Thursday 19 April 2012

Farmers assess centuries-old system for marginal land

A report on Australia's ABC News tells of growing interest among farmers in systems used in Spain and Portugal to produce high quality pork products in a particularly dry environment.

Farmers in drought-stricken Salmon Gums, near Esperance in Western Australia, are considering a centuries-old Mediterranean farming system as a way to improve marginal land. The area has been through four years of drought and farmers are exploring alternative production systems in order to survive. Some farmers are looking at Dehesa, which creates a symbiotic relationship between trees, pasture and animals to boost the land's productivity.

WA's agricultural region has a Mediterranean climate and so should be suited to tis method which is used on the Iberian Peninsula. Climates are characterised by long, hot, dry summers with cool winters, as well as challenging soil types. Dehesa, known as Montados in Portugal, was developed around the middle ages as a means to cultivate the land in the harsh climate.

Dr Imma Farre grew up on a farming property in Spain and now works at the Department of Agriculture and Food as a research officer. She says estates in the south west corner of the Iberian Peninsula grow Holm Oak and Cork Oak trees on their land for a number of reasons.

"The Cork Oak is harvested for cork while the acorns, which drop from the Holm Oak, feed the livestock," she said. Rather than produce large yields, the farmers have developed a premium high value product, known as Iberian pork ham. "When the pigs eat the Holm Acorns that fall from the tree, the meat takes on a unique taste that is highly sort and sells at a premium price," Dr Farre said. The trees also provide shelter and shade for the animals, as well as nutrients and protection against erosion for the soil.

Read more here about how the WA Department of Agriculture and Food is researching and developing ways to protect farming against a changing climate.