Chief Executive, Greening Australia Ltd. Canberra ACT
I'm delighted to be here at the 1991 Riverina Outlook Conference.
Congratulations to Jim Pratley and his team of organisers for continuing the tradition of very useful and topical Riverina Outlook Conferences since 1973.
I am here today in my one week old capacity as the Chief Executive of Greening Australia Ltd. This is my first speaking engagement, and I can think of few more beautiful parts of rural Australia to take up the public side of my new life.
About Greening Australia
I'd like to say a few words about Greening Australia for those of you who are not very familiar with us.
Greening Australia has been around since 1982. It is an independent community-based organisation with autonomous incorporated committees in each State and Territory, coordinated by a national office (Greening Australia Ltd) in Canberra.
As a 'family', we are dedicated to helping all Australians participate in the sustainable management of our country's heritage of land, water and vegetation, and we have a particular commitment to protecting and extending Australia's vegetation. Some of you may be more familiar with us in our role as the body contracted by the Federal Government to manage its One Billion Trees program.
We assist the community in many, many ways, mostly carrying out our main role as a catalyst and facilitator for the revegetation management in Australia. A random list of some of our main activities would include:
• bringing participants together
• coordinating projects
• encouraging whole farm and catchment planning
• fostering the formation of community and landholder groups
• informing and educating the public
• encouraging and provoking deep and broader thinking on revegetation
• fund raising and brokerage (matching sponsors with projects)
• influencing the media
• helping the politicians
• promoting and disseminating research into tree decline and revegetation
• developing codes of practice for seed collection
• sponsoring the development of low cost revegetation techniques
• organising conferences and competitions
• conducting demonstration projects, field days and seminars on the agronomic, economic and ecological benefits of integrating trees and agriculture
• reporting to the nation on the work of community revegetators
• working with the younger generation, especially in schools
This list is not exhaustive, but it should give you some idea of how we spend our time.
You might be wondering what a city girl like me is doing here in Wagga addressing an agricultural conference about trees. Well, let me tell you that I'm actually a country girl.
I come from a bit further down the track ... from the fine wool growing country around Benalla and Strathbogie in Victoria. I was born and grew up on a farm which my brother still runs; he also coordinates over a hundred other farms in the district that are all part of the Warrenbayne-Boho Land Protection Group Inc., so most of what I've learnt about landcare and vegetation has been from my direct involvement with this group over the last eight or nine years.
I would like to share with you some of the personal understanding about the benefits of trees on farms that I've gained from watching that group evolve.
These views have been reinforced by my work with the National Plantations Advisory Committee over the past six months. During this time I surveyed farmers, the timber and paper industries, investors, conservationists, and government advisers across Australia and New Zealand.
The role of trees on farms
From these experiences, I would categorise eight benefits of trees on farms:
• preventing and reversing land and water degradation
• creating a stronger sense of community between people living and working with one another
• improving agricultural productivity
• commercial production of wood and other tree products
• providing wildlife habitat and preserving species diversity
• assisting natural pest management
• helping improve city-country relations
I'd like to say just a few words about some of these benefits, drawing on insights I've gained from my personal experience.
(i) Preventing and reversing land and water degradation
The focus on trees in the Warrenbayne-Boho group had its origins in our concern about land degradation and salinity. Of the combined 40,000 hectares occupied by 100-plus farms, about 11,000 hectares are groundwater recharge zones which need revegetation with trees and deep-rooted grasses in order to reduce the volume of water entering in that part and discharging in saline seeps further down.
There is full awareness of that today. But originally, all most of us knew was that the land was degrading steadily, and that paddocks were gradually carrying fewer and fewer stock.
The group has now revegetated nearly 700 hectares of the 11,000 ... which is a great start when you consider the terrain and the effort involved.
Of course, when you're dealing with salinity, in many instances the discharge areas where the problem appears are not on the same farms as the recharge areas. So the solution has to be a community effort.
(ii) Creating a stronger sense of community between people living and working together
And that brings me to my second benefit of trees on farms. Tackling the salt problem across farm boundaries with the strategic use of trees creates strong community links and a sense of common purpose between the landholders and others in the community ... and at the same time, incidentally, has provided a lot of enjoyment.
(iii) Improving agricultural production and productivity
The third important benefit of trees on farms is the improvement in agricultural production and productivity. I'm sure that speakers more qualified than I will have something to say about this during the day.
