Project Title: Interactions of Coal Seam Gas Development with Agriculture and Forestry
Project Leader: Professor Neal Menzies
Researcher brief bio:
Neal Menzies has a passion for agriculture and the environment and has used his role as a teacher and research leader to bring others into this highly rewarding field. He believes that environmental scientists must go further than identifying where human activity is harming the environment, they must also deliver workable solutions to the problems. While his research spans a range of environmental chemistry issues, he considers himself primarily a soil scientist and sees soil science as a central discipline in the solution of a broad range of problems. This is well reflected in the research projects he has been involved in, including projects in agricultural production, water quality, waste disposal, mined land rehabilitation, conservation biology and even forensic science.
This project will develop strategies that optimise the co-existence of the coal seam gas industry and agriculture. Our aim is to build on existing biophysical and agronomic research efforts, to provide agricultural communities, regulators and the industry with guidance they consider meaningful and credible. The project objectives are to:
- engage agricultural stakeholders and develop partnerships to ensure that research activities are based on key stakeholder needs and priorities
- interpret bio-physical information to make it more meaningful for policy-makers and producers
- establish production systems and land use decision-making that enhance the co-existence of agriculture and CSG
- understand the social and economic co-existence of agriculture and CSG and extend this understanding to agricultural stakeholders.
Where will you be conducting your research?
Coal seam gas development is occurring widely across the agricultural landscapes of Queensland and its impacts on agriculture vary depending on the production used in the area. Our initial research areas have been selected to cover the extensive grazing lands and broadacre cropping systems.
Why is your research taking so long?
While mining activities, such as production of coal seam gas, have a limited life (perhaps 10 to 20 years), agriculture can go on forever! Indeed, it must. So our work is primarily focused on sustainability. We need to ensure that farmers, in taking advantage of the water produced as a byproduct of coal seam gas extraction, do not cause any long-term detrimental effects to their soils, their farming enterprise, or their community. Credible answers to questions of sustainability take time to deliver.
What is your first research milestone and what does this mean?
Our first research milestone is engagement with our stakeholders – the farmers, the representative bodies for their industries, the rural community organizations, the Government regulators and the coal seam gas companies. This is our first, but also our most important milestone, because these groups will direct our research program. Here is a simple example of the need to consider what the community wants - the availability of water in an otherwise dry landscape enables a range of new agricultural options; the most profitable of these is likely to be the production of irrigated crops. But if the land owner is a grazier, they may have no interest in doing this and the slightly less profitable option of producing irrigated forage crops may be a much more attractive proposition.
What are the benefits to community for your research?
The coal seam gas industry offers opportunities to agricultural producers and their communities in addition to the challenges it presents. Our work is directed at achieving a better understanding of both benefits and costs and at ensuring effective communication between the various parts of the community to ensure that this better understanding is shared by all.