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ISSUE 6 December 2010

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P e r s o n a l s t o r ies F RO M Aus t r a l i a n F a r me r s

in this issue • Positive feedback drives research direction

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• Pasture cropping expands production potential in Western Australia

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• Perennial shrubs provide grazing alternative in marginal country

Subtropicals pack a powerful punch

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• Summer-active

perennials yield multiple benefits

• Lucerne lifts lambing rates in NSW

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• Challenging conditions require flexible approach

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Perennial grasses are providing a powerhouse of summer feed P e r e n n i a l s

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Flexible options meet seasonal challenges Welcome to the final edition Future Farm for 2010. As eastern States producers are managing an inundation of wet weather and an onslaught of locusts, many Western Australian producers are coping with severe drought conditions. Now more than ever producers across the country have a critical need for resilient and adaptable perennial pastures to cope with our variable and often unpredictable climate.

pasture cropping program. With his fragile soils and comparatively low rainfall, pasture cropping capitalises on different seasonal growth habits. Keith reveals how a combination of subtropical pastures, tagasaste and a winter lupin crop has extended the production potential of his innovative farming system. Grazing shrubs are also offering better options on marginal soils in South Australia, through the FFI CRC-funded Enrich project. Ian Ellery shares his experiences with a smallscale on-farm trial investigating the potential of grazing shrubs on his marginal country.

The results from our recent Readership and EverGraze surveys, highlights of which are included on the following page, give me great confidence the Future Farm Industries CRC is supplying a rich diversity of sustainable and profitable options for producers in a challenging environment.

Making the most of out-of-season rainfall has been on an ongoing theme with many of the producers profiled in Future Farm and Craig and Woody Oliver of south-west Victoria confirm the benefits offered by summeractive perennials. A combination of phalaris, plantain, chicory and sub-clover is allowing the Olivers to improve their productivity and reduce the need for supplementary feeding during summer — something I am sure many WA producers would envy this year.

As Stuart and Bronwyn Lockery reveal this month, FFI CRC’s investment into developing a sound agronomic package for subtropical perennials pastures is paying dividends. The Lockerys are capitalising on the powerful summer feed potential offered by subtropicals. But equally as important as heavy storms ravage their region the dense groundcover will protect their valuable soil assets. On the other side of the country, under vastly different conditions, Keith Tunney is incorporating subtropicals into an innovative

Well known for it’s summer feed potential, lucerne is not only reducing the need for supplementary feeding, but recent EverGraze results have shown it can have a significant impact on ovulation rates. Chris and Margot

Shannon have been flushing their ewes before joining on lucerne for the past two years and the proof is in the results on pages 12 and 13. Flexibility and the ability to adapt to everchanging conditions is a key to success and Kevin Tesselar shares his approach with readers in our final case study this month. Sound management, combined with a wide choice of perennial pasture options will allow producers across the country to adapt successfully to a myriad of environmental conditions and changing seasons. Producers and researchers alike need to be confident that under these challenging conditions the weed risk potential of these species to the natural environment can increase. Many of the species covered in this issue of Future Farm have been run through our vigorous weed risk assessment program. To ensure your pastures work for and not against you, take a moment to check out the newly-revised weed risk profiles on www.futurefarmonline.com.au under the About FFO tab. Wishing you all the best for Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

Kevin Goss FFI CRC Chief Executive Officer

Read about the successes producers across varied landscapes are achieving with perennial pastures and shrubs inside this issue of Future Farm. Future Farm magazine is published bi-annually by the Future Farm Industries CRC Ltd (FFI CRC) ACN 125 594 765. FFI CRC was established in 2007 under the Commonwealth Government’s CRC Program and builds on the research of the CRC for Plant-based Management of Dryland Salinity. FFI CRC is a unique co-investment between meat, grains and wool industry research corporations, the Landmark agribusiness company, and the combined research power of CSIRO, six State agencies and four universities. For further information about FFI CRC visit www.futurefarmonline.com.au

The information contained in this publication has been published in good faith by FFI CRC to assist public knowledge and discussion and to help improve profitability of farming and sustainable management of natural resources and biodiversity. Neither FFI CRC nor the participants in the CRC endorse or recommend any products identified by trade name, nor is any warranty implied by the CRC and its participants about information presented in Future Farm magazine. Readers should contact the authors or contacts provided and conduct their own enquiries before making use of the information in Future Farm magazine.

For further information, contact FFI CRC on: T: (08) 6488 8559 E: enquiry@futurefarmcrc.com.au ISSN (Print) 1835-9906 ISSN (On-line) 1835-9914 Published December, 2010 Design & production: Kondinin Information Services

our cover Subtropical grasses are boosting production and improving farm fertility for northern New South Wales producers Stuart and Bronwyn Lockrey.

Supported by

• See full story page 4. Photos: Catriona Nicholls

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And now … a word from the floor

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s the Future Farm Industries CRC reaches the mid-point in its seven-year lifecycle it is time to pause and reflect on the impacts of the CRC to date.

With more than 200 positive responses the CRC can proudly say both publications are hitting the mark. More than 59 per cent of farmer respondents indicated that stories in Future Farm have provoked them to seek more information and 33% have made changes to their farming businesses as a result of the stories. A total of 88% of readers found two or more articles in every issue relevant to their own farm business, and with each edition containing stories from across southern Australia, this is no mean feat! Information overload is a sign of the times, so the FFI CRC was thrilled to see that Future Farm readers are happy with the stories’ length and 93% find sufficient detail in the stories. Interestingly in an increasingly-online world, an overwhelming 84% of respondents still wish to receive a hardcopy of Future Farm magazine at least every six months in preference to any form of electronic version. In fact 20% of respondents would like the frequency of publication to increase.

EverGraze® makes an impact In the meantime … a recent EverGraze phone survey revealed that researchers and livestock producers alike are reaping the rewards of FFI CRC’s, MLA’s and AWI’s investment into perennial grazing systems through the EverGraze program.

key points Farm magazine is • Future popular, with numerous readers

making changes on farm as a result of hearing stories of other farmers successfully using perennials

is also driving change • EverGraze for the better across southern Australian grazing systems.

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During September–October 2010 the CRC surveyed readers of Future Farm and Focus on Perennials to better understand how these core publications are being perceived and used.

Based on the survey results, an estimated 3100 producers have made changes on their properties during the past four years due to EverGraze.

livestock, combine mobs to assist with management and adjust calving and lambing time to improve their livestock management and increase their profitability,” Kate said.

The bulk of the survey applicants said EverGraze provided information that allowed them to be more profitable and more environmentally sustainable.

“The survey and an independent review of EverGraze are informing changes to EverGraze research and delivery for the next three years.”

In addition to the survey, economic modelling suggests that during the next 12 years the EverGraze program is likely to impact positively on land management systems across more than one million hectares.

