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AgLife: Dung beetle helping with climate change

As the agricultural industry struggles with increasing pressure of land-management practices on climate change, one Western Australian farmer has turned to the exotic dung beetle.

Doug Pow of Marron Brook Farm, 300 kilometres south of Perth is using the beetle, Bubas bison, to help implement a carbon-positive approach to farming.

Pioneering the use of biochar as a means of sequestering carbon, Mr Pow sidestepped intensive machinery to fertilise inaccessible Alps slopes by developing a plan using the dung beetle to bury the biochar-infused manure deep in the soil profile.

The plan landed Mr Pow an Australian Government Innovation in Agriculture Land Management Award at 2019 Western Australian Landcare Awards.

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“When we first bought this farm, I noticed active dung beetles burying virtually every dung pat down as deep as 600 millimetres into the ground,” Mr Pow said.

“And after attending a biochar talk, explaining the effectiveness of GPS-controlled grain-farming-seeding equipment to put charcoal into the ground and then using the same GPS seeding equipment to plant the seed of the next grain crop over the char into the ground, they were getting an increase in productivity. I thought, how could I put that into effect in a place like Manjimup, where we grow horticulture and tree crops, where we have big high hills and narrow gates and can’t pull 100-metre-wide equipment up mountain sides.

“So I attempted to feed some char to my cattle, let it fall out the other end and hoped the beetles would bury the dung of the cow they were burying, while also placing the char into the ground.

“The soil has become more fertile, it’s releasing the phosphorous that has been locked up in the soil back up to the surface, and that has a big advantage.”

Research into the use of biochar as a feed additive has so far indicated it can promote more efficient digestion and reduce methane emissions from ruminant livestock.

The methane gases, a huge climate change contributor, emitted by bacteria aiding bovine digestion, are consumed by methanotrophs within the char.

“The methanotrophs can comfortably live in the cow’s gut in the pore space of the biochar and they live on the methane, reducing harmful emissions,” Mr Pow said.

The entire November 27, 2019 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!

The entire November 27, 2019 edition of AgLife is available online. READ IT HERE!