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Spanish Farming System May Bring Jamón to Wheatbelt

3 September 2012, at 8:07am

AUSTRALIA - The Department of Agriculture and Food is undertaking a trial at Wongan Hills to look at the possibility of using the dehesa farming system in Western Australia.

The trial will start by testing if it is possible in Australian conditions to grow two species of trees—the Holm Oak (Quercus ilex) and Evergreen Oak (Quercus engelmannii)—that are widely used on dehesa land.

Originating from Southern Spain and Portugal, dehesa is an agrosilvalpastoral or mixed use farming method that uses a combination of trees, livestock and pasture to maximise efficient use of the land. It is hoped that it can offer Wheatbelt property owners another viable land-use option.

Department Officer Dr Imma Farre is conducting the research and says dehesa was originally designed to make use of poor quality land in those countries.

“The Spanish dehesa farming system occurs in areas where traditional cropping would be unprofitable, especially on poor and acidic soils,“ she says.

“In Spain this system has developed in areas that were originally not cleared for cropping because of soils being poor, rocky or too steep. It makes use of marginal land and creates an economic activity in an area that is otherwise unproductive.“

“The system creates a symbiotic relationship between these layers to boost the land’s productivity,“ Dr Farre says.

“Livestock is the main economic activity and comprises pigs with either sheep or cattle, the pastures are the main source of fodder for the livestock with the trees providing shade for the animals in the intense summer heat and the acorns feed the pigs during the summer feed gap.“

On dehesa land in Spain the Black Iberian pig is used produce a high value product known as jamón ibérico which is the most profitable product of the system.

If the initial tests are successful the trials will move into the livestock stage to determine which would be best to use in Australia’s specific conditions and to get the most suitable and profitable products.

Dr Farre says the idea is not to simply replicate the exact methods used in the Mediterranean which has similar dry summers and semi cold winters but to adopt some of the aspects to fit in with Australia’s particular climate.

She says it won’t replace profitable or successful farming systems being used now but it can offer an alternative system to those that will become or are currently unprofitable and unsustainable with future climate changes.