Funded through the Sustainable Agriculture stream of the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program, the Port Phillip & Westernport CMA’s Regional Landcare Facilitator role works with agricultural industry groups, particularly those with existing environmental programs for their industry, in the Port Phillip and Western Port region to deliver a variety of activities that engage and support their constituent farmers to learn more about sustainable agriculture, indigenous values and their options for adoption of sustainable practices.
The Regional Landcare Facilitator works with members of the target industry organisations to identify obstacles to adoption of key sustainable land management practices, opportunities to trial and demonstrate new and emerging practices on-farm, and deliver events such as field days, workshops and seminars to facilitate peer learning and promote the wider adoption of these practices.
The Regional Landcare Facilitator also circulates information on relevant information sessions, learning opportunities producer updates and financial incentives that support adoption of sustainable practices.Recent events run by the Regional Landcare Facilitator include Creating Native Vegetation Insectariums and Westernport Land and Water tour as part of the International Nitrogen Conference.
The Regional Landcare Facilitator will also support the development of industry leaders to increase their knowledge and capacity to trial and promote emerging and innovative sustainable farm practices to a wider audience.
Some examples of the current trial and demonstration events include:
Compost Under Vines Trial
The Port Phillip & Westernport CMA has reached the mid-point of a two year trial of the effects of applying compost under grape vines at three vineyards on the Mornington Peninsula.
The trial was funded through the Australian Government’s National Landcare Programme and is running in conjunction with the Western Port Catchment Landcare Network, the Mornington Peninsula Vignerons Association and the Australian Organics Recycling Association. The aim is to assess whether the application of compost mulch under vines would reduce weed densities and herbicide use, improve water use efficiency and soil health and reduce vine stress on extreme heat days.
The results of the trial to date are definitive. During periods of heat, the control rows had limited biological activity and a significant decrease in irrigation infiltration, whilst the test rows using compost showed more efficient infiltration and did not require night irrigation.
Alternatively during the wetter months, the compost test rows also showed positive results. This was first evident during a significant rainfall event in the last week of April 2015. All rows became waterlogged, however after 24 hours, the compost rows began to dry out, whilst the control row remained waterlogged for over a week. This resulted in a decline in biological activity and plant health as a result of the waterlogging.
Joe Vaughn from 100Hunts Vineyard in Tuerong hosted one of the trial sites. He noted that using compost mulch on his vines over the past two years has resulted in a 50% decrease in herbicide use due to less weed pressure.
The number of vineyards on the Mornington Peninsula using compost mulch on their vines has risen over 50% in the last 12 months. This is a fantastic outcome and will result in more productive and efficient vineyards across the region.
Compost Use In Vineyards – Declan McDonald, Senior Soil Scientist
Native Insectarium Trial
Karen Thomas, Regional Landcare Facilitator for the Port Phillip & Westernport Catchment Management Authority (PPWCMA), has been investigating ways that farmers could improve their farm biodiversity in combination with adopting sustainable land management principles.
The National Horticulture NRM Strategy, released in 2006, contained a small case study on Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and research which demonstrated the use of native vegetation as habitat for beneficial insects.
Karen found that a lot of work had already been done in South Australian vineyards and a number of resources were already available. Other than a single vineyard in the Pyrenese, there didn’t seem to be much known about the practice in Victoria. So a few months later, Karen had spoken with some of the researchers and found a local ‘you-pick’ berry farm in the Dandenong Ranges willing to set up a trial site.
The owners of the berry farm began preparing areas for planting by using a light herbicide spray, and a team planted the areas with native tubestock in August 2016. Indigenous plants that complied with the documented Ecological Vegetation Class were used, alongside some non-local Indigenous plants, to be used as bush foods.
A main insectary was planted along a fence line between two paddocks. This will become a multi-strata shelterbelt creating a corridor from the existing native vegetation on the property (63 acres) into the production area (containing Rubus sp and Blueberries). Smaller plantings were scattered across the production area in pre-existing empty garden beds and surrounding the ‘you-pick’ gazebo.
The owners of the property gained local planning permits to construct a restaurant onsite, so the incorporation of bush foods and citrus not only provides nectar during flowering phases but can be freshly harvested to supply the restaurant, once operational.
Mary Retallack from Retallack Viticulture has been conducting PhD research into native vegetation which offers the greatest nectar and shelter for beneficial insects. The PPWCMA hosted three workshops with Mary last year, where Mary’s preliminary results were discussed. Mary has identified three ‘HERO’ native plants that provide excellent alternative habitat for beneficial insects.
To monitor insect diversity and abundance across the property, sticky traps and pit fall traps were installed, with monitoring being conducted monthly from October to January. Within ten weeks of planting, several native plants were already flowering and the new insectary had an abundance of Hover flies. A staggering 232 hover flies were counted in the ten week old flowering insectary. Interestingly, these numbers were not found anywhere else across the property – only in the newly planted vegetation. Hover flies are highly beneficial and after feeding on nectar, the females seek out aphids to lay their eggs alongside as prey for hatching larvae.
With re-vegetation a part of good farm practice, incorporating native plants that provide excellent habitat for beneficial insects into re-vegetation projects will vastly improve conservation biological control as a crucial mechanism for good integrated pest management.
Developing and introducing methods, such as native vegetation insectariums which allow growers to better understand the diversity of beneficial insects on their farm, the services these insects provide, the timing of their abundance or critical life stages for bio-control alongside softer pesticide options, will mean growers can vastly improve their IPM strategies and environmental assurance.
Native Grass Seed Trial
Our Regional Landcare Facilitator has established a native grass seed trial site in partnership with Red Hill Cherry Farm and Native Seeds Pty Ltd. The trial is using two native grasses in combination to improve groundcover, especially in the winter months when tractor tyres can chew up the grasses and cause problems. Native grasses are also clumping plants and will provide better soil stability.
The added benefits of using native grasses is that, being drought tolerant, they can be grown right up to the trunks without competing for water. This lessens the need for under orchard herbicide use and also reduces maintenance costs associated with frequent mowing.
To find out more about the role and work of the Regional Landcare Facilitator, contact Karen Thomas on 8781 7900.