Creating Healthy Waterways Key To Productive Pastures

University of New England

As managing the effects of climate variability continues to be a growing concern for producers across the NSW Northern Tablelands, University of New England (UNE) researchers are stressing the importance of healthy waterways when trying to achieve a resilient and productive grazing system.

It was the key message at a series of recent coaching sessions held as part of the Drought Resilient Pasture Landscapes (DRPL) project, where producers from across the region gathered to learn more about how aquatic ecosystems and pasture health go hand-in-hand.

“The quality of water and the health of waterways depends on good grazing and pasture management practices,” says Professor Lewis Kahn, who leads the DRPL project. “Equally, healthy waterways support healthy pasture and animals.

“Through the coaching sessions, we have suggested pasture targets that will benefit pasture productivity and water quality and health by reducing erosion and movement of nutrients into waterways.”

Healthy waterways support healthy pasture and animals.

During the sessions, Dr Sarah Mika, lead of UNE’s Aquatic Ecology and Restoration Research Group, showed attendees how to accurately monitor water quality on their properties and some of the indicators they should be looking out for.

“Temperature, dissolved oxygen, salinity, pH, turbidity, and nutrient load are some of the main descriptors of water quality that producers should be testing,” she says.

“Farmers want to see these indicators stay within accepted levels but need also to be aware of their interactions as, for example, high temperatures and high nutrient loads promote algal blooms which can result in low oxygen conditions that are dangerous for aquatic organisms.

“Sensitive aquatic invertebrates, such as mayflies, are an excellent indicator of water health over a longer period of time and if farmers are able to recognise some of these indicator species they are better placed to track the health of their waterways.”

With just four months left of the DRPL project, Professor Kahn hopes the knowledge participants have gained through learning about aquatic health, pasture targets, and how to use tools such as Ag360, will mean the region is better equipped to manage drought in years to come.

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