Native seed demand challenges for Australian farmers

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Native seed demand challenges for Australian farmers

The market for native tree seedlings is booming and seed suppliers are having difficulty keeping up with mining companies' carbon offsets and farmers' land restoration projects.

In Beverley, south-east of Perth, native seed farmer and Ballardong Noongar man Oral McGuire is working to meet that demand by combining regenerative and traditional land management practices.

He said there was a significant 50 per cent or more shortfall of native tree seed today.

We're already at risk of not fulfilling what is needed for carbon offsets or rehabilitation projects. He has been planting trees on his Beverley farm for 14 years, employing local Aboriginal people to harvest seeds for future plantings.

More Australian landholders have started planting trees to earn carbon credits, offset emissions, and reap the benefits of tree cover on farms.

McGuire is a director at the Noongar Land Enterprise NLE Group, an Aboriginal farming collective that runs a tree seedling nursery using seeds from his farm.

The NLE is planning to triple the nursery's output because of the demand for native seed.

Production manager David Collins said that this year, we planted one million cells of native tree seed and we're looking to bump that up to at least two-and-a-half, three million.

Once grown into seedlings, the trees are sold and planted by Noongar rangers elsewhere in Western Australia's Wheatbelt region.

As well as expanding the existing nursery, Alan Beattie, the company's chief executive, said he planned to establish more tree nurseries across the country, which stretched more than 1,000 kilometres from Geraldton to the Esperance region.

I think we will need 300 plus people in a couple of years to meet those demands.

Aboriginal people will be able to find employment opportunities in Noongar country through the services provided by those services. The right trees for the job are the right trees.

Starting new nurseries is the easiest way to grow more tree species that are adaptable to different climates, because it makes it possible to grow more tree species.

The country in Wheatbelt changes a lot, if you go south, north, east or west, Mr McGuire said.

In 2020, Macquarie University researcher Nola Hancock co-authored a report on Australia's native seed supply, which found wild trees were struggling to produce enough seed for land restoration projects.

She advocated for more seed to be farmed from diverse regions to reduce the burden on wild-harvesting and boost the genetic diversity of the trees.

If tree seeds aren't genetically diverse, it becomes a spiral of inbreeding and depression and as each generation comes along it deteriorates further, Ms Hancock said.

She said that if tree planting projects were to succeed, they needed to be ready for decades of unpredictable climate to come.

You could get some seed from a town or a region where it's two degrees warmer, and get some seed from there, said Ms Hancock.

You might get a bit from there if it's one degree warmer.

It's kind of a bet-hedging strategy.