“The results help us to understand farmer attitudes and barriers to adoption. By listening to EverGraze participants, we can prioritise extension, tools and training to meet farmer needs,” Kate said.

EverGraze, is directed at encouraging farmers to use the right perennial in the right place for the right purpose.

FFI CRC would like to thank sincerely survey participants and two people who steered EverGraze to where it is today — Chris Mirams, Chair of the National Advisory Committee and Geoff Saul, National extension consultant. Both have moved on to greener pastures leaving EverGraze in a very good shape.

Since 2005, 75% of EverGraze participants and 59% of non-participants have changed their use or management of perennial pastures. Actively managing to maintain groundcover, increasing the total area of perennials or establishing a range of perennials to better match landscape and feed supply and demand were the most common changes. Through its research-focussed Proof Sites and on-farm, Supporting Sites, EverGraze is already engaging more than 4000 livestock producers across Australia’s southern grazing systems in five States. Long time EverGraze researcher and recently-appointed EverGraze Extension Leader, Kate Sargeant, suggests that the program is showing producers practical ways to improve stocking rates through higher quality and quantity of pasture from new pasture species and improved management of existing species. “Through EverGraze, we are also encouraging farmers to condition score to monitor

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EverGraze — More livestock from perennials is a Future Farm Industries CRC, MLA and AWI research and delivery partnership — www.evergraze.com.au

contact

• Kevin Goss, CEO, FFI CRC T: (08) 6488 2555 E: kevin.goss@futurefarmcrc.com.au • Kate Sargeant EverGraze Extension

Leader M: 0428 325 318 E: kate.sargeant@dpi.vic.gov.au

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Subtropicals — the perfect perennial pasture package

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s far as Stuart Lockrey is concerned, the subtropical perennial pasture package is near on perfect — from the available seed mixes through to the agronomic advice. During November 2010, facing a bumper start to spring and summer, Stuart shared his delight in the powerhouse of potential offered by his perennial grass pastures with Catriona Nicholls.

farm info . Case study: Stuart and Bronwyn Lockrey Location: Manilla, New South Wales Property size: 999 ha Mean annual rainfall: 700 mm Soils: Basalt-derived, light brown to heavy black soils Enterprises: Mixed farming — winter cereals, trade beef cattle, Droughtmaster Stud and sheep

“From a conventional grain-growing base, during the past few years we have started to move more towards livestock and a conservation tillage system,” Stuart explained. “I’m looking for a more productive, more sustainable system and conventional cropping just wasn’t doing it for me.

In terms of a pasture system, we were using lucerne in a rotation with our grain crops, but we haven’t been getting enough rain during summer to get the production. It’s a pretty thirsty pasture and if it doesn’t get enough moisture it tends to drop leaf so we ended up with bare soil patches and disappointing production. Our country is a mix of non-arable, native pasture country and arable country that we can really use to boost production. So when we looked into going from grain into something more productive than lucerne we decided to give subtropicals a go. And while every year is different, since putting our first subtropical mix in during the summer of 2007–2008 we haven’t looked back. The productivity off them is incredible — I’ve never seen anything that’s actually responded to so little rain.

key points switch from conventional • The cropping to a more sustainable

Stuart and Bronwyn Lockrey are thrilled not only with the production of subtropicals, but their ability to improve the overall health of the Lockrey’s soils and farming system.

Even with as little as 10–15 millimetres of rain you can see a visible difference almost immediately.

Be prepared Establishment and management are crucial to success — but with subtropicals, the whole package is available to support a successful result. There are multiple species with high-quality seed available. We used seed with an 85 per cent germination rate when we established our first paddocks. Our subtropical mix is mainly Katambora Rhodes, Gatton panic, bambatsi panic and premier digit grass, with a smaller quantity of creeping bluegrass.

mixed farming system is improving soil health

Added to this is the back-up of sound agronomic advice.

little else will grow.

All my life I’ve listened to agronomists and found many to be a little over the top, however they have this absolutely right — the agronomic support package is really sound, all you need to do is listen

provide a boost of • Subtropicals feed from summer storms when

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Photo: Lester Thearle

The soil was suffering, disease pressure was increasing and the whole system was under threat.

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to the advice and the pasture will be successful. But if you don’t, you’ll end up getting a half-baked paddock that will most probably fail. Paddock preparation is really important, with a two-year preparation period from cropping to pasture a must — you can’t just whack them in on short notice. The key is clean paddocks, free of weed competition during the critical period of germination and early pasture growth. We achieved this by cropping with grazing oats for two years and spraying out weed growth during summer. Also important is time of sowing, with adequate soil moisture, and to fertilise in the first year for production. We sowed during November 2007 and following this, after only 30 mm of storm rain, the pasture was away — I couldn’t stop watching it, I enjoyed it every day. And by the end of March 2008 we were grazing. We went with a coated seed mix and while it was a bit more expensive I think it was worth

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it. As the pasture is sown dry, the ants don’t carry the seed away and when a storm comes it’s just that bit heavier than the uncoated seed and doesn’t wash away.

Getting the timing right is really important, not just for the pasture and the livestock, but also for the organic matter recycling that comes with high-intensity grazing.

Intense focus

At this stage I’m still investing in fertiliser for the initial establishment and production. I’m no longer using 20,000 litres each year of diesel we used under our conventional cropping system — we are back to 7000 L per year, which is a huge saving.

For maximum pasture quality and productivity these grasses need high-intensity grazing when they are established. To do this well you need small paddocks and centrallyplaced watering points — it’s critical to have the water in the right place. We have 100 hectares of 20 ha paddocks, each divided into four 5 ha paddocks by a single hotwire, with a centrally-placed trough. I’ve had no trouble with this set-up so far and I’m currently moving 100 cows through the system. In terms of how long the mob stays in each paddock; I’m finding it really interesting — if you study them long enough, you’ll find the cattle let you know when it’s time to move on. By this stage they are working for you in regards to controlling the pasture management.

Keeping pace with production If there are any challenges with the subtropicals it would have to be trying to keep pace with their production through grazing to keep the pasture at the right growth stage — I can’t just run out and buy 50 more mouths for two weeks. I’m trying to get my head around that right now. We’ll just keep trying to keep pace and bring more stock down from the native pastures, utilising the natives as dry feed later when the subtropicals have slowed down. Our program is calving the cows out in our native pasture paddocks, which are larger

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during spring. We then bring cows and calves down onto the subtropicals during summer and autumn. We wean calves before sending the cows back to the native pasture paddocks. During 2008 we kept them on the subtropicals right through until and the pasture looked like a stubble paddock. The following Summer it came back green as a leek. We now have 100 ha of subtropicals, with another 50–60 ha in the pipeline for this summer and again next summer. At the moment it seems to be working and I’m over the moon. The soil biology is increasing and the soil structure and fertility have improved.

contact

• Stuart Lockrey M: 0428 857 321 E: towri@hotmail.com

By Lester Thearle, Namoi CMA

science behind the story

• Stuart and Bronwyn have

certainly moved forward in their use of subtropical perennial grass pastures.

