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Queensland graziers and authorities unite to restore green pastures to barren landscapes

By Dan Prosser, Monday March 8, 2021 - 23:40 EDT

Rain is often touted as all that it takes to restore dry, drought-stricken land to its former grassy glory.

But it doesn't rain Mitchell grass, and if the soil beneath a downpour has no seeds in reserve, significant rainfall could be going to waste.

However, the early results of a trial underway in western Queensland to determine the effectiveness of artificially increasing the amount of Mitchell grass seeds in depleted soil is providing hope for a potential solution.

Longreach-based natural resource management group Desert Channels Queensland is conducting the trials in collaboration with landholders across three separate sites, and operations manager Simon Wiggins said they were already finding success.

"When the staff at the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries tested one of our sites in December, they actually found there was no Mitchell grass seed left at that site," he said.

"So it accelerated the need for us to artificially increase the seed reserves so that when we did get rain there was the opportunity for the perennial grasses to quickly re-establish rather than just wait for blow-in seed from outside areas of degradation."

Heavy rainfalls and good follow-up rain in parts of western Queensland over the Christmas period kickstarted growth at one of the trial sites near Hughenden.

"The grass has not only germinated but established very well. The densities are very, very high, which is consistent with what we expected from the germination rates, and the growth rates we've got are extremely good," Mr Wiggins said.

"So from the initial trial, it's certainly very successful and obviously very dependent on rain. We're very, very pleased with that as a process."

Other trial sites ready ? just add water

David and Christine Batt from Nuken Station, outside Winton, also cooperated with Desert Channels Queensland to set up a trial site on their property.

Unfortunately, inadequate weather conditions have held up any progress.

"We got 80mm in December, nothing in January, and 40mm in four falls in February so that hasn't been enough to get a good strike with it," Mr Batt said.

But despite the "poor response" on their property, word of the promising results at other sites as well as in potted tests have encouraged the Batts to stick with it.

"It'll work because it's a native to this area," Mr Batt said.

"If everything falls into place like big rain and really hot weather to make it strike, it'll definitely be successful, I think."

Nature and landholders

The success of the initial Mitchell grass seeding trials has prompted landholders who are not involved in the current batch to determine how they can assist their land in recovering from drought, overgrazing and prickly acacia damage.

"It's also spawned a whole lot of landholders to think about how to plant uncoated seed," Mr Wiggins said.

"And there's a whole area of work now going on with landholders as they start to build on the work that we've started.

"We're also starting to look at how we can set aside areas on properties for the collection of seed, so that when people need to start to rehabilitate some of these areas they can collect and access local seed, as well as how we improve how we get the seed into the ground."

But Desert Channels Queensland field supervisor Peter Spence would be the first to tell you that there was only so much that landholders could do.

"We're trying to play with nature, and we're hoping nature does the right thing back by us," he said.


© ABC 2021

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