Silvicultural practices

Extract from Hansard — Thursday, 11 October 2018



HON DIANE EVERS (South West) [5.21 pm]: This morning, I had the opportunity to move a motion during non-government business.  It reads — That this house recognises the important role and enormous potential of forests and agriculture in taking carbon from the atmosphere to address the increasing need for action to slow the rate of climate change; and that this house calls for —

(1) An independent review of current forest silviculture practices and the role of silviculture in — (a) increasing forest resilience and increasing areas of healthy forest cover; (b) mitigating climate change; and (c) regenerating economic activity in the regions.

(2) An independent review of current agriculture practices and the role of soil microbiology in — (a) producing nutrient-rich food; (b) mitigating climate change; and (c) regenerating economic activity in the regions.

(3) A moratorium on new contracts for the supply of jarrah or karri sawlogs until the 2024–2033 forest management plan is written.

(4) A thorough review to ensure that all safeguards to protect the long-term viability and resilience of the remaining south west forests are in place prior to the renewal of the regional forest agreement.

It is not the Greens’ intention to end timber harvesting. We love wood just as much as everyone else, but the idea is to plant it and grow it in plantations where we intend to cut it.

The intention is that we will continue mining through Alcoa, Simcoa and others in that area. We will continue to get timber in that way. If we make good use of it through smaller mills, with more people involved, not only would we have more jobs, but we would get more usable timber from that resource.

But the interesting thing with forests that I wanted to go through is their role in fighting and mitigating climate change, in helping to keep the rain on the planet and in the soil, and in helping to make even more rain. They are vitally important and I really hope that we get a chance to look at that sometime soon.

I was thinking about forests and climate change, and the other side of the story is that our soil also provides us with a really strong opportunity to draw back down through the plants all these greenhouse gases that we are putting into the atmosphere. I sometimes doubt that either side of politics will ever address climate change and start to find ways to quickly reduce the amount of fossil fuels that we are burning, which is putting carbon back into the atmosphere.

Rather than fighting that side of it, perhaps we can fight it by taking carbon out of the atmosphere and putting it into the ground, and not by using some technologically new method when we have plants that do it naturally. We do not need a technological solution; the solution is right there in front of us.

The third point refers to contracts. We already have contracts with 36 different mills and we have contracts for hundreds and thousands of cubic metres of jarrah. Why enter into another contract now when we do not have the need for it, when it is not earning us any money and when it is not creating more jobs?

This is something that governments on both sides, again, have not done too well. It seems like most of the state agreements that I have seen go through this place are very one-sided and not in favour of the state. Something really needs to be done about the way in which we look at the contracts that we sign to make sure that we are signing them for the benefit of the residents of Western Australia.

The fourth point is about the Western Australian Regional Forest Agreement. There are 10 agreements across the country. One agreement in Tasmania has been renewed. In Victoria they are looking for further information about the five agreements there so that they can make sure that they will be doing the right thing. In New South Wales there are three more agreements and, again, they are laying down the renewal process because they want to make sure that they do the right thing.

Then there is the one agreement that we have here. In my book, we do not need this regional forest agreement because although it sounds like it was a good thing and it was made to support the environment, it was actually made to support the logging industry.

All it does is to allow those who are logging in this state to not have to go through the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to get approval, which means that the environment is hurt even more. If members can, they should keep this in mind.

There are many steps to this process, but it is for the good of Western Australians and it is for the good of the planet. Financially we will be a lot better off as well. That is three strikes, so it seems like the right thing to do. Thank you for your time.

Industrial hemp industry

Extract from Hansard — Tuesday, 18 September 2018



HON DIANE EVERS (South West) [10.00 pm]: Over the weekend, I had an opportunity to go to the iHemposium in Bunbury for the industrial hemp industry. There was maximum capacity for 120 people and it was a sellout. Unfortunately, no other members of Parliament were there, but it was a very good day.

It was exciting to see the number of people interested in this fledgling industry. It was put on by iHemp Australia and iHemp WA, which is the industrial hemp group. HempGro, the growers group, was also there. It was founded earlier this year. This group looks at the agronomy and seed development. It was formed to address the need for more information, more infrastructure development and more investment in the industry and, basically, industry-wide collaboration.