These highly-vigorous, high-yielding, palatable and nutritious grasses have proved their worth in both sheep and cattle grazing operations on the New South Wales north west slopes and plains over many years. Of the many species available, the most popular are bambatsi panic, premier digit grass, Katambora Rhodes grass and consol lovegrass, depending on soil type, drainage and the livestock grazed. As identified by Stuart and Bronwyn, establishment depends on a clean, weed-free paddock, sowing highquality seed early to mid-way through the summer season at a depth of only six millimetres and preferably having reasonable subsoil moisture. Removal of summer-growing weeds, particularly liverseed, barnyard grass and stinking lovegrass, can be achieved with at least two years cropping and

staying on top of all weed growth during summer.

pastures, it will also assist in the area of variable feed availability.

Late November–early December is the best time for sowing and even though germination will not happen on soil moisture, press wheels really assist germination as they encourage seed–soil contact, so when the rain arrives, the seed has the best chance of moisture imbibement (absorption).

Following on from the grazing management plan, a sound rule of thumb is to graze only one third of the feed on offer, accept that a further one third will be trampled by stock, which will assist in groundcover and soil health, and to leave one third of the feed still standing when stock are moved out. By leaving one third of feed still standing, there is less tendency to overgraze plants and to ensure that regrowth will occur by photosynthesis rather than by plant root reserves.

Sound grazing management that focuses on short-duration grazing, with extended rest periods to allow for plant regrowth is important for longterm survival and productivity from these pastures. While Stuart and Bronwyn tend to look to the animals as a trigger to move stock on, it is important have a wellconsidered grazing management plan. This plan should involve the number of paddocks, numbers of stock, plant rest periods (and hence grazing periods), the seasonal conditions and matching stocking rate to carrying capacity. Not only will a planned strategy assist in maximising the benefits from these

• Lester Thearle is a Production

Systems Officer with Namoi CMA. He is involved with grazing projects funded by Namoi CMA aimed at improving the productivity and sustainability of perennial grassbased livestock systems.

contact

Lester Thearle T: (02) 6742 0291 E: lester.thearle@cma.nsw.gov.au

Weed risk note: Producers should take care to manage vigorous growth of subtropical pastures as the rapid increase of biomass may become rank and unpalatable, spread the species into unintended areas, smother other species and alter fire parameters.

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Three-course dining on offer for livestock

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farm info .

pasture cropping system provides Dongara farmer, Keith Tunney, with an expanded production system and essential protection to a fragile landscape. Keith explains the system he has developed to Lucy Kealey.

Case study: Keith Tunney Location: Dongara, Western Australia Property size: 1306 ha Mean annual rainfall: 450 mm

“My farm, on the Western Australian coast about 3.5 hours north of Perth, is basically a sand dune. Generally the soil is referred to as deep grey sands. I call them gutless sands!” Keith said.

Soils: Deep grey sands Enterprises: Grazing — cattle and sheep; some cropping

“Grazing is my main business. I run about 500 beef cattle and about 2000 sheep, for lambs and wool. I have tried cropping but the average yield is about one tonne per hectare — for wheat or lupins — and this country is not really suited to annual cropping. I started a pasture improvement program pretty much as soon as I got here, 13 years ago. The pasture was all annual pasture and not good pasture at that — double-gees, blue lupins, brome and Paterson’s curse.

I also grow tagasaste (lucerne tree) on 15 metre row spacings in an alley system. There’s more than 400 hectares of country with alleys. I have planted subtropical perennial grasses up the inter-rows and then I pasture crop over the top of that. Basically, the livestock have a three-course meal on offer!

key points perennial species • Subtropical provide feed into summer and respond to early breaks and summer storms

over-sown annual crop • An provides grazing opportunities

during winter and the potential of grain harvest, at no detriment to perennial pastures

groundcover from • Year-round the pasture cropping system

protects the soil surface from wind and water erosion.

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Photo: Brad Wintle

Now, about half the property is planted to perennials. I have planted subtropical perennial species such as signal grass, Gatton panic and fine Rhodes grass.

Inspecting pasture cropping with lupins over perennial grasses at Dongara, WA were (left to right) John McGrath, Keith Tunney (farmer), David Ferris (EverCrop) and Geoff Moore.

Introducing better-suited plants The carrying capacity when I got here was about 1.0 dry sheep equivalents per hectare. With pasture manipulation using tagasaste and subtropical perennial grasses my stocking rate is now up around 6 DSE/ha. The lift in carrying capacity is also due to rotational grazing. When I bought the place it had seven paddocks, now it is has 45! The subtropical perennials provide additional grazing throughout the year. If we get a summer storm, I’ve got feed during summer. If we have an early break, we have feed on hand within 7–10 days. With the annual pastures you are waiting 4–6 weeks after the break just to get a green pick. The root systems of the perennial grasses go down five metres, and tagasaste has a root system that goes down 10–15 m. Any fertiliser that leaches through this lovely sand of ours gets recycled. The perennials also pull up any moisture from rain during the season.

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The annuals can’t chase any moisture that goes past 100 millimetres. The perennials give me better value from fertiliser and moisture. The subtropical perennials work well in this gutless sand. They also establish much better than the winter-active perennials. I have tried to get ryegrass established on this country but with no real success. Because it is non-wetting sand, unless it rains continually for a week or more, it is hard to get new seedlings established. The other great benefit of these sub-tropical perennials is they are summer-active so they stop the country blowing away.

Value-adding the perennials I always wanted to plant over the top of the pasture to value-add the perennials. Also, because the sands are non-wetting, there are too many gaps — not enough plants per square metre. So after I got the perennials established, I wanted to fill the gaps economically and without ripping the perennials out. It costs $130/ha to put them

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in, so you don’t really want to rip them up the next year.

Photo: David Ferris

I designed and built a double-disc opening machine that safely sows through the perennials without disturbing them. I can establish annuals — such as serradellas, ryegrass, oats for feed or sometimes crop. I have been pasture cropping for about three years now.

Pasture cropping success during 2010 This year I was chasing some lupins for the sheep. I had a 40 ha paddock of perennials I had put in three years ago and I decided to plant over the top of them with Wonga lupins, that I had left in the box. I set up a trial with Sarah Knight (from the Mingenew-Irwin Group) and the EverCrop team from the Future Farm Industries CRC, to work out what sowing rates were best. We trialled 50 kilograms, 100 kg and 150 kg seed per hectare (see Science behind the Story for results). While the 150 kg/ha rate yielded highest there wasn’t as much pasture underneath it. The rest of the paddock (sown at 100 kg/ha) averaged 1.1 t/ha, which is 0.2 t/ha (one bag to the acre) better than normal. I increased yield but also, there was a huge volume of feed on offer (FOO) underneath.

