Farmer: Mulga lands help us survive the drought

SCOTT Sargood has become an advocate for Queensland's mulga country, doing his best to stop further restrictions on mulga management.

Located between Charleville and Morven, Mr Sargood uses the mulga trees as fodder for the cattle on his 34,400 hectare property during the drought. The Vegetation Management and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2018 introduced late last week foreshadows the scrapping of agriculture permits, scrapping the thinning code, amendments to other self-assessable codes, and the protection of regrowth vegetation.

Interim codes have already been introduced to reduce vegetation clearing.

Mr Sargood said there would be a number of consequences if the Queensland Government implemented its plan for tighter restrictions on mulga clearing.

"We've been using the mulga tree since settlement out here and we haven't ruined anything yet. It's totally sustainable," Mr Sargood said.

"Everyone just thinks broadscale clearing is right across the board. You just level your paddocks. And every time someone sees trees pulled down they think it's broadscale clearing.

"Fodder harvesting isn't broadscale clearing. It's mulga management. It's managing the trees. Because if they aren't managed they get so thick they choke themselves out.

"And then it's no good for native birds, its no good for domestic stock and it's no good for the environment because with no grass under the trees erosion takes over.

"Eventually you'll have no trees at all. If we don't manage these trees they're going to end up with none because they'll get so thick, the big drought will come and they'll all die as they compete for water."


Mulga trees make good fodder for cattle during drought.
Mulga trees make good fodder for cattle during drought. Contributed

Mr Sargood said managing the trees was helping the cattle and the native wildlife.

"Our trees that we're managing, they're absorbing the carbon all the time. They're continually growing back," he said.

"We farm them. It's no different than the forestry. They cut their trees down and re-plant them. We don't have to replant our trees. We just push them over on their side and they keep growing like that. Then other trees grow up through them and the native and domestic animals, and our environment continues to thrive.

"We push them over for the cattle to eat in the drought, and then when it rains the grass grows up through them. You get your grass back for the native grass birds and the wildlife as well as your domesticated stock.

"The trees grow back wild again until the next dry-spell comes and then you repeat the process.

"Because we're in semi-arid country we can go in and out of dry periods and still maintain our numbers to a point.

"Managed properly it's a very good source of feed. Your cows can get back in calf and you can take weaners off."

Mr Sargood said without the mulga trees to feed their cattle during the drought, many people would have to destock their cattle to a point where they couldn't recover.

Mr Sargood erected a billboard on the highway, with the help of local councils and environmental protection groups, to educate tourists on the mulga clearing.

"Unfortunately, the people who have been told these stories don't know any better. The gap between the people from the cities and the people in the bush has just grown further and further apart.

"It would be great if people would just understand that we love our land, we understand our land and want it to be here for a long time. We draw on generations of knowledge to care for it.

"We're putting other signs up around the mulga lands. I'd like to get billboards and air-time to try and educate the people."

Meanwhile, the Queensland Conservation Council has welcomed the introduction of the Bill into State Parliament to strengthen Queensland's land clearing laws.

"Land clearing is catastrophic for our vulnerable wildlife and their woodland homes, bad for the Great Barrier Reef because of the sediment run-off it causes, and bad for climate change," Queensland Conservation Council head Dr Tim Seelig said.



Scott Sargood, with the support of a number of organisations and councils, has erected a billboard to educated people about the mulga lands.
Scott Sargood, with the support of a number of organisations and councils, has erected a billboard to educated people about the mulga lands. Contributed


"Recent land clearing figures show a disastrous increase in land clearing rates in Queensland.

"Right now, we have a massive land clearing crisis on our hands. We simply can't keep bulldozing our native woodlands. That's not a pathway to a healthy, sustainable future."

Mr Seelig said he commended the Queensland Government for addressing "the crisis" and making moves towards reducing clearing rates.

"Strengthening land clearing laws in the past has not caused a downturn in agricultural productivity," he said.

"Despite scare campaigns and misinformation from farming lobby groups, stronger laws, land restoration and carbon farming will be good for both the economy and environment.

