Evaluation of forage shrub plantations as a drought preparedness strategy for landholders in the Central-west of NSW.

The central-west region of NSW accounts for a significant proportion of the states’ livestock numbers and cereal crops but production is constrained mainly by a lack of water available for plant growth. Water availability for this region is characterised by low annual average rainfall, which is non-seasonal and highly variable. Land managers have adopted techniques that minimise the physical and economic impacts of this constraint, for example, moisture retention farming practices and conservative stocking strategies. However, prolonged dry periods still cause significant physical damage and financial hardship to the land resource and the landholder respectively. Despite the increased ability to forecast climate land managers still have to be prepared for long dry periods. This can be achieved by strategic decisions such as fodder storage and enterprise diversification and tactical decisions such as agistment, livestock sales and fodder purchase. This paper presents an alternative strategic option whereby a small proportion of the farm is set aside to establish a plantation of forage shrub, in this case Old Man Saltbush (OMSB). Managed properly and utilised as a forage source in both normal and extended dry periods, a plantation of OMSB, could delay the adoption tactical decisions such as agistment, grain feeding or selling livestock. This will reduce the short term financial pressure which is characteristic of prolonged dry periods. A benefit-cost analysis was conducted for the development of a shrub plantation using three alternative establishment techniques, direct seeding, speedlings and bare-rooted stock which are compared to a traditional tactical feeding strategy. Probability distributions for climate variability were identified and stochastic efficiency analysis was used to determine the efficient set of investment alternatives. This study provides a useful reference for the evaluation of strategic compared to tactical decisions of drought preparedness and the impact of climate variability on investment performance. It was found that landholders could potentially benefit from the introduction of a forage shrub plantation, establishing two and a half percent of the property using the bare-rooted technique, when compared to the existing strategy of tactically grain feeding. However, when the area of saltbush was increased to 5 percent of the property the existing tactical grain feeding strategy was desired. In all cases, it was found that the the existing tactical grain feeding strategy was desirable when compared to the speedling and direct seeding alternatives

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 Record created 2017-04-01, last modified 2017-08-22

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