Keith Tunney’s cattle took advantage of the plentiful subtropical perennial pasture on offer after the lupin harvest.

I had 200 head of cattle in there for eight days, and they were very happy. There is still about 0.6 t/ha (three bags) of lupins on the ground, that the header had shattered and thrown out, which is fine because lambing ewes will go in there during March. In addition to the 40 ha with lupins, more than 800 ha of perennial pasture had Yagan barley sown over it this year. It was put in before the break of season, purely to have fresh feed for cattle and sheep, early in the autumn.

In a year where I had 300 mm, when I should have had 500 mm, the paddock is still going to be a winner for me. It has shown that the pasture cropping system still performs in a lean season. What’s more I can put stock in the paddock and the soil is not going anywhere. The perennials will stay there and hold the ground together.”

contact

Clear-cut benefits By pasture cropping this year, I’ve been able to better my previous crop yields, have the benefit of letting the perennial subtropicals get well established during winter, and I have got a perfect paddock set up for lambing.

• Keith Tunney E: tunneycattleco@harboursat. com.au

By David Ferris and Perry Dolling

science behind the story

• The Northern Agricultural Region

(NAR) of WA is dominated by broadacre cereal cropping, based around wheat in rotation with narrow-leaf lupins and canola. The region is highly susceptible to wind erosion, due to a high proportion of sandplain soils, and concerns about the sustainability of continuous cropping are increasing.

Innovative growers, like Keith Tunney, are keen to develop farming systems based on perennial species to minimise the risk of erosion, improve soil fertility and mitigate the impact of variable seasons. Facilitated discussions with such growers, extension specialists and industry representatives in the region identified subtropical grasses as the most promising option to increase the perennial component on sandplain soils and pasture cropping as a potential system to continue grain production. Pasture cropping involves planting a winter crop into a living summer-active perennial pasture. Complementary growth periods reduce competition

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between crop and pasture species grown together. The Western Australian EverCrop team is working with growers to evaluate the viability of the approach in the mediumrainfall zone of the NAR. However, the systems being evaluated in WA are based on introduced subtropical grasses (panic and Rhodes grass) rather than native (C4) grass species, which underpin pasture cropping systems in the eastern States. Two broad applications are envisaged: • For livestock-dominant systems the crop could provide feed to supplement the perennial pasture, with crops ‘locked up’ and harvested only in years with excess feed. • For cropping-dominant systems, where feed is a secondary consideration, pasture cropping might stabilise fragile soils, improve soil health and prevent summer weeds from growing. During 2010, Keith Tunney, Sarah Knight (from the Mingenew-Iwrin Group) and the EverCrop team established

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a demonstration to assess the viability of a lupin crop sown over a subtropical perennial pasture and the influence of lupin sowing rate on grain yield. The crop yielded 0.6 tonnes per hectare where sown at 50 kilograms/ha, 1.1 t/ha where sown at 100 kg/ha, and 1.4 t/ha where sown at 150 kg/ha. There was also an added bonus of about 2 t/ha green feed available for Keith’s cattle after harvest! These results highlight the potential for pasture cropping in WA; however, it is early days and further work across a range of sites and seasons is needed.

• David Ferris leads the Future Farm Industry CRC’s EverCrop project in WA.

contact

• David Ferris, Department of

Agriculture and Food, Northam T: (08) 9690 2117 E: david.ferris@agric.wa.gov.au

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Perennial shrubs prove palatable option

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reliminary results from a small-scale farm trial carried out by Ian Ellery, Morchard, Upper North, South Australia, indicate that perennial fodder shrubs could provide an alternative grazing option in marginal country. He recently shared the early results of his Future Farm Industries CRC-funded Enrich project Supporting Site with Kylie Nicholls. “I am a member and vice chair of the Upper North Farming Systems Group, which looks at a range of cropping and livestock research applicable to low-rainfall areas,” Ian Ellery said.

farm info . Case study: Ian Ellery Location: Morchard, South Australia Property size: 2500 ha Mean annual rainfall: 320 mm Soils: Clay loam Enterprises: Cereal cropping including wheat and barley, self-replacing Merino flock

“We had been going through a series of poor cropping years and livestock were the only thing providing a good cash flow and some production. I was interested in taking some of our poorer paddocks away from the cropping program and swinging them back into grazing.

So, when the Upper North Farming Systems Group co-ordinator Charlton Jeisman approached me to see if I was keen in having a small-scale Enrich trial site, looking at the palatability of perennial fodder shrubs, I was very interested in seeing how the research would work in our area.

Perennial shrub establishment Following the guidelines developed as part of the Enrich project, we allocated a small site, 100 metres by 90 m, which was then divided into four smaller areas using permanent fencing so the trial could be replicated in each site. Based on the preliminary research carried out by the Enrich project, 14 shrub species,

key points shrub grazing • Perennial potential and palatability varies

Photo: Charlton Jeisman

But the grazing potential of these paddocks had been destroyed due to long-term cropping so we had to look at what fodder options might be available to sow.

Perennial fodder shrubs could have significant potential for farmers in low-rainfall areas as researcher Jason Emms discussed with the Upper North Farming Systems Group.

which had shown promise at the Monarto site, were selected for grazing. This included several saltbush species, Rhagodia and other Australian native species.

height, while some of the groundcover shrubs had spread out to nearly 2 m.

The shrubs were planted during July 2008 using tubestock, unfortunately there hadn’t been much rainfall when we started and we had a very dry spring so we had to water the plants by hand during October otherwise they would have died.

We rotationally grazed the site with about 38 sheep from the start of July, staying in each area for 6–7 days.

On a normal broadacre scale you would have waited until the seasons were better to plant, but as the trial was testing the grazing potential and palatability of the species we had to get them established and up and growing.

significantly between species

The trial plot was sprayed after the opening rains during 2009 to keep the broadleaf weeds down and then left alone until this year.

period

By June this year, when the site was ready to graze, the shrubs varied in size with some of the saltbush shrubs reaching about waist

shrubs need a long • Perennial rest period and a short grazing

Testing the palate

It was difficult to know how long to leave the sheep in, as some of the shrubs were stripped right back by the end of the first day, but as the trial was about assessing the palatability of all the shrub species, we had to leave them in for longer. When the sheep started eating the onion weed in the corners we knew it was time to move them. It was interesting to watch what the sheep ate and how their preferences changed as time went on. On the first day I went and had a look and some of the species had already been eaten back to the sticks while others had not been touched.

grazing preferences • Sheep change as they become more familiar with the different shrub species.

