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ISSUE 7 APRIL 2011

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I N N O VAT I O N I N P R O F I TA B L E P E R E N N I A L FA R M I N G S Y S T E M S

in this issue

6 Perennials prove perfect match

10 Strategic saltland plantings clear the water

12 Enrich results prove shrub resilience in wet and dry

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Perennial options fill the feed gap EverCrop速 investigates perennial solutions for marginal landscapes

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future farm

contents • future farm online

steps up ........................ 3

• scholarship highlights

perennial opportunities ...... 4

• perennials provide perfect

match for livestock .......... 6

• flexible approach fills

the feed gap ................... 8

• strategic saltland plantings

clear the water .............. 10

• of drought and

flooding rain ................. 12

• EverCrop® opens door to

innovative options in marginal landscapes ........ 14

• messina makes mighty

progress ...................... 16

• perennials offer

potential ..................... 18

A new era for Future Farm W

elcome to the new look Future Farm, the first issue in which our two previous titles — Future Farm and Focus on Perennials — are produced in the one publication. We decided to merge the two publications after the reader survey carried out during october last year showed us readers would prefer a combined format. The initiative has enabled us to make some editorial changes and with our rebuilt website — www.futurefarmonline.com.au — makes a bold step forward in the way future farm Industries CRC delivers information.

We will produce three issues of Future Farm each year — giving you up to 15 opportunities to read stories about farmers adopting perennials on their farms, backed by the latest research or economic analysis. As mentioned in the article on page 3, all farmer case studies will be available via a google map on the homepage of our newlook website, so you can access important information relevant to any locality quickly. We will also have the capability of adding video footage to the website to accompany the case studies. This will provide greater depth to the stories and, short of visiting the farms yourself, will be a great way to

get a real feel for what is happening in the paddock. Bringing the content previously covered in Focus on Perennials into Future Farm will enable us to tie in the research work with what is happening on farms. Already, we see demonstration of this in the current issue — with Cameron Tubby’s fabulous article sitting alongside the compelling story of the Enrich research sites at Condobolin and merredin. you can expect the next issue of Future Farm in your mail box during August and the one after during December. But for now, enjoy the feast on offer in the current issue. on another note — congratulations to Binnu, Western Australia farmer Don nairn who received the inaugural northern Agriculture group (nAg) Rural Achiever Award for his sustainable and innovative farm practices. Don has made his farm more sustainable by adopting both the Enrich and Grain and Graze programs. Don featured in Future Farm Issue 1, June 2008.

Kevin Goss Chief Executive Officer, Future Farm Industries CRC

our cover Shrubs could provide a cost-effective option in mixed farming enterprises where producers are keen to reduce supplementary feed costs. • See full story page 14. Photo: Dr Katrein Descheemaeker

4 Future Farm magazine is published three times a year by the future farm Industries CRC Ltd (ffI CRC) ACn 125 594 765. 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. It was established in 2007 under the Commonwealth government’s Cooperative Research Centre program to build on the research of the former CRC for plant-based management of Dryland salinity (CRC salinity).

DISCLAIMER The information in this document has been published in good faith by Future Farm Industries CRC Limited to promote public discussion and to help improve farm profitability and natural resource management. It is general information and you should obtain specialist advice on the applicability or otherwise of the information in this document. Neither Future Farm Industries CRC Limited nor any of its Participants endorse the information contained in this document, nor do they endorse any products identified by trade name. The information in this document is made available on the understanding that neither Future Farm Industries CRC Limited, nor any of its Participants will have any liability arising from any reliance upon any information in this document. This document is subject to copyright, and the prior written consent of Future Farm Industries CRC Limited must be obtained before it is copied.

12 For further information about FFI CRC visit www.futurefarmonline.com.au E: enquiry@futurefarmcrc.com.au T: (08) 6488 2505

ISSN (Print) 1835-9906 ISSN (Online) 1835-9914 Published April, 2011 Design & production: Kondinin Group

Supported by

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Future Farm Online steps up

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uture farm online is being rebuilt. It’s getting a new look and, more importantly, will be much easier to delve in to. The new website will be more focused on how people perceive and use the information that comes out of the future farm Industries CRC, rather than the way research projects are organised within the organisation. The search options on the new site are more accessible and provide different avenues into the wealth of knowledge held in the site.

Navigation bar The navigation bar provides quick access for visitors who are more familiar with ffI CRC research.

Engagement object Basic information about ffI CRC systems is provided here. This provides an entry point for people seeking information about profitable perennials™.

Profitable Perennials™ case studies map The case studies that have been presented in past issues of Future Farm magazine are now easily accessible online. on the website home page, a google map has all case studies mapped with pins showing their locations. This enables users to search for case studies in particular locations, such as near where they live.

Profitable Perennials™ regions map In this map, the southern agricultural region of Australia is divided into 12 smaller regions, broadly based on climate, rainfall, soils and agricultural use. Clicking on a region provides information about that region and gives access to relevant research and support materials.

Future Farm knowledge base The information held on the website has been categorised to make it quick and easy to find documents. Within the knowledge base, visitors can search for documents based on document type, topic, publication year or region.

Research highlights This section gives quick links to new results and our latest publications.

www.futurefarmonline.com.au contact

• Jill Griffiths

Communications manager, ffI CRC T: (08) 6488 7353 E: jill.griffiths@futurefarmcrc.com.au

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Scholarship highlights perennial opportunities

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s he looked across the drought-stricken paddocks at a neighbour dry sowing on nothing more than a wish and a prayer, Western Australian farmer Cameron Tubby thought there must be a better way. After participating in the nuffield scholarship program Cameron believes he may have found some more sustainable alternatives for his low-rainfall region.

