The recent early warm, dry spell on the back of a run of below average winters in the southern rangelands of Western Australia has again highlighted the constant challenge that pastoralists face in making the most of every drop of rain received.
Rangelands NRM’s Sustainable Pastoralism Manager Paul Erkelenz said water use efficiency was a well understood and much measured and managed factor in dryland and irrigated cropping systems but less so in rangelands grazing businesses.
“The climate in WA’s rangelands is highly variable and obviously pastoral managers have no control over the amount, intensity and timing of rainfall events,” he said.
However, they can have an influence on what impact the rain that does fall on their properties has, through their management.
The importance of efficient water and nutrient cycling in promoting pasture growth and the health of the rangelands generally has long been recognised and this can only happen of the landscape is functioning properly.
Good ground cover, the right mix of plants, good soil surface condition and the absence of erosion or poorly placed and maintained infrastructure such as tracks that speed up or misdirect water flows are all features of a well-functioning landscape.
Mr Erkelenz said WA pastoralists had been engaging with landscape function concepts for some years now.
“The pioneering work of Drs. Ken Tinley and Hugh Pringle through the EMUTM project in the 2000’s unlocked a lot of hidden knowledge for many pastoral managers on how the rangelands natural system works,” he said.
This has led to a number of important changes for some, such as more rigorous management of total grazing pressure and the installation of repair/rehabilitation works in key part of the landscape.
Through the Australian Government funded Sustainable Pastoralism project, Rangelands NRM continues to provide a number of opportunities for WA pastoralists to look at and improve landscape function on their properties, and thus water use efficiency. These include assisting pastoralists to develop ESRM (Ecologically Sustainable Rangelands Management) property plans, the publication of a Rangelands Rehydration field guide and funding support for workshops and training, on ground works and demonstration sites.