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But as the sheep went through each area their preferences changed and some of the less-palatable species were eaten sooner. A tree medic, Medicago strasseri, was the most palatable and the sheep devoured it. But I decided not to grow the tree medic as it would just be eaten out so quickly. The groundcover, Atriplex semibaccata, was also preferentially grazed along with another saltbush species and an Eremophila. One interesting result was the Rhagodia crassifolia, which is very bitter, the sheep ate quite a lot of it in the first trial area, but avoided it in the next trial area as they must have realised how unpleasant it was. If you were going to do it on a broader scale, you would want to choose species suitable for your area, rainfall and soil type. You would also want to choose about four different species with a similar palatability so the shrubs were grazed more evenly.

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Atriplex semibaccata was one I thought would be good for our area, the sheep certainly favoured it and it was a good, spreading groundcover. Since the graze during July, the shrubs have recovered well and all have new leaves including the tree medic, although we have had a great season so far which has certainly helped the shrubs’ recovery.

Large-scale potential I am not sure of the economics of the perennial fodder shrubs on a broadacre scale, considering the cost and time required to plant them. Perhaps in our larger paddocks sowing perennial native grasses could be a more viable alternative, giving us the option to graze them during poorer seasons and crop during better years. I think the potential for using perennial fodder shrubs will be in small-scale unarable areas we can’t crop, although it could still be

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quite a significant investment as you would need to look at fencing and water so the grazing could be controlled. There is also potential to harness some of the bioactive properties of these perennial shrubs, such as their ability to reduce methane emissions and provide worm control. It may be possible to use these areas for 2–3 weeks per year to reduce or destroy any worm burden. I certainly think the perennial fodder shrubs have potential to improve pasture productivity in the less profitable, marginal cropping areas.”

contact

• Ian Ellery T: (08) 8659 9064 E: elleryprops@hotmail.com

By Charlton Jeisman, Rural Solutions SA

• The recent poor seasons

science behind the story

experienced in the Upper North region of South Australia has meant cropping has been high risk with nil to low returns for growers.

site with 14 shrub species selected as being suitable for the Morchard district, based on factors such as soil type, rainfall and seasonality of rainfall and grazing potential.

However, during the past few years we have seen increased sheep prices. While not as profitable as cropping in the better seasons, sheep are much lower risk. And while crops can produce high returns on better soils, poorer areas provide returns, maybe one in every 10 years. Farmers in these areas may be better off with perennial pasture.

We measured shrub height and width (along and across the rows) during April and October each year to evaluate the canopy in cubic metres and provide an estimate of the potential feed on offer.

Research was carried out to identify whether perennial fodder shrubs could improve profitability on lower-performing soils. In addition to looking at improving profitability we also wanted to identify plants suited to growing in these areas and assess the impact of grazing.

The five top species scored for grazing preference included; Medicago strasseri, Atriplex semibaccata, Chenopodium nitrariaceum, Atriplex cinerea and Eremophila glabra. The least-preferred species was Rhagodia crassifolia.

Palatability is important to livestock weight gain — you don’t want to see animals lose condition. Sheep lose weight if plants are too salty or unpalatable, as they simply cannot eat enough to maintain condition, let alone put on weight.

After grazing during July, we evaluated the shrubs for grazing preference and gave a score of 0–100 per cent in terms of leaf and stem area grazed.

There was a strong germination of naturalised medic between the shrub rows, which helped to offset the high salt content of the shrubs during grazing. The sheep tended to graze the inter-rows first before moving onto the shrubs.

shrubs need a long rest period and a short grazing period. Typically, you might graze the shrubs during the feed gap between late summer and early autumn, when the stubbles have been grazed and before green feed becomes available. This will also give the annual pastures a chance to get established before grazing. In low-rainfall areas, producers can use these shrubs on their low-performing country yet still achieve some production, whether it is on unarable ground, hilly slopes or in salty, low-lying areas, to improve waterlogging and reduce dryland salinity. We are trying to find a balance for these shrubs. While a monoculture has its place, a mix of different fodder species will improve grazing value as different plants offer different traits and overall livestock can consume more. A mix of up to five different species with set proportions would be ideal. Existing research shows that planting more than 30% of the farm area to perennial shrubs starts to decrease profitability, depending on rainfall.

• Charlton is the project co-ordinator

It is about finding a balance of shrubs to suit these conditions, we are not trying to find a single silver bullet but rather identify suitable perennial shrubs.

Interestingly, as the sheep moved from the first trial area into the next their plant choices changed. They seemed to become more familiar with the shrubs over time, which resulted in higher consumption rates.

Our research is a joint effort between the Enrich project and the Upper North Farming Systems Group. The preliminary Enrich research helped guide shrub selection and grazing management at this

The long-term application of perennial fodder shrubs is probably for short periods of intensive grazing, perhaps 1–2 times per year to improve production in poor-performing areas of a farm. The

• Charlton Jeisman T: (08) 8664 1408 E: charlton.jeisman@sa.gov.au

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ISSUE 6 December 2010

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Summer-active pastures provide flexibility

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ntegrating summer-active grasses and herbs into phalaris and sub-clover pastures has enabled Craig and Woody Oliver to increase their stocking rates and reduce their workload. Making the most of outof-season rainfall with summer-active perennials also has improved livestock weight gain across their enterprise mix as they explained to EverGraze® Regional Extension Coordinator — Anita Morant.

farm info . Case study: Craig and Woody Oliver Location: Dunkeld, south-west Victoria Property size: 930 ha Mean annual rainfall: 570 mm Soils: Basalt loams over buckshot clay and some Grampians sands Enterprises: 6000 fine-wool Merinos, 850 Merinos for first-cross lambs, 600 Friesian bull calves (for bull beef)

“Our property Wandobah is situated south of Dunkeld in south-west Victoria,” Craig explained. “We are lucky to have picturesque redgums (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) woodlands with Mt Sturgeon, Mt Abrupt and the Grampians Ranges as a permanent backdrop. The property is densely timbered with about two mature redgums per hectare across the paddocks. The ongoing health of our natural resources factors significantly in farm decision making and planning. It is important to us to manage our property to improve profitability and labour efficiency, while simultaneously improving the health and diversity of the farm ecosystem. Photos: Supplied by Craig and Woody Oliver

Sowing summer-active perennials has achieved both these aims by increasing carrying capacity and reducing the need for supplementary feeding during the summer to autumn period.

System snapshot Grampian sands make up 25 per cent of the property, the remainder being basalt loam over buckshot clay, with perched water tables and waterlogging common during wetter years.

key points perennials • Summer-active provide high protein and

energy green feed during the November to March period

perennial pasture • Amixpermanent can take advantage of rain whenever it falls

perennials have • Summer-active improved live weight gains for weaner stock.

