Interview with Dr Russell Barrow

15 April 2021
ABC Goulburn Murray

Dung beetles, it's kind of an unfortunate name. Is this really NDU to the creature particularly? But Dr Russell Barrow has got a couple of workshops, one near Euroa today and in Benalla tomorrow. And while they may not seem so appealing, I am informed that the humble dung beetle does have its advantages. Dr Russell Barrow is with you now.

Hello. I can't really very well, thank you. I just get a bit of a bum rap, doesn't it? It could be something to do with the name BAPS, the plural dung beetle. Yeah, look, I think the producers, they don't think of them as a young rap, but, you know, the name dung beetle, I'm sure conjures up images that some people are of a rather undesirable. Yeah, but what do they do? What are their talents and why are they important to us? Well, yeah, their talents are that they destroy dung. So if you imagine your paddock full of cattle, it will also be full of dung. Without our little dung beetle, that dung would lie on the surface and it would fail the pasture when rain events came along, it would wash that down into waterways and fail the waterways. So we'd have a big problem. And that was the case in Australia prior to CSIRO introducing dung beetles back in the 1970s. So what the dung beetles do is they destroy the dung, pull it, pull it apart and then bury it in order to breed. They breed their babies.

And when you say, you know, introducing a species, gee, that that's a big move, isn't it, considering that there's been some fairly big disasters early on, I guess, in white Australian history? Yeah, look, absolutely. And I mean, because this program was coordinated through the CSIRO back in the 70s, they considered all of these questions. So we'd already been through the cane toad disaster by this stage. So, you know, the importation of species was paramount to make sure it didn't have any problematic side effects. And look, the dung beetle that we've introduced have been here for 40, 50 years now. And today, not a single negative side effect. So they've only been a plus plus for producers and not only the producers, but also for the the people in the communities that live nearby. So, you know, your dung beetle, by destroying the dung, destroys the environment for flies to breed. So we've got a lot less flies now because of our dung beetle. Okay, well, that is good news. And we do. They actually come from when they were introduced. Where did they come from, Though? The dung beetles that were imported to Australia came from a few locations. South Africa was a southern, Africa was a very popular place. We had a CSIRO had a research laboratory across in South Africa, and they studied a lot of beetles there and brought them across.

And then if you imagine the Mediterranean, not only the European side, but going right around through Turkey, around into northern Africa, beetles have also come from from that from that region. So I'd say Eurasia and Northern Africa. So we've tried to climate match. So the reason we're focused on that Mediterranean region and southern Africa is because we've got those types of climates spread throughout Australia. Would we have seen them? I don't even know that I would know what a dung beetle looks like. Well, that really depends if you poke a. And in a cowpat, if you poke around in a cowpat in summer, you will almost certainly have seen the dung beetle there, a little beetle that you would see crawling around in the dark. Hmm. Okay. Now tell us about these workshops and you'll be speaking with farmers about how to utilize the dung beetles. What is going to be happening? Yeah, that's right.

So the workshop at Creighton's Creek and again in Benalla will be to educate farmers and bring them up to date on the latest importations that we're doing to introduce spring active dung beetles into Australia, how they can get involved with putting nurseries on their property to breed up the spring active dung beetles and indeed identifying the dung beetles that they've got on their property. Because it's really important for us to learn what dung beetles are around, in which seasons that we can try and get a complete coverage across the entire year Mark. So what's the situation at the moment? They only sort of active in particular parts of the year. Yes. So we've got different species of dung beetles which have their seasons. So we've just come out of summer and we've got very good summer activity. We've got probably 10 species of dung beetles in the region, which will be, you know, really destroying cowpats and sheep dung throughout the summer months. But as we progress through autumn and winter, we've really only got one or two active species. And again, if we think about emerging from winter into spring, the winter active beetles disappear and we've got this gap in spring. So the grass is growing, the cows are doing their thing, but the dung is lacking the dung beetles to process it. So if we think about processing dunga dung beetles, we've got a gap between the amount of dung produced and the amount of dung processed. And then, of course, back in the summer when we've got pretty good activity. Hmm.

And how do farmers actually get the beetles? And forgive me if this is a silly question footed by them or how does that happen? Will look. Absolutely. You can buy them. So people wanted to go to our website, which is Dung Beetles, Dotcom. Today, you would find a lot of information, including commercial supplies of dung beetles that you can buy them. Another thing that we encourage land management groups to do is to actually coordinate with other groups that aren't in the same region that might have beetles that they want, and then they can capture them and send them on so we can do redistributions as well as purchasing. Gosh.

Now, tonight at Crighton Creek, we Ururoa and you'll be be taking a look obviously at the dung beetles. Then there's a workshop in Benalla on Friday and you've got a name sort of attached to this that a lot of people would know. The former Nationals MP Bill Sykes, who's very keen about using these sort of, I guess, Landcare management. Yeah, that's right. So we find a lot of the people that come along to our workshops are the producers that are really into the regenerative agriculture because they've heard about the dung beetles and they know how beneficial they are to soil regeneration. And so they're coming along to learn more. So, look, they're the vanguard. I would I would say, of the of the producers who are wanting to learn more. But there's always room for other people to get in on the act and learn what dung beetles can do. And then they'll be they'll also be in a green. So I believe that these are just a win win for for the farmers. I imagine that the word is out about these workshops in various Landcare groups, et cetera. But you mentioned the Dung Beetles website. Is that where we can find out more about what's going to be happening tonight and tomorrow? And then, I mean, I guess just about the dung beetles in general, they look, I suppose the best way for people in. Listening area to find out about the workshops is to contact Carrie Robson from Geko Clan. So the gecko is in a little bit with the Gecko clan and she'll be able to put you into contact with the appropriate people. But now we have to obviously avoid covid regulation. So I would really recommend contacting Carrie Robson from Geko Clan. And if you Google that, I'm sure you'll find her. All right. No worries at all. We can take care of that.

Dr Russell Barrow, really interesting to speak with you. Thank you for your time this morning. Thank you, Sandra. Thanks for your interest in the project on ABC.