ANU receives $5.93 million for study of gains from farm dams

9 April 2019

In a watershed for Australia's sustainable farming future, researchers from The Australian National University (ANU) have been given $5.93 million in Australian Government funding to measure the benefits of farm dams. 

The project forms part of the ANU Sustainable Farms initiative, which will translate the research into knowledge and tools that farmers can use to manage farm dams more sustainably. 

Announced today by David Littleproud MP, Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, the four-year project will for the first-time quantify the biodiversity, productivity and mental health and wellbeing gains farmers enjoy when they invest in dams.

The project will also help increase farms' drought resilience and water security.

ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt AC thanked Minister Littleproud for the significant investment that will support Australian farmers and their communities.

"As Australia's national university, ANU is committed to solving some of the nation and the world's biggest challenges," Professor Schmidt said.

"Makins sure our farms are sustainable well into the future, particularly in an era of extreme weather, is one of the biggest challenges we face.

"This project will help ensure that our farmers are best equipped to keep doing what they do best - putting food on our tables. It will also help secure their livelihoods and wellbeing well into the future.

"I thank Minister Littleproud and the Government for this significant funding contribution, and look forward to seeing the crucial benefits it will deliver for our farmers and for all of us."

The project will be led by Professor David Lindenmayer AO from the ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society.

"You'd be hard pressed to find a better investment for a farm than making small improvements to their dams," Professor Lindenmayer said.

"Simple improvements to the design and management of farm dams, such as fencing and installing watering points enhance production, drought resilience, animal welfare and biodiversity," he said.

"These small improvements lead to deeper dams with cleaner water and which function better. And studies show with cleaner water, animals increase their weight by around a quarter.

"Good dams also provide a place where farmers can recharge the mind while going about their daily work.

"For many of the farmers we have spoken to, this is one of the biggest pay offs.

"Anecdotally we know the economic and other gains are massive. For the first time, this project will help us understand just how big they are."

The project forms part of the ANU Sustainable Farms Initiative.

Key facts about benefits from best practice farm dams:   

  • Restricting stock access to a small section of a farm dam allows ground layer vegetation surrounding the dam to recover.
  • Vegetation filters runoff from adjacent paddocks, which often contains large amounts of faecal matter, agricultural chemicals, and sediment.
  • Filtering of inflow to the dam decreases turbidity, lowers bacteria loads, protects against algal blooms and decreases the risk of stock contracting water-borne parasites.
  • Stock with access to clean water drink more and thus have greater rates of nutrient and mineral absorption.
  • Trees planted around the dam shade the water, which reduce surface temperatures and evaporation rates, leading to cooler, more palatable drinking water and greater water security.
  • Reliable access to water leads to positive animal welfare outcomes, which are closely tied to productivity.
  • Farm dams can be micro-hotspots for biodiversity.
  • Wetlands were once common in the sheep-wheat belt, but have largely been drained to make way for farmland.
  • Currently, tens of thousands of farm dams dot the landscape and, if adequately restored, could help to compensate for the loss of natural water retention and purification systems.