Zuni bowls to stop erosion

June 19, 2019

Far Northern graziers are trialling new ways to tackle erosion in their efforts to improve productivity and protect the Great Barrier Reef.

Tablelands graziers Owen Rankine and Roma Starczewska opened their gates to watershed restoration specialists, earthmovers and farmers recently while the Far North’s first farmland ‘Zuni bowl’ was constructed.

The initiative is part of the $2.3 million Upper Johnstone Integrated Project, funded by the Queensland Government, delivered by Terrain NRM and focused on erosion hotspots in the Tablelands-Innisfail region.

Terrain NRM’s Jen Mackenzie said three Zuni bowls would be built on the Rankine-Starczewska property, which would become a demonstration site for the Wet Tropics region.

Terrain NRM brought Tablelands business RegenAG's North American watershed specialist Craig Sponholtz to the region for this project. He designed the bowls, trained local earthmovers and led workshops with farmers on cost-effective ways to solve gully erosion problems.

Ms Mackenzie said the repair technique was common in North America and had been successfully trialled on public land in the Tablelands region over the past nine years by RegenAG in partnership with regional organisations. One example is a bowl in Tolga parkland that is stopping erosion near the Kennedy Highway.

“The bowls are a smaller-scale, cost-effective way for farmers to stop erosion advancing in catchments,’’ Ms Mackenzie said.

“They’re designed to work with the natural landscape, not against it, by mimicking the kind of forms you’d find in creeks. They are a carefully-constructed lining of rocks at abrupt vertical drops in erosion formations that stop water from disturbing the soil and causing more erosion.”

Owen Rankine said small-scale erosion had long been an issue on his family’s beef cattle property near Lake Eacham.

“Every wet season it gets a bit worse, and more topsoil is washed away,’’ he said. “If we can repair our gullies, and other farmers can do the same thing, it’s another step to improving our pastures and stopping run-off to the Reef.”

His family has also started to reduce bagged fertiliser use by planting legumes in their pastures, experimenting with natural fertilisers and planning for rotational grazing in smaller paddocks.

The Upper Johnstone Integrated Project, which is funded through the Queensland Government’s Natural Resource Investment Program, includes public workshops on grazing management practices, revegetation work, fencing-off eroded areas and creating off-stream watering points for cattle.

Ms Mackenzie said the Johnstone River catchment was a priority for water quality improvement, with the Far North’s highest sediment reduction target as part of the Australian and Queensland Government’s Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan.

“This project is all about reducing sediment losses to the Great Barrier Reef lagoon while helping graziers to help themselves by addressing erosion problems and improving their pastures and livelihoods,’’ she said.

FUN FACT: The Zuni bowl takes its name from the Native American Pueblo people from the Zuni River Valley, who first developed and used these structures.