Case study: Cameron and Teresa Tubby Location: morawa, Western Australia Property size: 7500 ha Mean annual rainfall: 300–325 mm Soils: Red loams, wodgil gravel and yellow gravel sands Enterprises: sheepmeat, wheat, barley, triticale

“on that particular day in may 2008 as the temperature rose and the little moisture we had left evaporated, it dawned on me that our farming practices are possibly the highest risk in the world,” Cameron said. “Why would you commit financially and mentally on the hope it will rain, given at the point of sowing there is no soil moisture, you had just endured two of the worst droughts on record and there was no forecast of rain anytime soon?

A global insight Photo: Supplied by Cameron Tubby

nuffield’s scholarship program reinforced the need to adopt safer, less risky farming systems. Throughout the world, in similar climates to ours, livestock are a critical component of dryland farming — nowhere in comparable environments did I see 100% cropping. At no stage did I meet a farmer who continuously cropped; neither did I speak with any researchers who advocated removing livestock from the system to concentrate only on cropping.

Cameron Tubby inspects the results of micro water harvesting on degraded rangelands in the Koroo Veld, South Africa.

The reasons for this varied but livestock, sheep in particular, remain an important part of a low-rainfall farming system because they reduce risk and, in some areas, help to secure food supply.

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What I discovered, particularly in south Africa, is that sheep producers in other arid environments are light years ahead in terms of using breeds that suit their conditions. In south Africa there are many sheep breeds capable of surviving and thriving in harsh conditions. There are two I think best fit into our environment — van Rooy and meatmaster.

equation — selecting suitable pasture plants is the other. Because of the drought, areas of land we regard as marginal are no longer capable of producing a viable income — to attempt to crop or establish annual pasture on them costs more than the possible returns. Removing our marginal soils from production results in the land sitting idle, non-productive and prone to erosion, which has the kick-on effect of causing erosion to productive land elsewhere in the landscape.

A Nuffield scholarship provided the opportunity to investigate options for low-rainfall farming systems.

In the short term we are crossing our Damaras with a white Dorper, however our ultimate aim is for a van Rooy combination to achieve a lot more meat from a lot less feed.

Livestock perform a key risk management role in lowrainfall systems.

our long-term aim is to get ourselves a van Rooy ewe flock with a white Dorper over the top or a poll Dorset to produce a lamb well and truly suitable for the domestic market.

establishment may have a high, one-off cost, but over time these perennials could prove to be low maintenance, low cost and potentially profitable.

Pasture options

After investigating a wide range of droughthardy perennial options, the ultimate perennial pasture for our marginal lands would be a mixed population of spineless

Water harvesting can be used to aid the establishment of perennial shrubs and native perennial grasses.

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native perennial grasses and fodder shrubs could be our best option.

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prickly pear cactus, fodder shrubs and perennial grasses. While the cactus is high yielding, highly palatable and a readily-available source of carbohydrates, it lacks crude protein and crude fibre. To get the best performance out of cactus it needs to be supplemented with a cheap source of fibre and protein. Hay and grain can successfully be replaced with perennial grasses and fodder shrubs to achieve the desired levels of protein and fibre to achieve desirable livestock growth rates.

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of the world suggests saltbush would be an excellent tool for returning our marginal land to productive grazing areas. Water harvesting would further enhance this process. Water harvesting is the technique of capturing rainfall run-off water in either a micro or a macro environment. At macro level run-off is collected in small reservoirs for irrigation during dry periods or allowed to seep into the soil to recharge aquifers.

Looking locally

The micro level is where the water is trapped and stored in the soil profile directly supporting plants that have been established in that environment.

Native grasses are possibly the most over-looked asset we have in our local environment.

Research shows that 40–50% of water that would otherwise be lost to run-off can be saved and used by the plants

They have evolved and adapted to the local climate and soil conditions over millennia. Fortunately many of these grasses still exist in remnant vegetation areas that sheep have not been able to access. Rather than trying to force a perennial grass or shrub into an area it is not acclimatised to, we should be looking at the potential of the native grasses already in the area. Simple observations through recent droughts show that fodder shrubs, particularly native bluebush, in our local environment could survive in areas other than the saline areas. This observation along with the experience of farmers and researchers in other arid areas

We have set up a 7 ha site on some shallow undulating gravel hilltops where we have surveyed and ripped on the contours to start micro-water harvesting in small sections of horseshoe-shaped catchments. As each horseshoe fills it will trickle down to the next horseshoe, concentrating the water for plants to establish.

A hopeful outlook Before carrying out my scholarship I had all but lost hope for our farming options. I could see what we were doing was highly risky and I feared we were involved in the riskiest practice in the world.

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We pulled up at that stage and thought “have we not learned our lesson here?”. It’s going to be a slow, hard and costly process to change — we are all highly geared towards cropping and have to ease our way out in a smart way. We will start by pulling the marginal stuff out and concentrate our cropping efforts on better country. The only way we can ever generate enough income is to slowly wean ourselves off being heavily dependent on cropping while the other enterprises build momentum. Livestock will play a big role along with other options, such as value adding and brine shrimp. But we have to be careful we don’t tie ourselves in knots having too many things on the go. If the climate improves again and the economics of growing grain are great, we know how to do that but in the back of our mind we now know there are options.” To read Cameron’s full Nuffield report go to: www.nuffieldinternational.org/reports Cameron’s report can found by searching in Australian reports for 2009.

contact

• Cameron Tubby M: 0428 722102 E: ct.tubby@bigpond.com

science behind the story

By Dean Revell, CSIRO

• The work Cameron has started

on his property at Morowa, following his Nuffield Scholarship experiences, may seem relatively straight forward at face value ­­— altering the type of plants he grows and the livestock he manages. But they are actually a bold and exciting step forward. Questioning current practices and being prepared to test new options requires a focus and commitment to see the farm business through a transition period.