So I will simply mention the increasing number of farmers, including many whom I spoke to during my recent survey, who are finding that, far from losing production from having to 'give up' land to plant trres, they are able to devote upwards of 10% of the farm for windbreaks, shelterbelts and so on, and actually increase their crop and livestock output.
This is achieved, of course, through the protection from drying winds that trees and shrubs provide for crops and pastures, and through the shade and shelter that trees provide for livestock.
(iv) Commercial production of wood and other tree products
The fourth benefit relates to commercial wood production. Do you realise that in this country, which has to grow trees in large numbers if we are going to hang on to the quality of our soil and water, we are actually importing $2 billion worth of timber and wood products per annum? This contributes in the order of 10% of our foreign debt.
What the timber industry needs are large volumes of good quality, easily accessible timber coming on stream on a regular and predictable basis. There seems to me to be no reason why Australian farmers, who are such excellent producers of other primary products, could not also get into this field.
There are constant debates going on over resource security in relation to native forests, and I don't want to buy into that. But what I do want to say is that potentially there are hundreds of thousands of hectares in this country which desperately need to be revegetated; much of this is cleared agricultural land in the hands of private landholders. If we could work out some sensible joint venture arrangements between urban investors and rural landholders, we could produce in future far more than our own domestic wood requirements, helping to bear the cost of establishing the trees required for environmental purposes, and helping to reduce our foreign debt at the same time.
(v) Providing wildlife habitat and maintaining species diversity
The fifth and obvious area is the one of habitat. Where we have reduced our vegetation so drastically (we've lost over 50% of our tall and medium forest cover since settlement), we've also reduced the places where all those wonderful and unique Australian creatures - marsupials, birds, insects and so on - can live.
What's more, the old remnant clusters of trees in the middle of the paddocks and along the edges of roadways are rapidly dying of old age and excessive exposure to the weather, disease and pest attack. So if we want to hang on to the native fauna that we still have, we really need to do something about revegetation from that perspective.
Certainly in the Warrenbayne-Boho area we are very conscious of this. There is a corridors project being planned to link the bushland that covers the hills of the Strathbogie Ranges. It links up the pieces of remnant vegetation on farms and then links these through to the roadways. There has been a very interesting Koala Watch project going on, in which the landholders and school children have been involved, and it's very interesting to see whether the numbers will increase as a result of the corridors project.
(vi) Assisting natural pest management
There is also the aspect of integrated pest management. None of us like having to pour on herbicides and pesticides in large amounts but productivity will continue to depend on this until we learn about and apply more natural alternatives.
The more knowledge we can obtain about what species of vegetation will attract the creatures that eat the other creatures that we don't want on the farm, the better. There is already quite a body of knowledge building up under this whole subject of integrated pest management, and it is a subject that I believe is worthy of much greater investment. When you consider the direct cost of all the chemicals and the potential cost in terms of risk to health, built-up in food, etc, and the impact that this then has on the saleability of our product overseas, there is certainly a real opportunity for the further development of integrated pest management.
(vii) Improving amenity
A further benefit of trees is that of improved amenity. We appreciate this for its own sake, because it helps to improve the quality of the life we lead. It's a far more enjoyable experience to wake up on a visually attractive farm with the sounds of contented stock and of birds singing, than it is to wake up and start working on a barren, windswept, eroding landscape where the stock have very little shelter or comfort.
But apart from that of course, the amenity also brings with it improved value. It is hard to estimate just quite how much the real estate value improves with comprehensive planting, but we do know that the return is far higher on an attractively landscaped farm than on an unimproved one.
(viii) Helping improve city-country relations
A further benefit of trees on farms that I've experienced in the Warrenbayne-Boho project is the improved understanding between city and country. Revegetation is an enormous task, and repairing and reversing our land, water and vegetation degradation is not something that can just be left to country people. It has to be an urban issue as well.
We live in a continent where 90% of the people crowd in on the cities, and the rest of the vast expanses is left in the care of a little over 5% of the population, who are responsible for managing the land. Yet the cities use the resources produced by the land directly, and also benefit from the 30% of our exports that flow from the rural sector. But in the last two or three decades, with the great increase in immigration, there has been a reduction in the number of family links that exist between city and country, and there have been diminishing opportunities for city people to really experience both country joys and country problems.
