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A three year study completed in 2010 examined farming systems in the north-eastern agricultural region and eastern wheatbelt of Western Australia which experienced a succession of variable seasons from 2000. This culminated in severe drought in 2006 and 2007. At that time, farmers experienced labour shortages and declining terms of trade triggered by cost inflation outpacing growth in commodity prices. As a result, farm business equity was eroded as farm debt escalated. This left many farm businesses in a highly vulnerable state. At the time of the study many farmers were facing an uncertain future.

These experiences, coupled with a consensus within the scientific community of a drying climate, means that farming systems in these areas need to adapt and the way the land is managed will need to be modified. This project used case studies, such as perennial pastures and variable rate technology, to explore management options for soils that have been consistently unprofitable to crop.

Alternative land use options such as saltbush grazing, broombush and oil mallees exist for poor performing soils. Additional options in the future may include regenerating native vegetation for carbon and the development of new plant genotypes suited to acid soils in arid environments. These options could result in more efficient farming and increase farm profitability by reducing input costs on soils that are ‘unarable’ by definition.

The aim of this report is to provide policy makers and land managers with improved decision-making capacity for the appropriate use of increasingly marginal land. The characteristics and extent of unproductive soils in the north-eastern agricultural region were defined, management options were investigated, and an economic analysis was conducted. Suitable land use options and research gaps were also identified. The report will assist government and industry with policy recommendations on future management options and potential research and development opportunities for these areas.

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soil types, unproductive soil, oil mallees, carbon plantings, acid soil, wodgil soil, liming, shallow soil, saline soil, climate change, drying climate, variable rate technology, rotary spading, mouldboard ploughing, carbon sequestration, perennial pastures, land use, rural land use planning, drought, wheatbelt, soil constraints, climate, equity


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