Marginal soils, a variable climate and rising input costs seem like a ‘perfect storm’. All seem like factors beyond our control, so what can we do about them? Well, for marginal soils, we can alter how we use them, avoiding practices that make them marginal. For a variable climate, we need production systems that cope in tough times, but allow producers to capitalise during the good times. Rising inputs really are beyond the control of individuals, but we can control how much we rely on them. While there

is clearly no single solution to these challenges, adding drought tolerant, hardy perennial plants to the existing feedbase gives us an option, especially with soils we might otherwise consider as marginal. Cameron’s interests were piqued with the widespread use of cactus in other dryland regions around the world. It represents a quintessential drought-tolerant plant, and it may surprise some just how quickly livestock learn to eat it. This is not the subject of research in Australia and, of course, consideration of any potential weed risk in our environments in southern Australia would be required. But we have been researching the potential for Australian native shrubs to contribute to a sustainable grazing system in the Enrich project. The work is identifying ways to use our own country’s plant species, which are already adapted to our climate, to positively contribute to livestock production or health and natural resource management. A key message from our work is that a number of species can contribute to the multiple

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goals, including biomass production (including recovery from grazing), provision of limiting nutrients, bioactive plant compounds for ‘improved’ rumen fermentation or gut health, and shade and shelter. The other half of the equation that we’ve learnt to make better use of alternative plant species, is to manage the grazing animal to encourage livestock to select a diverse diet on a regular basis. This creates an opportunity to add a new component to the feedbase without overusing, thus relieving some pressure on existing resources. For more information on recent Enrich results see the story on pages 12 and 13.

• Dr Dean Revell, CSIRO, leads the

Future Farm Industries CRC Enrich project.

contact

• Dr Dean Revell, CSIRO T: (08) 9333 6492 E: dean.revell@csiro.au

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Perennials provide perfect match for livestock

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erennial pastures have allowed peter Hayes, Hamilton victoria, to match feed production with animal requirements, boosting reproductive rates and reducing supplementary feeding. peter recently shared his optimistic outlook for perennials with Catriona nicholls.

Case study: peter Hayes Location: Hamilton, victoria Property size: 426 ha Mean annual rainfall: 630 mm Soils: Basalt volcanic soils to loam and ironstone-based sands Enterprises: fine-wool merinos (average 17.5 micron), stud rams

“since coming back to the family property during 1995 we have embarked on a complete pasture renovation program and changed our management practices significantly,” peter said. “We started with a traditional set-stocking approach on run-down, low-fertility annual pastures that could only support low stocking rates and required significant supplementary feeding every autumn. We now have a productive perennial-based system that supports our goal of increasing stocking rates, and is resilient and persistent across variable seasons.

Species selection Photo: Peter Hayes

When looking for suitable perennial species we wanted increased dry matter production and persistence first and foremost. We visited local research trials, listened to local agronomist recommendations and discussed options with other farmers.

Peter Hayes has found that newer lucerne varieties, planted in the right part of the landscape, provide excellent production opportunities for his prime lamb enterprise.

participating in producer groups, such as the Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) Best Wool Best Lamb program, high performance weaner program and the sheep CRC’s Lifetime Wool program, has also provided invaluable lessons. Being involved in groups provides the tools so you can do the number crunching and decide what results you want outside unpredictable weather events.

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The right mix of perennials can balance feed supply across the year, balancing out production peaks and troughs.

We’ve been hammered with bad weather, but a perennial base makes it easier to meet ewe performance targets without buying truckloads of grain — perennial pastures and grazing management work hand in hand to drive profit. our winter-active pastures are predominantly phalaris, winter-active tall fescue and subclover, with some older perennial ryegrass paddocks. But we are phasing out the ryegrass as it has been less persistent during dry years and is becoming clover dominant, letting in barley grass during summer. on our heavier soils, we can’t beat the phalaris, tall fescue and sub-clover mix for winter production and persistence.

Lucerne boosts lamb production and sets maiden ewes up for maximum conception rates.

for summer production we initially focused our efforts on chicory, but after seven years it really hasn’t persisted well enough.

Optimal perennial production requires an understanding of plant growth rates and speciesspecific grazing management.

We currently have about 30 ha of lucerne in three paddocks — paddock size ranges from 10–20 ha. EverGraze® has shown us that with newer varieties and selection of the right part of

the landscape we can get good persistence and production with lucerne, even during winter. But we are still searching for another summer-active species where we can’t establish lucerne. on our saline country (about 12% of the farm) we have tall wheatgrass and even though this requires careful grazing management, especially during wet years, there is no other salt-tolerant species that can produce comparable dry matter. We run up to 20 Dse on the tall wheatgrass pasture, but appropriate management is the key. people have bad experiences when they don’t match the management to the species.

Matching animals and pastures We are trying to grow our feed across the farm — not growing more total annual dry matter, but getting better utilisation as it grows across a longer period. Although perennial ryegrass produces an enormous bulk of feed, it grows all at once — during winter and spring.

