Monocultures vs mixed farming (cropping plus livestock)

A well written quote appeared in yesterday’s Townsville Bulletin Newspaper ‘Youth in Print’ section:

“Monoculture is virtually the opposite of biodiversity.  Monocultures occur where a single species is grown – usually for commercial purposes – such as sugar cane or pine forests.  Soil decline with subsequent commercial yield reduction is associated with monocultural systems and a variety of methods are used to combat these declines, including crop rotation, planting of enhanced varieties, preservation of biodiversity legacies, through to establishing coupes and controlling weeds and pests.”

Logged forests are divided up into “coupes”, and each section is logged or clearfelled as a whole.  Presumably the above mention of ‘coupes’ means keeping or re-establishing banks of native trees/shrubs in or beside farmed paddocks.  This has been cleverly done in cane farming areas to encourage owls which then prey on the destructive rats flourishing in cane crops (as well as benefiting other native species of fauna).  Landcare groups also have been responsible for planting thousands of hectares of native species of trees and bushes in heavily cleared farming regions of southern Australia.

One glaring omission from the newspaper paragraph is the excellent benefits available from including livestock into the farming system in addition to rotating crops.  Running sheep on grain cropping farms is a classic example of a great system providing environmental and financial benefits. For example wethers put into paddocks where grain has been harvested, eat spilt grain, help break down straw so it’s more easily incorporated into the soil and fertilise the ground as they travel; while putting on weight and growing wool.   Sheep/wheat properties were a standard feature of much of southern Australia for many decades and it has been sad to see sheep removed in preference for 100% cropping in recent years of lower wool prices and livestock export interruptions. Unfortunately it’s difficult to accurately measure the environmental benefits of including sheep in a crop rotational system and the best benefits are undoubtedly long term; so only the more easily quantified short-term profitability (net profit from wool & meat sales) is considered.

Wool is the world’s most environmentally friendly fibre – completely recyclable/compostable, non-polluting, fire retardant, wicking (removes moisture from skin surface), great insulation, very strong, etc. I look forward to the day when wool’s great qualities are more widely recognised, because there will also be side benefits for the soil condition of southern farming country.

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