Eucalypts have an important – no, critical – role in the future of farming. One important benefit among many that eucalypts provide is assisting greatly in the preservation of the farm asset value across Australia.
How can that be, with many farmers and townsfolk seeing them only as ‘messy gum trees’?
Well the first statement is very true, to which I can qualify many times. And the messy gum tree sentiment – well, that can be very much the case when planting the wrong gums in the wrong place!
Planting the right gums in the right place can make a massive difference from many perspectives, not the least the ornamental aspect: the flowers, the birds they attract, the great feeling you get from seeing these trees in your yard or farm – and you can throw your garden broom away.
Across southern Australia we have approximately 500 different species of eucalypts, all of them special, each with their own unique habitats. In the early days of landcare, many plants that were considered to be good for revegetation like Tamarix aphylla, Eucalyptus occidentalis and E. spathulata were planted in volume to control saline creep – which proved to be against their habitat preference, and most perished. However, over the last 20 years we have learnt a lot about our native plants, and in particular the eucalypts: their habitats, strengths and weaknesses as to fire, strong winds, saline adaptability, dry or wet adaptability, flowering periods, and so on.
And so with our improved knowledge, planting a few of the right plants in the right places can make a big difference to a farm in regards to the ecology and health of a farm or the Shire. If you have knocked over some trees on your property for whatever reason, then put some back in another area. You will always find a space where they won’t get in the way of your operations. They will sit there and do their thing and help you along the way.
One place where we have seen the benefits of eucalypt planting is across the wheatbelt of Western Australia.
What are the negatives here? Yes, the corridor may harbour some ferals and three hectares of farmland may have been taken out of production, but let’s weigh this up with some positives. The trees here are all mallees, allowing ease of management, and are selected for different flowering times, ensuring flowers year-round. This corridor of trees provides wind shelter, fire suppression and, arguably just as importantly, aesthetic value. Quality aesthetics is critical in ensuring the preservation of farm asset value. And when you are driving along the corridor and you hear the birds on a flowering plant, that is a precious moment never to be ignored on the farm.
With our ongoing learning we now know our indigenous wheatbelt plants have so much to offer and can add so much to the ecology, wellbeing and aesthetic value to our farms and Shires. Our selected eucalypts today are incredible survivors against all odds, take little management (no watering needed if planted in June) and need to be treated like gold. Despite the toughness of these plants, many are under threat in the wild and farmers and rural property owners can be instrumental in preserving these species.
The wheatbelt of Western Australia has a brilliant future. Our farmers are world’s best at what they do in not the best soils or rainfall. There are many challenges ahead. We do have long, extended dry periods – we don’t call them droughts here in WA. Our farms need to be prepared for tough conditions and dry soils and managed sustainably with this in mind into the future.
One of Australia’s (and particularly WA’s) greatest assets is its flora, and it’s time to utilise our amazing flowering eucalypts to help us meet all of the challenges ahead. If you get the trees right, they will never let you down.
How can I say this? From personal experience and from having worked in agribusiness across three states in my corporate and farming life. I learnt over time that land values fluctuate in the agri-commodity price cycles. In the troughs, the aesthetic, smart regime farm didn’t necessarily make any more money per hectare than the neighbour’s bare farm. But what always happened was that it got sold, while the bare farm sat there for another year, vulnerable to opportunistic offers.
With our focus now on a drying climate, many highly ornamental drier country species have been introduced to the Western Australian wheatbelt planting mix with stunning results. As with many of our eucalypt species you plant them in late June. They love frosts, heat, extended dry periods (no watering needed) and add extra value to the farm’s wellbeing in many ways.
It’s an exciting time for our eucalypts, with many new species being introduced to urban life and farms that will assist in negating climate warming and improving the sustainability of our landscape.
Banner image courtesy of Malcolm French.