"We will now need to study the Bill in detail, and ensure it delivers the strongest possible protections and meets the policy objectives of ceasing remnant clearing and the destruction of ecologically important regenerating woodlands."

Member for Warrego Ann Leahy supports Mr Sargood in his quest to stop the restrictions on vegetation clearing.

"Scott Sargood is doing a tremendous job to get the facts out about vegetation management especially in the mulga lands," she said.

"The Queensland Government's figures showed that just 0.23 per cent of the state was being cleared and that did not take into account how much vegetation was growing at the same time and the massive thickening process that occurs across the state.

"These laws effect 100 per cent of the state, yet 75 per cent of the Queensland land mass is not in a Great Barrier Reef catchment."

Ms Leahy said the biggest issues were the loss of high value agricultural opportunities, changes to the thinning code, more restrictions on fodder harvesting and the lack of science and facts to back up the proposed laws. She also said the laws would not deliver the best outcomes for the environment.

"These more restrictive laws will not only devastate landholders battling drought and manage their ability to manage regrowth/encroachment, make it harder for them to produce food," she said.

"The laws will hurt small businesses in local towns, and rip away millions of dollars worth of future growth and opportunities for the agricultural industry."

Ms Leahy has sponsored a Parliamentary Petition as an opportunity for landholders and the wider community to register their protest against Labor's policy to tighten Vegetation Management Laws.

"The petition is being signed at a rate of about 200 signatures per day," Ms Leahy said.

"We all know that in the last parliament the State Labor Government introduced some of the worst anti-agriculture vegetation management reforms that landholders had seen in the last 20 years."

AgForce CEO Michael Guerin said the new codes came in four parts.

"The first is an easy one which is high value ag and high value irrigated ag is removed. It's gone, there's no more development in the state of unapproved land," he said.

"Secondly is thinning, which is removing a bit of the canopy thickening to allow the native grasslands grow underneath.

"You can no longer do that, through a self-assessible code, you need to provide a development application. Which will be stuck in the bureaucracy and the red tape as always.

"So there will be no more thinning and keeping the landscapes environmentally sound will be very difficult going forward."

The third code refers to fodder harvesting.

"There will be no development application required however you need to provide a notification and a self-audit for every 500 hectares. And that's not 500 hectares harvested, that's 500 hectares subject to some harvesting within the rules," Mr Guerin said.

"So in a practical sense it doesn't work. Because if you're feeding cattle in drought, as we are across many tens of thousands of hectares at the moment, and you have to ask a contractor to stop and self-audit every 500 hectares, which is very small in the grand scheme of things, then with all the bureaucracy and red tape that becomes very difficult to do."

The final code involves a range of new mapping layers coming across. Mr Guerin said there was an air of frustration from farmers.

"It's the early stages of disbelief," he said.

"I have talked to members who have said they've lost confidence in the industry and they will struggle to recommend their children take on the land."

Mr Guerin said the government needed to acknowledge the science when making vegetation clearing laws.

"The laws have changed so many times since vegetation management laws were originally introduced, I think in 2011," he said.

"You can't invest with confidence, you can't farm with confidence. There seems to be an absolute disinterest in using science to back decisions for environmentally sound outcomes.

"Back the science, it's as simple as that. We have some of the best researchers in the world, every year we get more knowledgeable about what works and what doesn't.

"We have radical elements and the Greens who wont stop until we stop producing food. All we want is the community, and the government invested in the community, to back the science."

Mr Guerin said it would become even harder to keep cattle alive in times of drought under the proposed fodder harvesting regime.

"They will say, no no we've let fodder harvesting go on.

"All we need is for fodder harvesting to be recognised as a legitimate activity which is good for the environment and allows us to keep an industry alive in times of drought."


Written submissions are due by 12pm Thursday March 22, 2018. 

You can also sign an petition here:

Topics:  ann leahy conservation council drought-affected farmers mulga clearing mulga lands scott sargood vegetation management act vegetation management laws

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