Weed risk note: future farm Industries CRC does not promote tall wheatgrass in victoria as the environmental weed risk assessment resulted in a score of Very High in the state. The completed assessment is available at www.futurefarmonline.com.au/LiteratureRetrieve.aspx?ID=4978

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Higher annual stocking rates and better animal performance comes from production spread out throughout the year — matching pasture growth patterns to animal needs. It is more efficient and, over time, should drive the costs of production down. Since 2006–07 drought has impacted on our stocking rates. During 2009–10 our mid-winter rates were about 14.5 DSE (annual was about 17 DSE). By 2010–11 our mid-winter stocking rates were 15 DSE and annual was 17.5. While this is not a huge difference, we could have had more stock this spring and summer, but we had enough mouths on mid-winter — it was very wet and we had lots of surface water. If we can achieve 15–20% better lambing this will address the spring stocking rate without increasing mid-winter rates. In the future with the use of summer perennials I think an annual rate of 18–20 DSE is achievable.

Lucerne — the flexible powerhouse Lucerne is the key to the productivity within our lamb enterprise. It provides critical summer feed for weaners from November and also extends the season at both ends to support ewe and wether production. This year lucerne has been an absolute powerhouse due to summer rain. We lambed down ewes, grazed weaners and during late autumn we grazed wethers off-shears. We also cut lucerne hay — one paddock was cut on November 16 and grazed by

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December 30. I estimated 3–5 tonnes of dry matter so that puts growth rates at 65 to 100 kilograms/day, which is excellent for that time of the year. This performance was repeated during January on 100 mm of rain. Being able to respond to rainfall at any time of the year, lucerne gives you flexibility to do all these things where other pastures don’t. No one has seen a season like this on our current pasture species — lucerne, phalaris, tall fescue and tall wheatgrass. If we go another four weeks (to the end of April) we will not have fed our sheep for 12 months. Our Merino lambs were weaned during November and are growing in the range of 50–200 g/day with no supplements. Last year’s Merino lambs cut 3.1 kg greasy wool (averaging 16 micron) at nine months of age and averaged about 73 mm for staple length. Even though they have been bred for a longer staple with no nutritional set-backs, strength was consistent along the staple at 45–50 newtons.

Maximising reproduction The whole thing starts at weaning. We wean at 12–14 weeks so ewes can regain condition before that dry period during autumn. We aim to have ewes at condition score 3 (minimum 2.7) by joining to maximise conception rates. If you get that wrong you are playing catch-up. We manage for the end of spring so we can wean early. We aim to have everything going right to manage for joining. Anything

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under condition score 2.7 is where the low performance creeps in. During winter we maintain ewe condition leading up to lambing, scan for multiples and singles, and give grazing priority to twinning ewes. We aim to maintain the condition of our single-lambing ewes, but don’t let them get too fat so we can avoid lambing difficulties, while ensuring our twinning ewes get enough energy for themselves and their lambs. I’ve found you don’t have the lambing difficulties and don’t have as many undernourished twins and cast ewes. While the lambs have had the priority over the lucerne during summer, we have followed them with maiden ewes this year to boost their condition score. We are really starting to make some improvement with better management. We are achieving higher lambing percentages, giving us a reproductive excess and allowing a prime lamb component to our self-replacing Merino system. From lambing percentages of between 50–75% we are now achieving 70–95% although some mobs are close to 100%. A combination of better genetics and better management is seeing continual improvement.”

contact

• Peter Hayes T: (03) 55733207 E: balintore1@bigpond.com

science behind the story

By Anita Morant, DPI Victoria

• EverGraze research at the Hamilton Proof Site demonstrates that the concept of putting the right plant in the right place with the right management improves profitability but Peter has demonstrated this principle also works at a farm scale.

Understanding the animal system and its demands and the potential pasture production curve, which is driven by rainfall and soil type, is critical to putting all the pieces together. It is one thing to increase pasture production, and another to use it effectively. Autumn and winter create the largest gap in pasture production, which in turn drives overall stocking rate. Most producers try to squeeze the maximum number of DSEs through this period to make use of the spring peak. The key is to identify the gap and find suitable species that will persist in the environment to fill this gap.

Peter’s systems are geared to take advantage of the spring peak, so winter– spring pasture production is essential. Where ryegrass wasn’t persisting Peter has chosen the ‘right’ species for the environment — phalaris, winter-active fescue and a sub-clover mix. The Hamilton research has proven that summer-active pastures help spread feed supply across the whole year by providing a shoulder of high-quality feed during summer–autumn. This has been valuable in the EverGraze system to reduce supplementary feed costs and in 2006–07 lucerne achieved a $300/ha saving while animals on the ryegrass system were locked in containment and fed. This saving will not be realised every year but as Peter reveals, the summer-active species, particularly in a spring lambing enterprise, provide more flexibility and reduce the risk across a number of years.

Getting the basics right includes soil fertility, selecting the appropriate species for the landscape and purpose — matching feed supply to animal demand. It is important not to underestimate the value of summer feed in adding flexibility and a shoulder at each end of the main pasture production period. The latest results from the Hamilton Proof Site can be found at www.evergraze.com.au EverGraze is a FFI CRC, MLA and AWI research and delivery partnership.

• Anita Morant is the Extension Coordinator at the Hamilton EverGraze Proof Site.

contact

• Anita Morant, DPI Victoria T: (03) 5573 0732 E: anita.morant@dpi.vic.gov.au

Weed risk note: An environmental weed risk management guide is currently being prepared for phalaris. It will be available on the FFI CRC website: www.futurefarmonline.com.au.

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Flexible approach fills the feed gap

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he purchase of a new property about five years ago gave victorian farmer, Andrew Walta the opportunity to start from scratch. Andrew explained to Catriona nicholls how he went about developing a productive and persistent grazing system from the ground up. “When we had the opportunity to buy a run-down grazing property near our existing landholding, it was a blessing in a way,” Andrew said.

farm info . Case study: Andrew Walta Location: Longwood, victoria Property size: 450 ha (trial site) and 150 ha home block Mean annual rainfall: 670 mm (1100 mm during 2010) Soils: flood plains with an ironstone hill (50 ha) in it (trial site) Enterprises: Cattle and cropping

“We were forced into a situation where we had a property with basically two paddocks, full of rushes and stumps and we put up yards, fences and laneways, cleared areas of land and then sowed the species we wanted. A lot of farmers have properties that have been slowly degraded and they don’t have a need to do immediate work — so they don’t.

not only did our improvement program result in an environmental award for tree establishment, but it has allowed us to radically improve the landscape and better manage our grazing.

