As many people who know me are aware, I’m currently partway through studying towards a Masters degree in Sustainable Agriculture. I embarked on this particular project for many reasons. I love studying, learning and researching things make me genuinely happy. Agriculture and horticulture are long term interests, and we are trying to build a sustainable, commercially viable farming enterprise on this property – so getting some more-or-less hands on ideas about large-scale farming (as opposed to suburban gardening) is useful, since I don’t come from a farming family or have any background in large scale agriculture of any sort. And part of the objective was also to earn a base level of authority on the subject that will let me be heard when I voice advice or opinions to farmers or policy-makers.
Both of these objectives have driven my choices so far in what topics I study and what research I do for this course. I have, of course, been influenced by my personal areas of interest as well – I’m unlikely to raise silkworms for commercials ilk production, for example, and Australia is unlikely to develop a large silk industry, but I still wrote a paper on the sustainability of the silk industry. For the most part, I’ve been trying to narrow my focus in on the topics which are most relevant to me and to my agricultural region.
Now I’m heading into the sharp end of the course, the part where I have to choose a single, narrowly focused topic to write a thesis on. It’s not easy to narrow it down, to find something that will be useful to my region as well as to my own farm, and interesting as well. (Suggestions welcome, by the way!)
So far, my topic looks like something around modelling the economic and ecological viability of small farm agroforestry, looking at tree crops (seeds, nuts, fruit, timber, etc.) and integrated livestock production (sheep, goats, cattle, poultry). As a start, I think my next research project is going to be looking at tree crops for Dehesa Australis systems – comparing the production capacity, set-up approach, and market for the most plausible low-care (i.e. not subject to fruit fly, don’t need excessive irrigation) tree crops which will grow in Western Australian conditions. My shortlist is:
- black mulberry (Morus nigra),
- carob (Ceratonia siliqua),
- coastal wattle (Acacia longifolia var. sophorae, aka Acacia sophorae),
- colony wattle (Acacia murrayana),
- cork oak (Quercus suber),
- date palms (Phoenix dactylifera),
- golden wattle (Acacia pynantha),
- manna wattle (Acacia microbotrya),
- mulga (Acacia aneura),
- olive trees (Olea europaea),
- pistachio nuts (Pistacia vera),
- silver wattle, aka wirilda (Acacia retiodes), and
- stone pine (Pinus pinea).