We passed legislation not all that long ago that allows hemp seed to contain up to one per cent tetrahydrocannabinol and the hemp industry has been delighted with that change. It has made it much easier for people in the industry to grow the seed and the plants, which they can then sell to the food industry.

It is interesting to note that only 68 hectares were grown last year. HempGro members were surveyed—so far, only 28 of the 70 or so hemp growers in WA are members of HempGro, but that will grow—and already they are planning to plant 160 hectares next year.

It is an industry that we will see expand quite significantly over the next few years. We should be aware of it and be ready for it.

Many of HempGro’s members are aiming to plant 100 hectares in the not-too-distant future. What growers are looking for from government is support for the industry and assurance that we invest in the research that needs to be done so that we can find out what we can best use the plant for.

They also want to avoid onerous regulations if possible. Currently, they have to jump through significant registration hoops and hurdles. I and the growers understand the reason for that, but they would like them not to be unnecessarily restrictive. Government could try assisting start-ups in not only the growing industry but also the processing and marketing of the different products, and encouraging co-investment.

I should comment that Cannabis sativa hemp — the plant we are talking about—has many different cultivars. One of those we know of is marijuana with THC, the psychoactive component. THC also has some medicinal properties, but that is not what we are talking about today.

We are looking at the cannabidiol—CBD—in the cannabis that we know as hemp. The health benefits of that are quite significant. The group talked about a number of these. Cannabidiol is not psychoactive but it is anti-seizure and anti-inflammatory; it reduces anxiety, relieves insomnia and relieves pain.

There are also terpenes in the seed. Terpenes are organic compounds that are found in plants and they often have a strong odour. The terpenes provide anti-depressant and anti-cancer properties, elevate mood, relieve stress and can be anti-fungal and antibacterial. It is a fledgling industry.

For 50 years there has been no research in this area. We should be looking to see what sort of research other countries are doing and find out what other uses there are for this plant, because, as I said, the plant has many cultivars. A grower can grow the one that is necessary for the desired effect, whether it is being grown for the bast and the hurd fibre or for seed for food.

I should mention that a Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development officer was at the event. I was really pleased to see him there. He was interested and he was there to support the industry and to take an interest in what is happening because this is part of our future and we should support the industry.

As I said, there are many different cultivars. They all like sunlight, and in Australia there is plenty of sunlight—that is a definite tick. They also like water. We do not have so much of that, but it is interesting to note that it is being grown in dryland plantings. We are producing 12 tonnes per hectare in the dryland areas, which is comparable with what happens in other countries. With irrigation, up to 22 tonnes per hectare can be produced. That would be an excellent outcome.

As I said, we do not have a lot of information on this and we are slowly developing it; we have a lot of time to make up for all the time we have not been growing it. We need to find out what are its responses to rain and its effects on the growth of plants around it. One farmer at the symposium said that he has planted it in between rows of avocado trees to see its effect. It immediately knocked out all the kikuyu grass, so the kikuyu is not competing with the avocado trees.

A lot of interesting things are happening with this plant. When we were debating the legislation, I think we talked about all the industrial uses of hemp. A prefeasibility study has just been completed showing some of the things that we need to look into. Stripping the bast from the hurd is quite an intense process, but it needs to be done so that we can use it in products such as clothing, housing materials and things like that. We should keep an eye on what other countries are doing.

Most people are deciding whether to grow one or the other for either fibre or food, but some can be grown for both to get double the production from it. An interesting thing I noted is that because we are so far behind and importing seed from France at the moment, we need to develop the seed that is specific for our conditions here.

About one-third of the seed that is grown in WA will be just seed for planting. In addition, extra businesses will be created such as in machinery supplies for harvesting, planting, processing and packaging, as well as in transport and retail. All sorts of businesses will flow from this industry.

I heard also that the hurd can be used to make railway sleepers, which might solve the question of whether we use jarrah or concrete for sleepers because maybe we can use just hemp. So many different things are being done and the structural capacity of the railway sleepers will be tested by the end of this year.