Trial and error When we were looking at what sort of pasture species to establish we focused on getting something up and running quickly that would establish and persist in the dry rough conditions we were experiencing. At the time there was very little local knowledge and support for perennial pasture establishment.

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Photos: supplied by Kate Sargeaant

government grants allowed us to fence off the creek and establish a 50 metre-wide belt of vegetation either side. The boundary fencing was replaced and biodiversity corridors established.

Andrew Walta (pictured third from left) believes on-farm research trials allow producers to see the benefits and challenges of systems in a real farm context. (from left: Christine Stott, Glenn Brydon, Andrew Walta, Jane Davey, John Kelly in a paddock of chicory).

We were encouraged to explore sowing different grasses and experiment with changes from set grazing strategies. As a consequence we began to focus on perennials and also decided to manage the pasture grown, adapting more rotational grazing system principles.

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As a result, we used commercially-available ready-made pasture mixes based mainly on perennial ryegrass and phalaris — the ryegrass didn’t persist but the phalaris did.

Consider animal requirements when selecting pasture and fodder crop species.

over time the emphasis on rotational grazing to grow grass changed and I started to focus on the nutritional needs of our stock.

Paddock preparation through cropping aids weed control before pasture establishment.

We ran sheep and cattle up to the drought of 2004-05, but found we were then stuck chasing agistment on other people’s poor quality pastures and eventually something had to go — so the sheep went.

Grazing management offers opportunities to maximise production and profitability. On-farm trials offer evidencebased results that mimic reallife challenges.

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since then we have been cropping mainly for better pasture establishment, but also use fodder crops, particularly ryecorn for grazing. our cows calve during spring and we wean during autumn.

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We like to grow the weaners out to 460–480 kilograms liveweight during the following spring. This means our feed gap is during late summer–autumn and early winter — especially during the past 5-6 years. We have used triticale but the past few years we have been using ryecorn. This tactic has produced a lot of strategic feed and interest from local farmers. Compared with other cereals ryecorn seems to come out of the ground the quickest — we wait for an autumn break between the end of April to may and graze it by the middle of June. We get two or three grazings off it. We also put in chicory to fill the summer– autumn feed gap. Chicory plays a similar role to lucerne, which we can’t grow as we have acid soils and aluminium levels up to 20%. The chicory has been absolutely amazing for the past three years in the amount of feed it can produce, the feed quality and its ability to respond to summer rainfall. However, it does require hay to balance the diet and I possibly should have put clover in with it

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to provide nitrogen and get better winter production. perennial ryegrass and phalaris pastures across about 80% of the property support winter feed production. It has only been five years and we are still learning, but last year was the first year that 30% of weaners were gone by october at 460 kg — normally we would have to take them through to January–march or onto agistment.

Knowledge is the key We are not the only ones who are still learning — as a result of the lack of knowledge and experience in perennial pasture establishment and management we agreed to participate in one of two local meat and Livestock Australia (mLA)-funded producer Demonstration sites as part of our Best Wool Best Lamb group program. The trials are now in their second year of a three-year funded project and it provides an opportunity for farmers to see how species and management practices fare under real farming conditions.

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on our site we have 10 x 1 ha plots with two repetitions each of summer-dormant cocksfoot (Uplands), summer active cocksfoot (yarck), phalaris (Landmaster), brome (exceltas) and a winter-active tall fescue (flecha).

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EverGraze extension Leader Kate sargeant and Beef officer Alison Desmond (DpI victoria) are managing the group and the sites, and collate data on grazing days, livestock growth rates, pasture growth rates, composition, quality and persistence of the pastures in the trials. We have up to 25 animals rotating around the plots moving about once a week. The species on the trial site were selected for drought tolerance, yet this year the site on our property was totally inundated with water for about two days. one question was how the grass would cope — the cocksfoot was affected the most, but the greatest impact came from the stock. Because the site has a rotational grazing strategy we’ve got a group of animals we didn’t want to remove for too long and pugging became the biggest issue. The differences between our site and the other local site (about 15 km away) are interesting. The other site is part of a cropping-orientated system and the paddocks were heavily cropped and cleaner than ours at establishment. We are now finding we have greater weed issues. In an ideal world you would do the ideal thing, but because we use the trial to mimic a real farm, the trial has errors and we will

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learn from those. But certainly one lesson is that you would benefit from growing crops a bit longer and getting control over the weeds before sowing the pasture.

Grazing management The other key lesson is about grazing management — progress will be made for beef producers when they get better control over their grazing. grazing management can make an enormous contribution. The aims we have of doubling food production will come from greater intensification, and rotational grazing makes an enormous difference to production. over the next few years I think we will get better data on grazing management from trials like ours. I think producers are still not quite crunching the numbers in their heads — they just want simple solutions. There’s no doubt I get more out of this trial than anybody else in terms of recognising the mistakes, understanding timing of stock movements, pasture measurements and how to cope with problems.”

contact

• Andrew Walta T: (03) 5790 3218 E: a.walta@bigpond.com

By Kate Sargeant, DPI Victoria

• Our on-farm demonstration site

is assessing the establishment, persistence and economic value of five perennial pasture species compared with an unimproved control and several annual ryegrass and grazed cereal crops.

tool to offset the autumn–winter feed gap created in the establishment year. Ryecorn produced 1853 Dse grazing days per ha during winter of 2009 compared with 1505 in a triticale paddock and 1006 in the control. Ryecorn was grazed just four weeks after establishment.

