Dung beetles are quiet achievers of agriculture

I congratulate the member for Canning on this motion. As the only dairy farmer, I think, in Parliament House, I know firsthand what an unsung hero the dung beetle is. I have seen the great benefits of dung beetles not only in reducing fly numbers but in the soil benefits that go with the recycling and burying of the cow manure. The member for Canning talked about the size of the job the dung beetles do—half a million tonnes of dung a day—and they do it very well.

WA has been seasonally plagued with a lot of native bush flies. In the early days, they were basically a plague. The dung beetles have significantly reduced the numbers, quietly beavering away to reduce the number of flies by breaking down the fresh cow manure.

Researchers have noticed a reduction in bush fly numbers following the introduction of dung beetles in the south-west. There have been 10 trials that have been very successful. There has been a real reduction of the bush fly numbers. The dung beetles break down and bury the cow manure in between 10 and 30 hours, and that means fewer flies actually survive.

They are absolutely a quiet achiever. You can get the cows out of the paddock in the morning, take them to the dairy and milk them and by the next day the manure in that paddock is gone. We know that the bush fly female lays its eggs in the fresh droppings and the larvae feed within that. The dung beetles bury the droppings and rob the bush flies of their opportunity to reproduce. There are native dung beetle spaces that eat and recycle marsupial dung and there a few native species that can deal with the dung of horses, sheep and cattle, even though they are not in the same volumes.

I want to talk about the practical side of this as well. In the early years on our farm, I spent an awful lot of time harrowing paddocks—actually spreading the manure around to distribute it—so that I did not end up with patches where the grass did not grow and to actually recycle the manure well. The work of the dung beetles reduced that time spent significantly. They were so effective in dealing with the cow manure. They bury very large volumes of manure, with benefits to soil, water and pasture, as well as biologically control the bush fly.

The benefits, as we heard, are significant: aeration of the soil; relocation of the nitrogen and phosphorus in the dung to the grass root zone; cultivating and turning over the topsoil to a depth of 300 millimetres, producing an environment in which the microbial activity thrives; providing habitat and a food supply for earthworms; reducing internal parasite loads in pastures through the rapid burial of the dung; increasing rainwater penetration and improving ground water retention full; and reducing bush fly populations of up to 99 per cent, according CSIRO research in Western Australia—and what a great job CSIRO has done.

I have seen these little Trojans—I call them—at work on our farm in Harvey. They just go non-stop until the manure is gone. Of course, I respect the position put by the member for Canning; there is a gap. And we certainly need to make sure that we have a full 12-month coverage of the dung beetle so that it is a constant cycle—no time when those flies can breed.

I am glad that we have seen a lot of investigation and research of species to cover that spring gap. This this has a wider benefit, not just in dairy and beef properties but in horticulture, orchards. We do see two dung beetle species out of France and Spain that may well be able to fill the gap. That is really important so that we have the 12-month process. I also note the comments about DAFF and Western Australia and the extensive work done by CSIRO.

I congratulate the member for Canning for his constant and persistent approach to this. We underestimate the value of the dung beetle in a very practical sense. I think this is one of those ‘quiet achievers’. If you want to give a ‘quiet achiever’ award in the agricultural sector, it would go to the dung beetle because of the amount of work that is done by these little fellows. I watch them.

Every time I drive down into the paddock on the motorbike, I see the fresh cow manure. When I come back 24 hours later, it is gone. I just think: help what an enormous environmental and agricultural benefit that is. I think this is a great motion by the member for Canning.