Q: What is your history with improving land functions and production Merv?
Merv: I originally owned a property called "Texas" which had no timber pulling done on it and it was basically native grasses which have a limited nutritional value in them. I would breed cattle numbers up to a modest number but when a drought came, I would always be forced to sell most of the cattle for a sixpence and then start again.
After doing this twice and not getting anywhere I started noticing the results of other people who were pulling their timber (that was getting thicker all the time) I saw how good the results of buffel grass becoming established were. This improved the stability of the soil, a greater quantity and quality of grass and it enabled a better control of tree thickening, and so I decided I had to give it a try.
Q: For someone who was fairly broke, how did you finance the initial pulling operation?
Merv: I sold half my property and used some of the proceeds to pay for my initial pulling. Gradually the property improved from carrying one beast to 50 acres to one beast to about 10 acres. The land was improving, the cattle improved and many other people were excited by what could be done. I also took the opportunity to become a dozer operator to help other landholders become more financially and environmentally sustainable and I am constantly on the lookout for better ways to do this rehabiltation work.
Q: You have the distinction of having a video clip of your two dozers pulling over white ant ridden trees and an antbed on television hundreds of times. What is your reaction?
Merv: I hope people get sick of that old video shot and want to see what it looks like today, a mix of grasses and some regrown trees. The erosion has halted and rainfall infiltrates a lot better. Today this area is probably as good a balance for biodiversity and production as anyone could get from that country. The trees in this sort of country are hollow because of the white ants, and the ground caps easily and the native grasses do not persist as well as some introduced grasses. By adding a few other grasses to the native ones we already have, we can improve the biodiversity mix, which can improve the health of soil microbes and the mineral cycle. The assumption that the best species for an area is only the native species is a lot of rot. Australia didn`t have dung beetles, some clovers, rye grass, or buffle grass, to name just a few species which when added to our environment have been a big boost. The ability to maintain a diversity of grasses is only a new science. We need to acknowledge the fact that we can improve biodiversity and improve production to provide constant amounts of renewable resources and food for the world.
Q: Have you had any conservationists out to see your property?
Merv: Yes, people from city conservation groups, conservation minded government people and the like, who I don`t mind showing a fair cross section of country to, and after a tour they all tell me I`m doing a good job managing the land, but then some of them go back to their offices and get on the radio or TV and run us landholders down in regards to treepulling, which means they either lied to me in the paddock, or they are lying to the public. I`d like to know which view they truly hold to.
Q: The politics of resource management concerns you then?
Merv: It`s more than a concern, it`s squeezing the best people to manage our natural resources to the point of despair. Our security of land tenure has gone with the controls via the legislation on freehold land. The right to manage the land with local knowledge and experience is being ignored as top down inflexible and suedo - scientific policies become more rigid. The claim of government consultation is a farce, as those of us who put in submissions see nothing of our views taken on board. It`s now become a land ruled by people with academic qualifications of sorts but little or no land management experience. It`s like getting someone to fly a plane with hundreds of people on board and the pilots have never flown a plane, they have only studied how to fly from other people who have never flown a plane either. All I can see is a big crash coming up.