Agricultural Plastic Surgery, Australia

I’m currently working on creating a 3D model in Google SketchUp of the monitoring station and noticed something that, although obvious, I really hadn’t thought much about. The slide below is of screen grabs from GoogleEarth which gives you the idea from the Australian states along the southern and eastern coast. It truly is staggering just how much agriculture has altered the landscape (look at the patch work, not colouration due to various data sources) and why land management is an important part of meeting the challenges over the coming century, including anthropogenic climate change and decreasing biodiversity abundance. I suggest, if the pictures caught your interest, that you use the aerial imagery of Google (whether it be GoogleEarth or Maps on the web) to have a look at your own region. Look for both the patch work, but also for the fragments of remnant vegetation.

It’s not about greenies, such as myself, condemning human activity, but rather insisting that we can have as much – if not more – without such impact.

I should also note that eastern Victoria and along the coast of NSW (much of which is not in the screen grabs) have large patches of remnant vegetation left, but we must do better.

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6 thoughts on “Agricultural Plastic Surgery, Australia

  1. Pretty staggering viewpoints, Tim. I do like that you haven’t condemned it outright, though; what is wrong is continuing with a business as usual (h/t you) approach! When I contemplate the sheer quantity of trees cleared and habitat lost, and as a result topsoil, carbon sequestered, ecosystem services and the ground/atmosphere water balance. It’s hard to say any given change is ‘bad’, but on a wholesale scale as in some of those shots, it’s unlikely to work out well in the long term…


    1. It’s hard to condemn a system that has lead to such an improvement to the standard of living for millions, even with the bad. Down in the south east of Vic, where I was born, the tallest mountain ash they found was cut down solely to see how many houses could be made from it (I vaguely remember the number being 6-8). And as you say, such attitude has caused an immense degradation on a global scale. Topsoil loss and ecological service reduction are, as far as human activity is concerned, the most worrying, for even if we achieve greater sustainability, these cannot be replaced easily, if at all. Sooner we accept the bad as well as the good, the better we can meet the challengers over coming centuries.


  2. Stunning – well done for putting it together. The view of WA in particular blew my mind. Given that states such as SA, WA are getting drier one wonders how much of this agricultural land will be lost in the coming decades.


    1. Tell me about it! I didn’t realise WA was as spread with agriculture as it is until I put that together.
      I’m not sure if we’ll lose much agricultural land… well, actually, that’s not right. I believe we will – but only because human nature seems to shift slower than climate change is.
      Another member of the landscape science group that I’m associated with (I’m more on the wing, to be honest) asked if I thought the group (association of academic groups, government bodies and some industry) are just wasting their time. I think we’re spending a lot of effort talking in an echo chamber. There are numerous farmers being innovative who are on side. They are the next level informers. I don’t think academic people can reach everyone (as you may have noticed with my situation with David on your blog recently). If we are likely to save agriculture, it’ll be through farmers helping farmers, re-establishing working land near major populations and a new stock of farmers who came into the industry through landscape science training.


  3. How mauch agricultural land will be lost? It’s already blowing away. There wasn’t a whole heap of topsoil to begin with.

    Reseeding about a third of SA with saltbush would be a good start to just holding the soil in place while we try to come up with a real plan.


    1. That’s the point – how much agricultural land that is lost depends on how slow we are to adapt. Soils are the most important part of farming and as long as you have good soil, the rest is manageable. The increasing desertification is only due to top soil being lost – but I do not think it’s beyond repair as yet. But we need to think and act differently and use existing agricultural land differently. The land science group that I’m associated with as part of the Adelaide Ozflux group are working heavily with farmers across SA and the diversity of response is incredible. Arrogance is no doubt our biggest hurdle and it will come down to not academics groups like ours, but the farmers already on board to cause greater change among the rest – when they see that new methods are profitable, they will change.
      Another sideline issue is market control over farms – be it loans on equipment or seed and nutrient monopolies, change is made less attractive (and a decade of drought has done a lot to put farmers under increased debt).. it drive you nuts to see an industry of hard working people stuck between a rock and a hard place..


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