Results show that significant carrying capacity increases are possible with well-managed perennials — trial plots carried between 11 and 21 Dse/ha, with the phalaris and winter-active fescue the best performers. This compares with 5 Dse/ha on the control plots.

After the 2009 grain harvest, the ryecorn regerminated on early autumn rains and provided 2326 Dse grazing days per hectare through autumn–winter 2010 compared with 1032 in the control. Autumn–winter production is similar to established perennial grasses but it provides no quality spring feed.

The contrast between weed levels between the sites has reinforced the importance of a cropping phase for successful establishment and persistence. Weed infestation has also affected recovery after flooding as did the impacts of pugging from livestock.

Chicory carried an average of 22 Dse/ha for 2010 and more than 2000 Dse grazing days per hectare during winter, which was equal to phalaris and fescue and better than the other perennials. During summer 2009–10, chicory carried 1283 Dse grazing days/ha, provided highquality feed to weaners and saved on high-protein supplements. However, low fibre levels meant cattle required ad-lib

Andrew has successfully used ryecorn as a clean-up crop and a quick-establishing

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hay at rate of about 2 kg/hd/day, equating to a total 2010 cost of $242/ha. While chicory provides the highest quantity and quality of summer feed, the other perennials also showed their ability to respond to summer rainfall during 2010. for the full range of trial site results go to: bestwoolbestlamb.com/groups/item/ euroa_grazing/ EverGraze is a ffI CRC, mLA and AWI research and delivery partnership. for further information, go to www.evergraze.com.au

• Kate Sargeant is the National EverGraze Extension Leader.

contact

• Kate sargeant, DpI victoria T: (03) 9296 4733 E: kate.sargeant@dpi.vic.gov.au

ISSUE 7 APRIL 2011

9


future farm

Strategic saltland plantings clear the water

A

s eastern Australia continues to be inundated with rain and the west remains bereft of moisture, both at 100-year extremes, recent results from field sites on opposite sides of the country are telling a similar story. The future farm Industries CRC-funded SaltCap and SaltDecide project is developing knowledge and related decision-support tools for landholders wanting to establish bestpractice saltland management systems. Researchers are assessing the degree to which the introduction of plant-based saltland pastures, which can integrate easily and cost-effectively into existing farm management systems, could impact on the environmental condition of specific catchments to predict and better manage salinity at the catchment scale. And the results to date, from sites measured for up to seven years, are impressive in both Western Australia and new south Wales, with significant reductions in surface water run-off and subsequent salt-load. According to project leader Dr Richard george (DAfWA) the impact assessment of various management options is being carried out in two ways.

key points • • •

10

Revegetation of saline areas with salt-tolerant perennials have significantly improved run-off water quality and increased farm production. Similar outcomes were achieved under vastly different conditions from research sites on opposites of the country. The outcomes have the potential to have significant impact at both the farm and catchment scales.

ISSUE 7 APRIL 2011

By Catriona Nicholls Kondinin group

“We are currently carrying out field work, at yearlering, WA and gumble, nsW, to determine how establishing salt-tolerant species impacts on productivity, water tables and run-off water quality,” Richard said. “Alongside the practical research we are modelling to predict what may happen if we expand these management tactics on a broader catchment scale. “our field trial results reveal we can significantly increase the productivity of saline land and diminish the rate of degradation — reduce soil water run-off and erosion. “secondly, if what we have done at a field scale can be successfully expanded on a larger scale, management of saline and degraded land adjacent to waterways has the chance to reduce salt concentrations and nutrient run-off, especially at times when flows are low and water quality considerations are paramount.”

Yealering results The WA site is located on a broad saline valley in the wheatbelt, just west of yealering, in a 300 mm rainfall zone. With support from farmers Chris, Dianne and michael Walton, researchers established the trial plots during 2003. “Before treatment the 50 ha site was, to all intents and purposes, homogenous — a barley-grass-based pasture,” Richard said.

Plantings of salt-tolerant shrubs and pastures are improving run-off water quality. (Photos: Dr Richard George, DAFWA and Dr David Mitchell I&I NSW DPI)

“We subdivided the site into two x 25 ha plots on the basis of an em salinity survey carried out to split the plots so they looked similar in terms of bulk root-zone salinity. “We left one site untreated, albeit fenced to manage grazing, and planted the other site to salt-tolerant annual pastures and saltbush (River and old man) in an alley system. “With partners from CsIRo and the Waltons, we then managed the site to try and maintain similar grazing conditions and measurement systems.” By the end of the 2009 water year (about 300 mm annual rainfall) the treated plot at the yealering site had: 25% of the comparable run-off, 7% of the comparable salt, 12% of the comparable total nitrogen, 23% of the comparable total phosphorus and 11% of the comparable sediment. These impacts were similar (if lower) to the run-off and saltloads experienced after a high-intensity rainfall of about 80 mm that fell on the site during march 2010 (see Table 1). Due to record dry conditions, no other significant run-off occurred during 2010 or to present (April 2011). According to Richard, the potential impact of these results, if applicable to the broader wheatbelt area, could have major implications.