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Craig and Woody Oliver have utilised summer-active perennial pastures to boost profitability while simultaneously improving the health and diversity of their farming system.

Before the improvement program, pastures predominantly contained annuals and were highly degraded by large amounts of onion grass (Romulea rosea) and silver grass (Vulpia spp.). The property also contains areas of native grasses, which we manage with rotational grazing. Being involved as an EverGraze® Supporting Site from 2008 has given us the opportunity to trial summer-active tall fescue, which we first sowed during spring 2008. It carried 15 dry sheep equivalent per hectare during 2009.

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In comparison, our degraded native pasture only carried 8 DSE/ha and an established chicory, plantain and sub-clover pasture carried 18 DSE/ha during 2009. There is usually significant rain from a thunderstorm at stages during the summer period and the plantain and chicory really respond to this. During early 2010 we had good rains, and by the time we had trained the Merino weaners to barley we had no need to continue supplementary feeding as they had 2500 kilograms of chicory, plantain and tall fescue in front of them.

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The use of species such as plantain and chicory in the pasture mix saw groundcover maintained during the drought and production spring to life when rain fell (see INSET taken during November 2010).

The pasture growth during the summer-toearly-autumn periods has also allowed us to finish our store first-cross lambs to domestic processor weights. We have also maintained growth rates during this time in our Friesian bulls at 0.6–0.7 kilograms per head per day. Normally they just hold their weight or go backwards at this time of year. Phalaris, plantain and sub-clover are the basis for all our new pasture mixes. We found these were the plants that survived the recent drought period and came back strongly after rain. Whereas the only thing permanent about the newer ryegrass species that had been sown was that they were gone — permanently!

During autumn we sowed 60 ha of phalaris, sub-clover, balansa clover and plantain. We will continue to evaluate the tall fescue and are encouraged by the production from lucerne at another local EverGraze Supporting Site and as such have recently sown 15 ha of lucerne.

contact

• Craig Oliver T: 0427 772 430 E: wandobah@harboursat.com.au

By Anita Morant, EverGraze extension coordinator

• In south-west Victoria, pasture

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shortfalls often occur during summer and early autumn requiring livestock producers to incur the cost of supplementary feeding.

Producers can reduce these costs by sowing pastures that extend the growing season by responding to summer rain, or being quick to respond after the autumn break. The Hamilton EverGraze experiment examined the water use and productivity of pastures, such as Sardi 7 lucerne, Puna chicory and Quantum tall fescue. Each cultivar contributed extra feed at a time when perennial ryegrass pastures were growing more slowly or dry. All three pasture species are deep rooted. Lucerne and chicory have been found to draw water from a depth of more than three metres. This feature helps reduce recharge but also aids persistence and production of these species in a drier environment. The summer-active tall fescue is deep rooted but unlike chicory and lucerne is better suited to heavier soils types that hold moisture for longer. Summer-active tall fescue is more heat tolerant and can withstand waterlogging to a greater extent than perennial ryegrass. This

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makes it suited to a grazing system that requires summer and autumn feed but the land is lower lying with heavy soils. At the Hamilton EverGraze Proof Site, summer-active tall fescue has produced between 10 and 15 tonnes of dry matter per hectare each year for the past four years. Depending on the year, 1 to 4 tonnes of this forage was grown during the January to May summerautumn period. Lucerne has persisted well and consistently produced between 2 and 4 tonnes of quality green feed during the summer-autumn period. With a large rainfall event in January 2007, the Sardi 7 lucerne produced more than 30 kg/ha/ day for much of February and March 2007. This resulted in an estimated saving of $20 per head in supplementary feed costs for the sheep grazing that pasture system at a time when the perennial ryegrass pastures were destocked for drought feeding. Both the lucerne and chicory provided high-quality green feed at a time of year when the perennial ryegrass feed was predominantly dry. Tall fescue and lucerne have persisted well, despite high stocking rates up to 30 DSE/ha and tough growing conditions. The Puna chicory produced 1 to 2 tonnes

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of green dry matter during the summerautumn period each year but it’s presence in the pastures has decreased over the trial and it appears to have come to the end of it’s stand life at 3–4 years. Based on the Hamilton EverGraze experiment summer-active species provide valuable out-of-season feed by responding to rain that would be otherwise unutilised. This can reduce supplementary feed costs in grazing systems. A series of factsheets on perennials, such as chicory and lucerne, is available at www.evergraze.com.au

• Anita Morant is the extension

coordinator at the Hamilton, EverGraze Proof Site Victoria. EverGraze® — More livestock from perennials is a Future Farm Industries CRC, Meat and Livestock Australia and Australian Wool Innovation research and delivery partnership.

contact

��� Anita Morant T: (03) 5573 0732 E: anita.morant@dpi.vic.gov.au

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ISSUE 6 December 2010

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Lucerne leads to more legs on the ground

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he Shannon family is trying to achieve just what many other sheep producers are striving for in the current climate— more legs on the ground. And when Chris Shannon heard about the ovulation research being done nearby by EverGraze® he was keen to replicate the results on farm under commercial conditions as he discussed here with EverGraze communicator, Gill Fry.

farm info . Case study: Chris, Margot, James and Barb Shannon Location: Bookham, New South Wales Property size: 1445 ha plus two leased properties Annual rainfall: 838 mm Soil type: Limestone, granite-derived sandy loams and sodic pipeclay soils

Enterprises: Merino sheep

“Most of our property is under native perennial pastures, with only limited areas of limestone-derived soils and creek flats that can be sown to improved species,” Chris explained. “It is on this limestone country that we have sown lucerne-based pastures, traditionally to finish lambs during summer. But after hearing about the EverGraze ovulation research, I was keen to try and use our lucerne to increase the actual number of lambs on the ground. We have always scanned our ewes to separate singles from twins so I was happy we could easily determine the potential benefits of flushing ewes on lucerne to increase ovulation rates and multiple pregnancies.

Getting with the program We run 4500 breeding ewes 500 of which we join to terminal rams and the rest to Merino rams. We also run 5500 breeding ewes on other leased properties. When we tested the flushing system, we put the ewes on to the lucerne one week before joining and removed them three weeks after joining, at a stocking rate of 10 ewes/ha.

key points grazing of green • Short-term pasture leading up to joining

can increase ovulation rates — particularly during dry seasons

approach can be more cost• This effective than supplementary feeding lupins before joining

ewes to identify • Scanning multiple lambs allows for

prescriptive ewe management to ensure better lamb survival.

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Lucerne has allowed Chris Shannon (pictured) to boost lambs numbers by about 30% during a dry season.

