University of Tasmania

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Functional mimics of natural ecosystems as a basis for sustainable agriculture

posted on 2023-05-28, 01:24 authored by Edward LefroyEdward Lefroy, Hobbs, RJ
Wind erosion and rising water tables are serious threats to the ecological sustainability of annual plant-based farming systems on deep, infertile sandplain soils in southwestern Australia. In this study, an annual cropping system was compared with two novel perennial plant-based systems designed to address these threats in terms of their use of renewable indigenous resource, their use of non-renewable indigenous resources, their purchased inputs of energy and materials, and profitability. The farming systems were an annual lupin/wheat (Lupinus angustifolius L./Triticum aestivum L.) crop rotation, a plantation of the fodder tree tagasaste (Chamaecytisus proliferus L.) and an alley cropping system in which the lupin/wheat rotation was grown between spaced rows of tagasaste trees. Flows of energy and materials between the environment and the economy were identified for each farming system and the natural and human activity involved in generating inputs as goods or services then valued in terms of the equivalent amount of solar energy required for their production using the emergy method of Odum [Ecological and General Systems: An Introduction to Systems Ecology. University Press of Colorado, revised edition of Systems Ecology, 1983, Wiley, New York, 644 pp.; Environmental Accounting: Emergy and Environmental Decision Making. Wiley, New York, 370 pp.]. The results showed that the two largest energy flows in the conventional lupin/wheat cropping system were wind erosion and purchased inputs of phosphate. The renewable component of production was 15% of total flows in the lupin/wheat system, 30% in the alley cropping system and 53% in the tagasaste plantation. The annual net income from the plantation system was nearly four times higher, and from alley cropping 45% higher, than from the lupin/wheat rotation. This analysis suggested that once the two agroforestry systems were fully established, the tagasaste plantation was the most efficient at transforming natural resources into goods and services and the most profitable, while the lupin/wheat system was the least energy efficient and the least profitable.


Publication title

Nature Conservation 5: Nature Conservation in Production Environments: Managing the Matrix










Surrey Beatty

Publication status

  • Published

Place of publication

Chipping Norton, NSW

Repository Status

  • Open

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