Table 1 Results from Yealering, WA during 2009

2009 march 2010 storm

Cover

Run-off (mm)

Total nitrogen (N)

Total phosphorus (P)

saltbush

4.4

0.1

0.03

31

5.6

Annuals

19

0.8

0.13

492

49.5

saltbush

9.3

n/a

na

31

n/a

Annuals

12.7

n/a

n/a

128

n/a

F o c u s

o n

R e s e a r c h

Chloride

Suspended solids


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i n

Don Bennett, Research Scientist (DAFWA) managing the site analysis, downloading the auto samplers at Yealering. Photo: Richard George

p r o f itabl e

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Table 2 Summary of salt and water exports from the Gumble site pre and post treatment Plot

Rainfall (mm)

Run-off (mm)

Salt exported (kg/ha)

Run-off coefficients (%)

Flow-weighted mean concentration (kg/mm3)

Before treatment Treated

1092

73

224

7

0.47

Control

1092

39

227

4

0.60

Treated

4432

486

181

12

0.03

Control

4432

453

309

11

0.05

After treatment

The treated plot was sown to a salt-tolerant pasture mix during autumn 2005. After fencing, the control plot was allowed to recolonise with endemic species. Both plots were grazed briefly during late 2005 to early 2006 and again mid-2010 for about six weeks. “In addition to the three- to four-fold increase in the quantity and quality of stock feed, the ‘managed discharge’ of salt, nutrients and sediment resulting from the enhanced evaporative flux from managed saltland should have much broader landscape benefits,” he said. These benefits include:

• Reduced saltloads and/or concentration to downstream water bodies, with a positive impact on stock water or biodiversity. • Diminished risk of algal blooms. • Reduced storm peaks and associated damage. • Limit sedimentation of river pools. “Our field data supports the modelling outcomes that saltland revegetation can impact (reduce) the salt yields from the catchment,” Richard said. “Although the accuracy of the model results suggest some caution in further interpretation, we now have the basis to scale up results from what we have found at a small scale.”

Different site — same story Under the watchful eye of NSW DPI research officer Dr David Mitchell, field trials at Gumble, NSW are addressing the same management issues in a very different landscape and seasonal conditions to those of Yealering, WA. “Gumble, along with most of south-east Australia, has received above-average rainfall since February 2010,” David said. “The site received 937 mm up to November, 2010, however just less than 500 mm fell during late November to early December bringing the annual total to 1400 mm — more than twice the long-term average of 630 mm. “This exceeds the recorded wettest year on record at Manildra (15 km to the south of the trial site) of 1161 mm during 1950.” The Gumble field site consists of paired plots of about 1 ha, fenced to manage grazing, established during mid-2003.

“From July 2005 to December 2009 there was 165 mm of run-off draining from the treated plot and 82 mm from the control plot,” David said. “However 2010 was a vastly different story — heavy rainfall caused high volumes of runoff, with 440 mm draining from the treated plot and 417 draining from the control. “Contrasting the high volumes of water there has been a low amount of salt exported from the site — to date 181 kg/ha has been exported from the treated plot compared with 309 kg/ha from the control. “Of that total salt load, 62 kg/ha has come from the treated plot during 2010 while 194 kg/ha has been exported from the control during 2010.” As with the Yearlering results, the impact of salt-tolerant vegetation has made a significant impact on salt load since treatment started (see Table 2). “The mass of salt exported during the post-treatment phase of the treated plot is still lower overall than the amount of salt exported during the pre-treatment phase, even though there has been seven times more total run-off due to heavy rainfall events,” David said. “The post-treatment salt export from the control plot exceeded the pre-treatment export during 2010, however there has been more than 10 times the run-off. “What we can take from these results is that the Gumble site shows the benefit of both excluding grazing on saline scalds and the additional benefit of sowing salt-tolerant pasture species. “The benefits of not grazing are a reduction in the mass of salt exported from the site without any apparent water yield penalty. Additionally the water quality after grazing was excluded is higher, as seen by the lower flow-weighted mean concentration.”

Farmer-friendly solutions The environmental impacts are not the only successful outcomes of this project. It is the relative ease with which farmers can make

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strategic changes on small areas that will yield significant impacts on a larger scale. “It’s not about huge landscape change — it’s about what farmers can do,” David said. “Our results show huge benefits are achievable by individual landholders working by themselves — we are not talking about landscape revolution. “By implementing some simple techniques there can be dramatic positive farm and catchment outcomes. “And as we have seen with our site, the species we have planted have not only reduced land degradation, but provided a valuable source for feed.” Richard agrees with David’s positive summation of the results. “The recharge-based model of salt control has been that you have to establish perennials on as much as 80% of the nonsaline landscape to achieve measurable saltland change,” David said. “What we are showing is that by planting salt-tolerant systems on salt and waterlogged land we can limit the potential damage. “By keeping the subsoils dry and water tables a little deeper, we slow the rate of water run-off, which in turn improves run-off quality and downstream impact. “However, we are not saying we are achieving reclamation to a condition that existed before shallow water tables developed.” The project has shown similar results from different field sites and under a wide range of seasonal conditions. However Richard cautions against simplifying the message before the final evaluation is completed. “We are analysing data now to compare and explain the pre- and post-site differences to ensure we are correctly allocating the benefits between the treatment and the control.”

contact

• Dr Richard George, DAFWA T: (08) 9780 6296 E: richard.george@agric.wa.gov.au

ISSUE 7 APRIL 2011

11


future farm

Of drought and flooding rain… W

hile floods and heavy rains have fallen across eastern Australia, the Western Australian wheatbelt remains in drought. This situation has presented enrich researchers with a unique insight into how forage shrubs perform in good seasons and bad, and in both cases, the news is good. The future farm Industries (ffI CRC)-funded Enrich project has three main species evaluation field sites — Condobolin, new south Wales, monarto, south Australia and merredin, WA — and a number of smaller test sites across Australia. During the past year, Condobolin has experienced one of its best years with plentiful rainfall, while merredin has experienced one of its worst. Researchers will soon take this year’s formal measurements at the sites.