We ran our control group ewes on a typical pasture paddock for that season, with no green feed in it. During March we join all the ewes and then scan at 90 days to determine single and multiple pregnancies. This system allows us to better manage ewes according to their gestational and lactation requirements. Based on the 2009 scanning results our flushed ewes produced about 30 per cent more lambs, from increased twinning rates, compared with the control mob on the native pasture. The twinning rate in the lucerne group was 67% compared to 19% in the control. Using the $67.00 per head we got for the lambs off their mothers last year, that is an extra $2010.00 per 100 ewes. These initial results inspired me to try flushing mobs of ewes for a week at a time

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during the 2010 joining period on one of the leased properties. The results from the lease property and the second year of the trial, this year, once again showed high twinning rates of 68%, but the control group was the same due to an abundance of green feed in all paddocks from summer rain. Looking at the results over the two years, to me it shows that any green feed is enough to flush the ewes, but in normal seasons there is not a lot of green around, but lucerne can be saved to do the job.

Local limitations One of the key limitations of this system for us is the limited area we can sow to lucerne. We can only run a small portion of our ewes on the 28 hectares we now have sown to this productive summer-active legume.

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However, I think this system can work well for numerous breeding operations. Lucerne can perform a dual purpose — flushing ewes before joining and finishing lambs during spring and summer. However, we have found there are a few trade-offs to be aware of in such systems. Lucerne needs to be conserved before joining the ewes to ensure there is sufficient feed available for flushing. Depending on the joining period this may coincide with feed shortages and the temptation can be to graze the lucerne to maintain adult stock or to increase weight gain in younger stock. However, managed well I can see this system has the potential to produce more lambs and increase profits.”

contact

In addition to boosting ovulation rates, lucerne offers valuable feed for fattening lambs.

• Chris Shannon E: talmo@bigpond.com

By Michael Friend, CSU

• Increased nutrition or ‘flushing’

before mating is well recognised as being able to increase ovulation rates leading to more lambs on the ground.

science behind the story

This effect occurs through either a ‘dynamic’ effect — a rising plane of nutrition and gaining weight at, and for some weeks leading up to mating, and/or a ‘static’ effect — as a result of higher liveweight or condition at the time of mating. An ‘acute’ effect of nutrition also occurs where ‘short-term’ or ‘spike’ feeding with lupins for four to six days increases ovulation rates without affecting liveweight or body condition. Short-term supplementary feeding targets a critical period in the ewe breeding cycle. The benefit of this strategy is that limited feed resources can be used more efficiently than if a longer feeding period is required. Supplementary feeding with lupins can increase ovulation rates by up to 60 per cent and as such, lupins are the most common feed supplement used for this purpose.

ewe ovulation, suggests this could be a more cost-effective option than lupin supplementation or a long-term grazing strategy. We have been looking at economic options to boost reproductive performance in Merino ewes. In the EverGraze trials grazing both chicory and lucerne during February increased ewe ovulation rates more reliably when compared with ewes given a supplement of 500 grams per head per day of lupins. This response was closely related to the amount of green pasture available, with 90% of the maximum response occurring with as little as 350 kilograms of dry matter per hectare of green feed. The results show small amounts of green feed offered to sheep before ovulation increased ovulation rate by 10% on average.

EverGraze has developed a new brochure, EverGraze Exchange — Shortterm flushing increases ovulation, available at www.evergraze.com.au EverGraze® — More livestock from perennials is a Future Farm Industries CRC, Meat and Livestock Australia and Australian Wool Innovation research and delivery partnership.

• Michael Friend is a senior

lecturer in livestock production at CSU, Wagga Wagga, NSW. He is leading the EverGraze team to develop grazing systems based on perennials to maximise profit and reduce recharge in the highrainfall zone of hydrologicallyresponsive catchments in southern Australia.

The best results in the study occurred when ewes were in condition score 3. The results Chris obtained agree with our experimental results — during 2009 only ewes joined on lucerne had green feed so their scanning results were much better than ewes joined on dry feed.

Our three-year EverGraze® study into the effects of short-term grazing of summer-active perennial pastures (lucerne and chicory), leading up to

During 2010 even the ewes in the ‘dry feed’ paddock had sufficient green feed to flush them. During drier summers allocating ewes to lucerne or other

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For more information on the trials results see Issue 14 Focus on Perennials December 2010.

The level of increase depends on the amount of green feed and the condition of the ewes (in one year the increase was 22%.

But grain feeding can be expensive and not readily available in all localities and the recent trial results suggest more reliable responses can be obtained using existing pasture resources.

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summer-active perennials can be used to generate more twins than if ewes were joined on dry feed. To maximise the effect across more ewes with limited lucerne, ewes can be placed on lucerne a week before joining and the first week of joining — this will ensure most of the ewes will be flushed on the first cycle, when most should fall pregnant anyway.

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• Dr Michael Friend, CSU T: (02) 6933 2285 E: mfriend@csu.edu.au

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ISSUE 6 December 2010

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Flexibility is the key

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few years down the track of a farm-wide pasture improvement program, Kevin Tesselaar is finding that an open mind is the best tool he has. Kevin explains to Lucy Kealey the trials and tribulations of setting up a perennialbased pasture system on his dryland dairy farm in south-west Victoria. “There are just so many variables when it comes to farming, and no less so for pasture establishment,” said Kevin.

farm info . Case study: Kevin Tesselaar Location: Timboon, south-west Victoria Property size: 130 ha Mean annual rainfall: 950 mm Soils: Heavy clay through to lighter sand over coffee rock Enterprises: Jersey dairy

“We learnt quickly that no particular species or establishment system is the right one. Marg and I bought this farm during 2007, after a seven-year break from dairying. It had good groundcover but the pastures, dominated by Yorkshire fog grass (Holcus lanatus) and foxtail (Bromus rubens), were old and in need of renovation to lift productivity. The cattle eat it when they have nothing else to eat but productivity wise, it’s less productive than improved species, such as ryegrasses and clovers.

Photo: James O’Brien

The fog grass is hard to manage during summer, it just wants to run to head; and if we want to make hay or silage and the feed quality is not where it should be. Introducing new perennial species also will effectively extend the growing season.

Wet conditions We have an annual rainfall of 950 millimetres, and while we have been spared of the widespread drought for the past decade, we have had more than our fair share of drought-breaking rain — it’s been an incredibly wet year. We’ve had about 300 to 355 mm during August; 200 mm during September and 125 mm during October.

key points pasture is the • Akeyperennial-based to lifting feed quality and extending feed availability

pasture renovation program • The is entirely flexible in terms of

species and variety mixes and establishment methods, to cope with a wide range of variables.

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Kevin Tesselaar, pictured in a paddock that has been cut and baled for silage, has lifted pasture productivity and feed quality with a farm-wide pasture renovation program.