I find the seeds are the important part because of the benefits they can provide for our health. I have tried hemp in pork sausages and in beef sausages and roasted as a food seasoning or made into dukkah. We can make wheat-free bread because we can make bread out of hemp.

The one thing I want to talk about is hemp milk because tomorrow at afternoon tea, I will offer it to everyone to taste to see what people think of it. It is dairy free and nut free and it is delicious.

Members might want to try to get used to it because of all the health benefits they will get from it.

Hemp milk contains omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, as well as all 10 essential amino acids, and 250 millilitres has 46 per cent of the recommended calcium intake. There is no cholesterol but four grams of digestible protein in that 250-millilitre glass. It also contains potassium, phosphorous, riboflavin, vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin B12, folic acid, vitamin D, magnesium, iron and zinc. It has everything; people will not need to take supplements any more. I hope that tomorrow members will join me in trying some of the hemp milk.

Soil biology




HON DIANE EVERS (South West) [10.11 pm]: I am inspired to rise after hearing Hon Colin de Grussa’s speech earlier today in response to the budget. I was really pleased to hear that he comes from a farming family and that his father was one of the first to adopt no-till farming. That is excellent. It is great for farmers to be innovative in what they do.

Over the break, I had the opportunity to attend a seminar in Moora on soil restoration farming. It was not anything to do with Moora Residential College, but while I was there, I spoke to a number of farmers who pleaded their case to keep Moora college open. We need to keep farmers in the regions, and that school helps farmers stay in the regions because all too often as the children grow, the question is asked: do we stay or do we go?

Each time we lose a family, we lose not only that family but also what it contributes to the community and the businesses that go along with supporting that family.

Let me get back to the soil. I think everybody here knows that it is a passion of mine. I had to respond because in the honourable member’s comments he said that Charles Massy responded to a question about the science by saying, “Well, there’s science and there’s science.”

I cannot read his mind but I would like to comment on that, because there are two sorts of sciences that we are looking at here. One of those sciences is what the ag department has been pushing for many years and what many farmers follow: we test the soil, we see what it needs, we put that chemical in there and Bob’s your uncle, we get another crop. Good.

But we may as well as be growing hydroponically if we are going to take the soil as a medium and introduce each thing as we need it. We will get a crop that has those nutrients in it. That is all well and good. It is what we have been doing. It is what the world is used to.

However, there is a different way and a number of farmers are adopting it. At this seminar, Dr Christine Jones, who is a scientist, introduced more of these concepts to us. I found I was in a room with about 50 farmers and many of them are already adopting some of these practices.

They are looking at ways of increasing the microbiome, the fungi, in the soil so that it does what it is meant to do—that is, provide nutrients to plants. It seems simple, but it is difficult. It is difficult for farmers to take this on when we have a bank in the room saying, “Yes, we want to support farmers. We want to help them get loans and that, but we also have to support our other clients, the agrochemical industry.”

That is the problem. Do we really have to support the agrochemical industry to keep selling this stuff when the natural biology will create that stuff on its own? That is an area we need to challenge, which is why I am really pleased that our Department of Agriculture and Food is looking at other ways and allowing new ideas and innovations to be reviewed to find out what can be done.

I would not think that this microbiome would make much difference, but the difference is huge. Keeping this growing in the soil not only provides nutrients to the roots of the plant, but also allows the soil to retain water for much longer and retain much more water so that our plants can grow. Given what is happening in the eastern states at the moment, I think we need to do everything possible to keep water in the soil. This is done just by keeping the land covered by summer crops.

Farmers may not even use those crops; they may put animals on the land. It is not like money has to be made off every crop. Microbiome increases the soil’s health and the nutrients available to plants.

At the conference, I heard about people planting up to eight or more plants in a single crop to give it diversity. We have to look at what the crop is being used for, such as feed for animals or for harvesting. It is interesting to note that seed cleaners can separate all the different types of seed by weight, size or colour. That can be done, so a variety of seeds can be planted, and the benefit of doing that is that a variety of roots will be underground to support a variety of biology in the soil.

