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More farmers than ever sowing seeds for healthier waterways

Craig DuncanHarvey-Waroona Reporter
A record number of farmers attended workshops run as part of Healthy Estuaries WA and Soil Wise fertiliser management program.
Camera IconA record number of farmers attended workshops run as part of Healthy Estuaries WA and Soil Wise fertiliser management program. Credit: Department of Water and Environmental Regulation

Be it fish swimming in the shallows, osprey hunting from the skies or people zipping around on jet skis and tinnies, the health of WA’s many estuaries is vital for many.

This year more farmers than ever are participating in Healthy Estuaries WA’s Soil Wise fertiliser management program, helping improve the health of WA’s many unique estuaries.

A record 257 farms are involved with Healthy Estuaries WA’s program which is a $25 million State Government commitment aimed at improving and protecting the health of the Peel-Harvey Estuary, Leschenault Estuary, Vasse-Geographe waterways, Hardy Inlet, Wilson Inlet, Torbay Inlet, and Oyster Harbour.

Running soil test workshops gives farmers a better understanding of the amount of fertiliser necessary for ideal production.
Camera IconRunning soil test workshops gives farmers a better understanding of the amount of fertiliser necessary for ideal production. Credit: Department of Water and Environmental Regulation

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By running soil tests, farmers are able to have a better understanding of the needs of their farmland and use less fertilisers than usual.

Healthy Estuaries WA estimates participants involved in the program could save about $12,000 on phosphorus fertilising costs.

Over the entire program’s range, it is estimated that farmers could reduce the amount of phosphorous applied to farms by 668,000kg, saving a total of $3m.

Beyond the savings for farmers, using less fertiliser is one of the key ways farmers can ensure water bodies can remain healthy.

When too much fertiliser is added to farmland, the excess is washed down the many rivers that feed estuaries and fuels algal growth.

A Department of Water and Environmental Regulation spokesperson said whilst algae is a natural part of an aquatic ecosystem, too much algae could cause fish kills and be harmful to human health.

An over abundance of nutrients flowing into the Peel Harvey Estuary in the 1980s caused mass algae growth, ruining its health.
Camera IconAn over abundance of nutrients flowing into the Peel Harvey Estuary in the 1980s caused mass algae growth, ruining its health. Credit: Craig Duncan

An over-abundance of algae in the Peel-Harvey estuary caused by nutrients being washed through rivers became a serious environmental issue for Mandurah in the 1980s.

The crisis led to the construction of the Dawesville Cut which opened in April 1994, allowing seawater into the waterway to flush out the over abundance of algae that had grown.

The DWER spokesperson said: “Ensuring that fertiliser is not applied in excess of what is needed for plant production in the catchment is one of the most important ways that we can reduce the amount of nutrients entering our estuaries in the long term”.

It benefits not only our waterways, but also often increases their farm profitability.

Expressions of interest for the next round of the program will open in May 2024, and can be submitted at the Healthy Estuaries WA website.

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