A consequence of the high rainfall any year, and more so this year, is that the heavy clay soils, our main soil type, can be damaged by grazing cattle.

We graze the crop during summer and autumn, and if we think the paddock is right, we establish a perennial pasture.

Winter management is critical. If you pug the soil half of your grass is buried in mud during spring time.

If things aren’t going right we might put an annual pasture in to get us through winter, crop it again, and if it’s right in the following autumn we will establish a permanent pasture.

We are implementing the pasture renovation program progressively around the farm.

Every time we scratch up a paddock up we have weeds coming out our ears!

The first paddocks we have selected for improvement are the paddocks that have suffered a lot of physical damage due to pugging during winter or poor performing paddocks.

Weed control is one of our biggest issues.

Renovation program We have a ‘planned’ pasture renovation program but we have to be flexible to deal with the variability of seasonal conditions. Ideally, we start the program during spring by sowing a summer crop, such as turnips or a forage brassica.

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We are continually spraying with glyphosate or a selective herbicide. The weeds are opportunists and in bare dirt they can quickly out-compete the grass we have sown. So it’s really important to take care of the weeds.

Pasture type Our approach to species and species mix selection is also flexible — we have tried anything and everything. But essentially we are aiming for a perennial base with a ryegrass-clover mix.

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There are two trains of thought about including clover in the pasture — one is to have just ryegrass in the paddock, because it yields much better than clover, and then add the protein to grain at the dairy. But I think there are benefits to having clover in the pasture, other than increased protein content of the feed. There are nitrogen fixation and general soil health benefits that help the other pastures. We are trying to get a balance of pastures that will last.

Success to date Our best results to date have been unplanned variations of the ideal renovation program. We sprayed one particular paddock out during 2008 with the intention of summer cropping, but the conditions were too wet for sowing. Then it went from wet to dry very quickly, we were busy making silage, and the paddock went fallow for six months. During the following autumn we power harrowed the paddock and sowed it down to Helix perennial ryegrass. The first year we grazed it primarily with young stock — predominantly calves and

yearlings. We have looked after it, and it has done really well. It is totally different establishment management to other paddocks we have renovated but it still gave us the best result. Another successful renovation was also ‘not to plan’. We sprayed out a paddock during autumn, 2010, power harrowed and then sowed down in that same autumn with a pasture mix called Combat, which was tailored by Landmark for the Timboon area. Combat is a mix of Arrow perennial ryegrass, Barbera hybrid ryegrass, two perennial white clovers, Minx and Haifa, and annual subclover, Trikkala. The range of species and varieties is productive from early autumn through to late spring; and the annual and perennial mix enables the pasture to respond to the highly variable seasons in the region. The new paddocks were in the general rotation this winter but we may have skipped a grazing occasionally to look after them. They were locked up for silage and cut recently. They have done really well for us.

Keep an open mind We have had our fair share of failures with both species selection and establishment methods. We will try some things again, such as fescue, and we will try new things. We get a lot of information from a range of advisory sources and we work closely with James O’Brien from Landmark in Timboon. Just because you have a failure one year with a particular variety or method, doesn’t mean you should eliminate it. There are so many variables — pest control, rainfall, seasons. You can’t always be sure what caused the failure. You have to be open-minded and flexible. I will try anything once, maybe even twice or three times!”

contact

• Kevin Tesselaar E: harambeemt@hotmail.com Supported by

By James O’Brien, Landmark

science behind the story

• Kevin and Marg are one example of many in the Heytesbury region of south-west Victoria who have seen the value in establishing high-producing, persistent perennial pastures.

The most obvious benefits of perennial pastures in this region are: • Persistence of 5–7 years, sometimes longer • High-quality green feed production from the autumn break until well after Christmas. The range of perennial species available provides benefits for specific situations or conditions: • Tall fescue, and some other species, can cope well with the wet winter conditions and actually reduce the amount of pugging damage • Lucerne responds well to the not un-common summer showers of the region and can provide a high-quality green pick during late summer • Perennial herbs such as chicory and plantain provide a high-quality

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complement to perennial ryegrass and clover — trials in New Zealand highlight the antihelminthic properties of plantain that contribute to animal health. Of course, these benefits can only be realised after the perennial pastures have been properly established. While Kevin is right to express the need for flexibility due to varying seasonal conditions, there are some key steps that can help to produce the desired results. There needs to be a whole-farm approach, based on paddock walks and discussion. This helps to identify the paddocks that most need renovation, and begins the process of perennial species or cultivar selection that will be most suited to each paddock. Soil tests are necessary to assess the nutrient requirements of the soils and also identify any issues that might provide a hostile environment for pasture establishment, such as acidity, which is a common problem in the region.

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A renovation program provides a great opportunity for weed control, which can extend over a 12–18 month period and can allow for two to three knockdown sprays before perennials are re-sown. There are other advantages resulting from a pasture renovation program. The use of annual autumn-sown grasses and cereals, and then summer fodder options, such as turnips, fodder rape or sorghum in the program can help fill feed gaps at different times of the year. In particular the use of brassica species (turnips and rapes) provides relatively cheap, high-protein feed through late summer and early autumn when perennial pastures are dormant.

• James O’Brien is agronomist with

Landmark, based at Timboon and Cobden in south-west Victoria.

contact

• James O’Brien M: 0429 960 821 E: james.obrien@landmark.com.au

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P e r s o n a l s t o r ies F RO M Aus t r a l i a n F a r me r s

“By pasture cropping this year, I’ve been able to better my previous crop yields, have the benefit of letting the perennial subtropicals get well established during winter, and I have got a perfect paddock set up for lambing.” Keith Tunney, farmer Western Australia (see story, page 6) “I certainly think the perennial fodder shrubs have potential to improve pasture productivity in the less profitable, marginal cropping areas.” Ian Ellery, farmer South Australia (see story, page 8) “Sowing summer-active perennials has increased our carrying capacity and reduced the need for supplementary feeding during the summer to autumn period.” Craig Oliver, farmer Victoria (see story, page 12) Future Farm brings you success stories from people adopting farming systems based on perennial plants that are making their farms, local landscapes and catchments more profitable and sustainable. Dryland salinity, climatic variability and other natural resource constraints threaten the long-term viability of regional areas. However, backed by innovation and good science, farmers are successfully managing these constraints and often turning them to their advantage. FFI CRC was formed in July 2007 to build on the former Cooperative Research Centre for Plant-based Management of Dryland Salinity’s work in making dryland agriculture in southern Australia more adaptable through innovative research, education and training, and commercialisation. The CRC promotes innovation in dryland farming appropriate to Australia’s unique environment, and which will prosper in the long term.

For further information about FFI CRC visit www.futurefarmonline.com.au

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