It is just like us not always eating the same thing every day. Our bodies need a variety of things, just like plants do. I even heard of one farmer who is planting five varieties of wheat in the same crop because that will get a variety of roots into the soil, which needs a variety of things. The crops grow better and it makes the plants healthier. The crops do better with more plant varieties, with more water in the soil, and when plants are kept on the soil.

No-till farming is great but it still leaves the soil bare through the summer, which means that all the good work that was done to increase the soil’s biology will die out through the heat and when it is dry. I think I have mentioned before having animals on quick rotation. Members would not imagine it, but people are bringing it back in. Farmers who have grown large-scale crops are now bringing animals back in because they recognise the benefits that animals bring after having them on the soil.

If the agriculture department gives any support to these innovations, it will be a step in the right direction because we will end up with healthier soils, healthier plants and the ability for the soil to hold more water. It will also mean that we get carbon sequestration.

This is an issue of climate change. I did not really mean to bring that in today, but I think it has been mentioned once already, so maybe it is fair to say it. We have a big problem with climate change. The soil’s biology actually sequesters carbon; it builds on it. This is just one of many ways in which we can try to solve climate change, but we have to make many changes because we are so slow to get around to them. Carbon is sequestered in the soil.

Another benefit for all of us in the city is that it will provide nutritious food. There are many reasons to go on with this idea, but I will leave it there because I think members have listened to me enough. We need to change; we need to innovate. We need to improve our soils so that we can really be leaders in the field.


Beekeeper concerns

Extract from Hansard – Thursday, 23 August 2018



HON DIANE EVERS (South West) [5.32 pm]: I rise tonight to speak about honey. I asked a question earlier today about honey because I had had a call from a constituent about the growing honey industry—I believe it is up to a $15 billion industry across Australia, so we should not ignore it, but support it.

The bees that make honey for us are also very important to our food supply, given that about 70 per cent of our foods are pollinated by bees. What the answer I received today raises for me is the difficulties we face with how our departments are set up and basically operate in silos; they work on their own area and they keep to that.

Sometimes we even have different ministers for departments that actually have a lot of crossover. There is an issue with beekeepers getting access to forests in order to release their bees to collect nectar and produce honey. Jarrah honey currently has a wholesale rate of about $30,000 a tonne, and retails at up to $100 a kilogram.

We should support this industry and do as much as possible for it. I now find myself in the position where I need to talk to both the Forest Products Commission, that is the Minister for Forestry, and the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, that is the Minister for Environment, to make sure that they are talking to each other so that the beekeepers of Western Australia are being listened to, communicated with and catered for so that their bees can collect nectar from these trees.

This is not the last time members will hear me talking about our departments working in silos. Although I hear that we are trying to address that, and I think I have seen some action to work together to address some of the issues that cross portfolios or departments, I will need to keep talking about it to make sure that we keep trying to make it better every day that we continue in here.

Salinity management – Auditor General’s report




HON DIANE EVERS (South West) [ 6.24 pm ]: I rise tonight because I have had the opportunity to read the Auditor General’s report “Management of Salinity ”, which was launched today. I would suggest that all regional members, and possibly even metropolitan members, look at this report. Salinity is very important, and it has to a large extent been overlooked for some time. In the 1990s, it was said that dryl and salinity was considered the greatest economic and environmental threat to the state. Since that time, we have put a lot of funding into the management of salinity, and a number of trials have been conducted to see what we can do about salinity. That co ntinued until about 2010, when the funding pretty much dried up. The report states that since large – scale land clearing began, it is estimated that dryland salinity affects between one and two mi llion hectares, or up to 10 per cent of total land, in the ag ricultural region of the south west and costs $519 million per annum in lost agricultural production.

Members may ask: why are we not talking about salinity anymore? I do not know the reason. I would love it if someone could say to me that salinity is not a problem anymore. Anyone who has flown from Perth to the eastern states recently in the daytime when it is not cloudy would have seen that there is salt scald all over the south west agricultural region. So why are we not talking about salinity? It may be that farmers have tried to do something about salinity by planting saltbush as sheep fodder, which is one potential use for it, but we cannot do that with all the saltbush. It may be that farmers have grown immune to the issue, because when they were grow ing up, there were already salt issues, so they are not really fussed about it, and although the salt scald is spreading, it is not that big. However, when trees are dying as the salt scald spreads, it is a problem.

