Sheep show appetite for native plants


Feeding livestock on native plants is the key to sustainable profits for Australian farmers, researchers have found.

Farmers in dry parts of southern Australia are planting native perennial shrubs to feed their animals following ground-breaking research by The Future Farm Industries CRC Enrich Project Team.

For its role in initiating this change, the Enrich team has won the 2013 Australian Museum Caring for our Country Landcare Eureka Prize for Sustainable Agriculture.

The team discovered that grazing native shrubs could improve profitability by up to 24 per cent in low-to-medium rainfall areas, as well as decrease greenhouse gas emissions and erosion.

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"This team has produced a practical recipe for helping to proof farms against climate change," the Director of the Australian Museum, Frank Howarth said.

"From mixed native plantings in the Riverina to old man saltbush and mallee in arid Western Australia, it is already helping farmers increase the health of their livestock while also improving the condition of their land."

The Enrich project is a collaboration between the CSIRO's Dr Dean Revell, the University of Western Australia's Associate Professor Phil Vercoe, the South Australian Research and Development Institute's Dr Jason Emms, and land managers.

Its ideas for sustainable grazing systems are already being adopted at multiple sites across four states.

The two other finalists for the prize were chosen for research into breeding carbon efficiency into cattle and studies that examine transformational change in agriculture.

The Cattle Methane Team of the NSW Department of Primary Industries and the University of New England showed that feed efficiency and methane production are inherited. The offspring of superior bulls emit up to 25 per cent less methane than those of standard bulls. This work has provided Australian beef producers with the means to reduce their costs of production and their carbon footprint simultaneously, and has already caught international attention.

The Transformational Adaptation Research Group, a collaboration between CSIRO and the University of Melbourne, is exploring how to use the challenge of climate change to initiate changes in Australian agriculture that will make it more sustainable.

The Australian Museum Eureka Prizes reward excellence in the fields of research and innovation, leadership and commercialisation, science journalism and communication, and school science. This year the 17 sponsored prizes also include awards for environment, defence, infectious diseases and innovative use of technology.

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