Sustainable natural resources: how do you reap the benefits?
Natural areas on and surrounding cotton farms provide benefits to the farming enterprise, known as ecosystem services. For example, natural vegetation can be an important year round habitat for beneficial insects, increasing natural pest suppression early in the growing season in adjacent fields.
Diversity in vegetation can act as a refuge for cotton pests that haven’t been exposed to Bt toxins/insecticides used in cotton, providing an additional source of susceptible individuals, and slowing the development of resistance.
And, healthy riparian vegetation can also store and sequester large amount of carbon. Riparian soils can also sequester carbon and improve nutrient cycling.
What do you need to know?
Improving the health of individual stands of natural vegetation and linking them together on your farm and across the district, will improve the numbers and diversity of plants and animals on your farm (including beneficial insects, bats and birds), which provide natural pest control.
Complex vegetation has many layers (trees, shrubs, grasses and herbs) and a range of different plant species in each layer. Loss of groundcover and species diversity favours the establishment of weeds. Many of the annual broadleaf weeds in cropping systems, such as marshmallow weed, milk thistle and bladder ketmia, are better hosts for pests than beneficial. Some weed species also host viruses.
The most effective natural pest control is gained from well-connected areas of native vegetation located near the crop. Native vegetation corridors between remnant patches of bushland, facilitate the dispersal of beneficial insects through the landscape and provide habitat when crops aren’t present.
The riparian zone is an important feature on many farms, and within cotton landscapes, helping to maintain water quality and protect aquatic habitats.
Most irrigation farms growing cotton are designed to retain some storm water runoff on the farm. In addition to the value of the water, this attribute of farm design significantly reduces risks to the environment from pesticide residues.
Vegetating distances of 100-200 metres of channel can link habitats for insect movement, reduce erosion risk and protect the environment beyond your farm from pesticide residues.
Riverine environments also provide important recreation areas for cotton communities.
Maintaining healthy soils reduces the risk of costly soil repair work, saving time and money over the long term. Maintaining ground cover in non-cropped areas of the farm can improve soil biology, structure and carbon and reduce the risk of erosion, sodicity and salinity.
By regularly monitoring water quality and keeping records of test results, a baseline condition can be established so that trends or changes in water quality or level can be addressed.
As a minimum, tests should be done for pH, electrical conductivity (EC), and sodium absorption ratio (SAR). A wide range of baseline water quality parameters such as hardness, turbidity, nutrients, nitrates, organices and trace metals can also be assessed.
Implementing water use efficiency practices that minimise the time available for infiltration in furrow systems, especially early in the season, reduces the risk of deep drainage and potential leaching of chemicals and salts into underlying groundwater systems.
So, what should you do on your farm?
- Maximise groundcover to prevent erosion and improve soil health.
- Manage irrigation to minimise deep drainage and salinity.
- Control environmental weeds and feral pests on farm.
- Avoid spray drift to maintain tree health and healthy populations of beneficials.
- Stabilise riverbanks and waterways to reduce erosion.
- Manage stock to minimise river bank erosion and damage to native vegetation, allowing plant species to regenerate.
- Improve and maintain the complexity of native vegetation types found on your farm.
- Record natural features such as riparian areas in farm plans.
- Improve the connectivity of large patches of native vegetation such as riparian corridors.
- Identify sources for carbon sequestration and emissions on farm.
For more information on how to get the best out of your natural resources, visit the myBMP Natural Assets module.
Where should you go for more information?
Stacey Vogel – Technical Specialist Natural Resources
Ph: 0428 266 712
NRM Groups and Local Land Services:
- Fitzroy Basin Association
- QLD Murray Darling Committee
- Condamine Alliance
- NSW Local Land Services agencies
- Managing Riparian Lands in the Cotton Industry
- Birds on Cotton Farms
- Fishes on Cotton Farms
- Pests and Beneficials in Australian Cotton Landscapes (see: Sustainable Landscapes section)
- CottonInfo fact sheets:
- CottonInfo and myBMP best practice fact sheets:
- CottonInfo grower case studies:
- Focus on NRM research case studies:
- River red gums in cotton landscapes
- Riparian vegetation and land management
- How can trees intercept salinity?
- How quickly do floods recharge aquifers?
- Groundwater ecosystem functions and impacts
- Connecting farms and natural systems
- Evaluating the extent of hydraulic connectivity between the Condamine Alluvium, the Great Artesian Basin and the Walloon Coal Measures
- Evaluating the extent of hydraulic connectivity between the Great Artesian Basin and the lower Namoi Alluvium
- Microbiological communities in vertosol soils & aquifers
- Resilience of the Australian cotton industry
- Nitrogen losses & indirect nitrous oxide emissions
- Water and woodland birds on cotton farms
- Salinity Management Handbook (QLD Government)
- Water Quality Tool (CottASSIST): This tool assists landholders in assessing the suitability of water for irrigation.