In the heady days of the blue gum indust ry, a lot of blue gums were planted around the Denmark River. Within four or five years — a very short time — the salt level in the river decreased substantially, to the point at which the water in the river was drinkable again. Planting more trees seemed to w ork. However, I am not advocating that, because the number of trees that would have to be planted would seriously diminish the number of agricultural crops that we could grow on that land. We need to find a balance.

One of the problems is that we have a si lo mentality when it comes to salinity. The Department of Agriculture and Food is doing its thing here and the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation is doing its thing over there. We need to work together. Salinity is not a problem that one group will be able to solve on its own. I understand from questions in last year’s estimates hearings that government departments are working together. Supposedly, there is a group that gets together and talks about the different issues that affect more th an one agency. I hope progress is made on that, because this issue needs to be focused on by a number of different departments. Departments need to work together and get some research happening to find out whether salinity is a problem. They also need to l ook at what we have done in the past. If monitoring bores have been put in place to check the salt content of the water, that is what we should be doing.

Another reason that we may not be hearing much about salinity is that with climate change, we are gett ing lower rainfall and the watertable is getting lower. I have heard the suggestion, and this sounds very likely, that over the last few million years, we have had a lot of rainfall, and every time rain falls and then evaporates, the salt is left behind. R ain evaporates out of the ocean, and it has salt content, and that salt has built up in our soils. When the landscape was cleared, there were no longer the deep – rooted perennials and trees and shrubs that would have drawn water from that groundwater, so th e groundwater slowly started to rise, and as it rose through the soils and sand and clay, or whatever, it brought the salt with it. The problem is that the salt not only has ruined the landscape so that very little will grow in it, but also eats away at th e concrete of bridges and the base of roads. There are a number of problems that can be solved, and we have some suggestions about how to do that. However, the funding needs to be there. It is more than just the funding; it is also the will. We need the wi ll from those departments to work together to see what they can do about this problem.

Again, I urge members to look at this report. Salinity is an important issue that affects a lot of land that used to be good, prime, productive agricultural land but is now barren. It is barren because of our activities — the things we have done — and now we need to fix it. Thank you.

House adjourned at 6.30 pm


Regenerative agriculture




HON DIANE EVERS (South West) [6.28 pm]: I want to speak specifically about regenerative farming because it does not really fit into the GM sphere. I want to talk about regenerative farming because I see a change, I see hope, I see a future and I see a lot of things happening that are affecting that future. I hope that somehow over the next 10 years or so we will see a change back and we will move forward and take up new ideas and work to make our soils healthier, our food healthier and our farmers healthier and better off financially.

Regenerative farming is more than just sustainable farming. Sustainable farming wants to keep things as they are and not get any worse, but regenerative farming wants to improve the soil so that we can grow more produce more easily that is healthier and more nutritious and basically keep regional areas and people coming into regional areas healthier.

It is simple. It begins with having livestock. This is very appropriate at this time, because we are talking about what might happen with live exports. I, along with many others, am saying that things need to change. However, I am also saying that we cannot damage or hurt the farming industries and livestock growers. We need them, and they need us—it is part of who we are. We need to make sure that if we lose some of our live export markets—as I believe we will because of what is happening with sheep and cattle exports—we keep that livestock.

Livestock is a strong part of regenerative agriculture, because it provides the nutrients and manures that feed the microbiota and other living organisms in the soil. We will then be able to store carbon in our soil—not dead carbon, but living carbon that grows and transfers nutrients and water and helps our plants to grow. There are a number of simple concepts that we need to put together.

The first is that we need to lower our chemical use. That will result in lower costs to farmers. Lower chemical use also means lower pesticide residues in our soils that are taken up by plants. Lower pesticide residues means that our food will be healthier. We need to look at how we can reduce chemical residues in our soils to keep our soils healthy. The pesticides, herbicides and fungicides that we are putting in our soils are killing the things that make our plants grow. We seem to be going backwards, along with the rest of the world, by letting industrial agriculture tell us that this is how we have to do it.