The advent of the landcare groups over the last few years (and I understand there are now in the vicinity of 900) provides a marvellous opportunity for city people to be linked in a meaningful way doing useful plans on tasks associated with revegetation.
I personally have been involved in taking groups of 20 to 30 city friends up for weekends on my brother's farm, where I do have a part responsibility for the revegetation of a recharge area. These people have told me and have showed me just how much they enjoyed this opportunity, which to you might look like just a lot of backbreaking work carrying buckets of water and heavy tree guards up and down rocky hills. But for them it's a rare opportunity to get out of the smog and stress of the city and to really do something real on the land.
The Warrenbayne-Boho Land Protection Group is fortunate enough to have a very good Community Education Officer, and over the last few months she has facilitated and organised some 3000 students, many of them city children, to come and visit and work with the Group. That's a tremendous investment in our future isn't it, both in improved understanding as well as in getting a great many more trees in the ground.
In conclusion, I just want to say that Greening Australia sees its role as providing a framework within which what we believe are the hundreds of thousands of people who would be prepared to help with this whole challenge of revegetation can become involved and make a contribution. At Greening Australia, we recognise that we can do very little alone. But if we encourage, enlist, enthuse and equip the people who want to help to link up in a way that's useful (and not get under the farmer's feet and waste his or her time!), then we will have played a valuable role.
And conferences such as yours are a superb way to build knowledge and to help initiate these opportunities. I wish you well and trust that everyone here both enjoys and is greatly provoked by this year's Riverina Outlook Conference - "Trees: the essential farm ingredient". I have much pleasure in officially opening today's proceedings.
About Greening Australia
Greening Australia is a national, independent, non-profit community organisation, dedicated to helping all Australians to conserve and establish trees and other vegetation.
Mrs Hazel Hawke is the National Patron of Greening Australia.
Greening Australia provides an 'umbrella' for a great diversity of individuals, groups and institutions with an active interest in overcoming tree loss and in using trees and shrubs for land and nature conservation and for diversifying farm income.
We receive help in the form of subscriptions, sales, sponsorship, government funds, and donations of money, skills, voluntary labour, equipment and materials. In return, by raising awareness and supporting well-planned self-help revegetation projects, Greening Australia has, since 1982, helped the community establish millions of trees in the battle against rural tree decline and land degradation.
Greening Australia operates in all States and Territories. Small numbers of professional staff support voluntary incorporated boards representing farmers, industry and conservation interests, community groups, professional institutions, and relevant government agencies. Greening Australia is not, therefore, directed by any government or by any individual group or organisation.
Because of our track record and community network, in July 1989 the Federal Government contracted Greening Australia to administer the One Billion Trees program. This program aims to have at least one billion trees planted, sown, and regenerated by the end of the century, together with a much greater community awareness and capacity to conserve, restore and nurture Australia's native vegetation.
Our role includes much more than just encouraging people to plant and count trees. It includes educating and involving the whole community so they understand why trees are so important, how trees can protect our water catchments and make our farmland more productive, and how to choose the right trees and shrubs for the job, grow them by the most cost-effective method where they're most needed, and make sure they survive.
Greening Australia's strategy aims to ensure an integrated approach to land care, bringing together the elements of soil, water and vegetation through the adoption of whole farm planning and total catchment management. To achieve this, we consult or work closely with a wide variety of experts from State and local authorities, and with researchers in private and public organisations, including CSIRO. At all levels there is increasing contact and liaison with landcare groups, and with government agencies responsible for agriculture, forestry and soil conservation; land, water and wildlife management; and rural and environmental education.
Conserving and extending Australia's vegetative cover is a massive task. Therefore, we need the support of all these groups and institutions, and of the whole Australian community, to successfully meet the challenge. Working together in this way, we all can and will create a more beautiful and productive Australia.
If you wish to find out more, or better still become involved, contact Greening Australia in your State or Territory or through the national office, at the following addresses:
Greening Australia National Office
Greening Australia Ltd, Building 6, CSIRO Complex, Banks St, Yarralumla, ACT 2600
Greening Australia State and Territory Organisations
GA New South Wales
GPO Box 9868, Sydney, NSW 2001
GA South Australia
GPO Box 9868, Adelaide, SA 5001
GA Western Australia
GA Northern Territory
GA ACT and South East NSW