock Rehabilitation (WOPR, pronounced ‘wop-er’) and is run by Greening Australia, a very awesome environmental NGO that works with farmers to make their land healthier, more productive, and have better biodiversity.
The agricultural area of south-east Australia is highly productive but also really very degraded. Farmers face problems such as salinity, erosion, bad soil health, and having their stock exposed to the elements. This makes their land less productive than it could be, means that stock loose weight due to stress, and means that they lose land to problems like salinity or erosion.
WOPR started in 2008 and since then has been pretty successful and shows great potential for kicking goals all over the place. Simply put, the way it works is that stock are taken out of a paddock of at least 10ha and trees are directed seeded in belts. Each belt has about four rows of trees and are 40-50 metres apart, giving the paddock a tree cover of 20-30%, which is ideal. Some trees and other plants such as grasses are put in a tubestock.
Among many other things, it has been shown to:
- improve weight gain for stock;
- increase habitat for native fauna, especially for birds;
- be an additional form of food for stock;
- increase carbon sequestration; and
- improve soil health.
So how does WOPR happen?
A farmer applies to Greening Australia to be a part of the project. If they are accepted they need to put aside some land of at least 10ha paddocks, or a large paddock can be divided into smaller paddocks based on the quality of certain bits. Using existing paddocks save a lot of time and money on building fences!
The farmer takes out her stock and trees are direct seeded in belts across the paddock. She has to exclude her stock from that paddock for the next five years, so she is compensated at roughly $50/ha/year in two lump payments; one at the start of the five years and one at the end. After this time the trees should be big enough to be grazed by stock so she can let them back in, but Greening Australia recommends using a rotational grazing system for the five years thereafter to really get the best out of the pasture.
The projects are monitored throughout and as WOPR is a fairly new thing, the oldest sites are only six years old there is a lot of research to be done, which is where I come in …
WOPR and I
There is a strong tradition of ANU students doing research on WOPR, especially Honours projects. I intend to follow this tradition and spend between now and November doing a little bit of preparation for Honours next year, when I will be looking at something to do with tree density, probably creating models to project the next 200 years or so (it is only week one of semester, so a question hasn’t yet emerged from my excitement).
For more information on WOPR, check out the website here, where there is a nice little video and some lovely pictures. Tony Magee, the farmer from ‘Gunyah’ was nice enough to let us onto his farm to take a look at it when I did a sustainable agriculture course last semester, and it was really easy to see the benefits of it, especially when contrasted with his neighbours’ paddocks.