Acacia species as large-scale crop plants in the Western Australian wheatbelt
John Bartle*1, Don Cooper1, Graeme Olsen2 and Jerome Carslake1
(1) Department of Conservation and Land Management, Locked Bag 104, Bentley Delivery Centre, Western Australia 6983 (*Corresponding author: John Bartle, Manager, Farm Forestry Unit; phone 08 9334 0321; email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
(2) Olsen & Vickery, PO Box 357 Waroona, Western Australia 6215; email: email@example.com
Revegetation with perennial plants is a well-accepted tool in salinity control across the agricultural regions of southern Australia but the scale on which revegetation must be undertaken in order to have significant impact on salinity has become clear only recently. This scale is so large that it must involve extensive change in the commercial plant base of agriculture. Hence, an array of profitable perennial plants must be developed to complement existing annual crops.
Apart from their role in salinity control, new perennial plant crops can bring a range of other benefits to agricultural areas, including improved erosion control, protection of biodiversity (and in some cases its enhancement), diversification of farm incomes, and regional development resulting from local processing of perennial plant products.
This paper discusses some issues relevant to the development of new industries based on woody perennial crops. They include size of markets, using the whole plant to make multiple products, crop rotation length, temporal and spatial integration of perennial crops into agriculture, the financial consequences for farmers growing woody crops, and the desirability of deriving new crops from native species. These issues provide useful guidelines for the objective selection of potential new commercial crop species. From this foundation, a selection and development project called ‘Search’ has evolved, to systematically assess potential new large-scale tree crops and processing industries based on native species, select those with high potential for commercial development, and take the first steps towards their development.
The genus Acacia provides considerable potential for the development of new perennial crops. Acacia species appear to be especially suited for use as phase crops in rotation with conventional annual crops, or as low cost, direct-seeded coppice crops. A large number of Acacia species occur naturally in the Western Australian wheatbelt and several have attributes that may make them suitable for commercial development. Potential products include solid wood, panel board, paper, gum, tannin, fodder, edible seed, and large-scale generic products such as solid fuel for electricity production, liquid transport fuel and charcoal products.