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All gung-ho on dung as beetles perform

By Country News

A new national research effort is hoping to turn 80 million tonnes of dung produced by Australian livestock each year into a multi-million dollar benefit for farmers, with the use of the humble dung beetle.

The $23million project, led by Meat & Livestock Australia, is partnering with researchers at Charles Sturt University through the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation.

Graham Centre director Professor Michael Friend said the project aimed to build knowledge of the role that native and imported dung beetles provided in farming systems, including improving pasture and soil health and reducing the spread of flies and parasites.

A CSIRO-run program from 1964 to the mid-1990s previously introduced dung beetles from southern Africa and southern Europe in Australia, with 23 species established.

CSU professor Leslie Weston said this new project would develop information and pathways for dung beetles to be incorporated more widely into livestock production systems.

‘‘A key part of this research is developing a regionally specific dung beetle service to farmers supported with extension and monitoring activities,’’ Prof Weston said.

‘‘We’re also going to investigate the importation and mass rearing of three new species and two endemic species that should be more suited to conditions encountered across inland Australia.’’

The five-year project is supported by MLA through funding from the Federal Government’s Rural Research and Development for Profit program.

MLA’s sustainability innovation manager Doug McNicholl said the project would enable producers to gain greater knowledge of and access to dung beetles that could provide significant productivity and environmental benefits on-farm.

‘‘Dung beetles play a critical role in grazing ecosystems,’’ Mr McNicholl said.

‘‘By burying dung in the soil, the beetles improve the flow of water, nutrients and carbon into the root zones of pastures, which improves pasture productivity.

‘‘And by disturbing the dung, they prevent build-up of flies and worms which, in turn, improves animal productivity.

‘‘In addition to investigating new beetle strains and giving some existing species a population boost, the project will quantify the economic and environmental benefits beetles provide to the red meat industry.

‘‘We’ll also learn more about how to look after these little critters so that they can continue to do their good work into the future.’’