Preparing to face El Niño with a new variety of an old bush

The CSIRO is encouraging sheep and cattle farmers from throughout Australia to trial a new variety of native saltbush to help withstand some effects of the forthcoming El Niño – but they need to get planting now.

The new variety – Anameka saltbush, a cultivar of oldman saltbush (Atriplex nummilaria) – was named after Tony and Simon York’s Anameka Farms in Tammin, WA, one of the primary sites where it was selected and trialled by CSIRO. There are more than 300 farmers now growing Anameka, but CSIRO agricultural scientist Hayley Norman says they are pushing the plant into south-eastern Australia.

“Initial focus was in Western Australia where Anameka saltbush was first developed to manage salinity, but it is suitable for growing elsewhere in Australia,” Norman says.

Norman says wild-growing saltbush has been used by pastoralists for 50 years, but the shrubs’ poor energy values were constraining profitability.

Emu in saltbush near balranald nsw dirk hr spennemanngetty
Emu surrounded by wild saltbush on the plains near Balranald NSW. (Pic Dirk HR Spennemann/Getty)

“We selected Anameka from 60,000 saltbush plants from across Australia, chosen for higher energy content and superior palatability. Our research has found Anameka provides 20% higher economic returns from the shrub plantation, particularly in dry years.”

Anameka saltbush is a moderate-energy, high crude protein and sulphur feed source with essential minerals and antioxidants suitable for both sheep and cattle.

“Sheep prefer eating it, it has higher energy values and can increase wool and meat production compared to standard saltbushes,” Norman says, adding it has potential to regenerate the topsoil of land that is too saline or infertile.

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“It grows well on most landscapes, and once established, Anameka saltbush can become a ‘living haystack’ for grazing livestock for more than 20 years if managed correctly.”

Norman says the shrubs can be grazed within nine months of planting: “…sometimes sooner, it depends on the growing conditions during the first summer. Just check to see that they can’t be pulled out of the ground by your stock, and go a little easy the first time as we want the plants to grow strong roots. Once it’s established, you can graze it to bare sticks and it will bounce back.

“As saltbush is high in salt and sulphur, it should only make up one third of a sheep’s diet. It’s best to think of it as a protein, mineral and antioxidant supplement, not the entire diet. Fortunately, sheep and cattle will balance their diets if offered some low-salt alternatives such as crop stubbles, hay or understorey.

“During dry times, it’s a great complement to the poor-quality crop and pasture residues on farms.”

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