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Faith in forage pays off

Kate RastonThe West Australian

Last week's rainfall could not have come soon enough for Kellerberrin farmer Murray Clements.

Mr Clements had been hand feeding his 1400 Merino ewes and Poll Dorset-cross lambs in the hope the weather would soon turn.

"In the lead-up to this rain, it was a dust bowl," he said. "We've been relying on our forage shrubs, including saltbush and rhagodia as well as feeding out grain and hay."

Mr Clements recorded 32mm of rain for the week, which he said came just in the nick of time.

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_Definitely helping him through the dry has been an investment in forage shrubs, with more than 200,000 planted during the past 10 years on his property near Doodlakine. _

Mr Clements has been a strong proponent of planting forage crops, particularly on saline and unproductive land, and has come out in support of a new program encouraging others to follow suit.

"I'll continue to use the forage shrubs until my pastures are ready to sustain sheep grazing on them," he said.

"They're a valuable part of my farming system. Without them, we'd be farming a real dust bowl. The forage shrubs control erosion from the wind, so the countryside would be in a sorry state if we didn't have them."

Recently launched by natural resource management group Wheatbelt NRM, the Perennials for Profit program offers subsidies on forage shrubs like saltbush and rhagodia, as well as sandalwood host trees.

Program co-ordinator Fiona Brayshaw said Wheatbelt NRM would be directing about $120,000 of the Australian Government's National Landcare Program into community grants over the next three years, and would be supporting advocates like Mr Clements to mentor successful applicants.

"The program will also involve master classes that will focus on how and where to implement these systems on farm to boost overall farm profitability," she said.

Animal nutritionist and farming systems research scientist Dean Revell agreed forage shrubs could turn around unproductive land.

"Saltbush and other species combined can help meeting the energy and nutrient requirements in autumn and early winter where the current annual pastures are lacking," Dr Revell said.

"Forage shrubs are most valuable when you have just had rain, because you want to keep the sheep off the pasture to give it a chance to grow and set itself up for the rest of the year."

For information on the Perennials for Profit program, or to become a mentor, contact Dr Brayshaw on 9670 3100.

The closing date for applications is Friday, July 24.

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