The second is diversity. We often have monocultures that extend for kilometres and kilometres of the same thing. That means there is a lack of diversity in the soil and we have less chance of expanding the types of creatures and types of biota that will provide different types of nutrients to the food that we grow.

The third is plant variety. We eat about 300 different varieties of vegetables and grains. There are 300 different varieties of corn. However, the varieties that are grown are limited to the few varieties that can be produced on a large-scale basis. It is like the McDonald’s of agriculture. There is no choice. We can have this one, this one or this one, but they will all be the same.

Our bodies need a variety of foods. We need a breadth of nutrients to help us grow strong. We need a breadth of diversity in our plants, and our plants will grow stronger if they are fed with a variety of nutrients. It all works as part of the system. We have been killing that system by whittling it down to one or two varieties and we have taken a lot of nutrients out of the soil by killing off what is in there.

The important thing about having living carbon in the soil is that it needs to be kept moist. Soil needs to have moisture content at all times. A dry soil is a dead soil. We need to keep the moisture in the soil. Low till or no till is a great idea, but it does not keep the soil moist.

We need different varieties of cover crops. We should not clear the land every time we grow something. We need to have things growing in our soil all the time. We then bring in the animals. The idea of regenerative agriculture is that we end up with more livestock.

We need a lot of animals to enable us to diversify across this country and develop other sorts of industry and other sorts of products so that we can regenerate our regional areas. We need people to go to regional areas. We need to have a diversified economy, with further processing of the things that we grow. We need to learn how to preserve and store the things we grow.

There is now an industry in Manjimup that processes and vacuum-packs food for babies. They are looking at processing food for aged-care facilities as well. Produce that is grown in the area is being processed and vacuum packed. Crabs that are preserved in this way can be stored for over a month and are still healthy to eat and transportable. All sorts of things are happening.

We had a dearth of resources in the former Department of Agriculture and Food. I am pleased the department is growing and getting stronger. However, it has 10 years to make up. The department has just been toeing the line of industrial agriculture and of the large pharmaceutical companies, chemical companies and seed owners. That has made it very difficult to try anything else.

We still think that the only way is the way of large industrial agriculture, with mega-sized equipment, and one single monoculture, and to just throw more chemicals on any problem we find. That is not how the problem will be solved. We need to move forward. If we can move forward and establish new agricultural industries, it will lead to greater job availability and increased interest in agriculture.

We will no longer be discussing whether agricultural schools are opening or closing and the small number of students in agricultural schools and whether they come from the city or the country. We need agricultural colleges, not only because we need agricultural workers, but also because somehow—I do not have the answer to this one—we need to let young people who are coming up through the school system know that they will be appreciated and will find a job out there. If we can farm on a smaller scale rather than on a mass scale, as we have been doing, it will not cost people so much to get into the agricultural industry.

Imagine how difficult it would be for someone to start a new farm if they do not inherit it or buy it through a multimillion-dollar company that may be foreign owned or owned by a superannuation fund. They will not be the family-owned farms that many of us would remember from our childhood. We need to get back to small family farms that are supported by a thriving and healthy agricultural system and a healthy agriculture department and regional development department, because that will enable regional areas to grow, and that is what we need. We need lower-cost entry, healthier soils, and fewer chemical residues in food.

I have not mentioned genetically modified crops. GM means more chemical use and more residues. The fact is that 99 per cent of the GM crops grown around the world are grown for herbicide tolerance or to grow their own defence for keeping bugs away. The chemicals are either within the plant as it is growing or sprayed onto the plant. Those crops are not grown to feed the world; they are grown so that more chemicals will be used.

That is hurting us. Rather than mining our soils and looking only at large-scale industrial agriculture, which is killing our soils, and nearly growing our food hydroponically, as though we have the water for it, we need a depth of variety to provide nutrients for the microbiota and mycorrhizal fungi in the soils so that they can provide nutrients to the plant roots and enable food to be grown that will enable us to be healthy. Thank you.