• • •

12

By Jill Griffiths

future farm Industries CRC

Anecdotally though, forage shrubs look to have proven their worth at both sites. At the merredin site, despite the extreme dry, the shrubs have shown remarkable growth. Throughout 2010, only 158 mm was recorded at the Department of Agriculture and food, WA (DAfWA) merredin research station; in a ‘normal’ year, it would be in the vicinity of 310 mm. Tanya Kilminster, a DAfWA farming systems development officer based in merredin, said sheep were put in to graze the shrubs during July 2010. preferences for different shrub species were recorded, then heavy grazing used to get even defoliation across all species. “The whole area was completely defoliated — only sticks were left,” Tanya said.

key points

“spring was very dry. We had 16 mm of rain during August and a further 8 mm during september, yet from that we have had a huge amount of regrowth.

Forage shrubs have performed well at Enrich sites in both eastern and Western Australia despite dramatically different seasonal conditions.

“We had 66 mm over two days during January and there’s certainly feed there again now, even though it is completely bare between the shrub rows and in the surrounding paddocks.”

During drought in WA, the forage shrubs were the only feed available to livestock grazing the site. Results from the east reveal that inter-row pasture is a key factor in the available feedbase during better seasons.

ISSUE 7 APRIL 2011

Contrasting conditions In contrast, 2010 was one of the best years Condobolin has experienced during recent times. At the research site, 424 mm of rain fell over 106 rain days. peter Jessop, nsW Department of primary Industries (nsW DpI) said the Condobolin site was grazed during may 2010.

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Plentiful rainfall has led to phenomenal growth in shrubs and inter-row pasture at the Condobolin site (main picture and top). Conversely, at Merredin, where drought continues, there is no inter-row pasture and the shrubs provide the only feed available. (Photos: CSIRO)

“When the sheep were put in to graze, there was significant pasture (about 4000 kg/ha) in between the shrubs. But the sheep ate the shrubs as well following an initial period of refusal,” peter said. “By the end of the grazing period (about five weeks) the shrubs were completely defoliated but there was still pasture in between the rows. “When we measured them during December, the shrubs had almost completely recovered except for the loss of a few less-grazingtolerant species; they were in full leaf. And there was still groundcover between rows.” sARDI researcher Dr Jason emms, who works on Enrich, visited both sites during march. “you couldn’t get more contrast in two sites in terms of shrub and inter-row pasture growth,” Jason said. Jason said there had always been a difference between the two sites, due to soil types and climate. Comparative measurements from past seasons have shown that to be the case (see figure 1). But this year the difference between the sites is even more pronounced. “The feedbase at Condobolin is enormous,” Jason said. “We haven’t measured the sites yet, but I estimate there’s about 5–6 tonnes of dry matter per hectare at Condobolin.

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future farm

2500 2000 1500 1000 500

Flexible forage option

“In both cases, the shrubs have been actively growing and providing valuable feed. “The contrasting seasons have given us a clear indication of what the shrubs can do — at merredin they continue to grow, so we can hope to always achieve that. Condobolin shows what they can do under optimal conditions. “The inter-row pasture will always be important — it is the critical component of the feedbase. “The more we see and the more we learn, the more we understand that to be the case. But we also know the shrubs are additional to the inter-row pasture. “Having the shrubs does not stop the interrow pasture — we saw that at Condobolin this

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“What’s really interesting here is by chance we have been given a graphic illustration of how well forage shrubs perform in the dry and the wet,” Dean said.

0

Ma

Enrich project leader Dr Dean Revell (CsIRo) said the comparison of the two sites was a graphic illustration that forage shrubs perform well in the best and worst of conditions.

es

“species that are performing well in dry and wet environments and on two different soil types are much more likely to have wider adaptation than are species that are only performing in particular conditions.”

s y s T e m s

Condobolin Merredin Monarto

3000

xv

“The contrasting seasons at the two sites has also shown us which species respond well to different conditions.

f A R m I n g

3500

rip le

“The ground in between the shrubs is completely bare, so if it wasn’t for the shrubs, there would be no feed at all.

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Figure 1 Production (real values) of edible biomass from different species at different sites, autumn 2010.

rip le

“At merredin, the biomass is nowhere near that — it might be about one tonne per hectare.

p R o f I T A B L e

At

I n

Edible biomass (grams per plant)

I n n o v A T I o n

Species

year. Condobolin also showed us that shrubs provide additional feed in wet years. “merredin highlighted that during dry years shrubs provide feed when there is little else on offer — they act like an insurance policy. “Unlike most insurance policies, you can claim on them every year, in good times and bad, without a penalty.” Jason said people often think shrubs just tick along slowly. But the growth at Condobolin proves that when conditions are optimal they can respond quickly. “forage shrubs can take the opportunity that comes with good seasons. And in bad seasons, they provide a back-up,” Jason said. Enrich researchers will take measurements at the sites during April and the results will

be published on the ffI CRC website — www.futurefarmonline.com.au — when they become available. Results from the Enrich site at monarto in south Australia were featured in Focus on Perennials Issue 14 December 2010. Acknowledgement: parts of this article appeared in meat & Livestock Australia’s Feedback magazine, April 2011.

contact

• Dr Dean Revell, CsIRo T: (08) 9333 6492 E: dean.revell@csiro.au

Enrich booklet now available

P

erennial Forage Shrubs — Key Findings from Enrich was released during March. The booklet details the major outcomes of the Enrich research since the project started during 2004 and shows the benefits and practical considerations of incorporating forage shrubs into mixed farming systems, particularly, but not exclusively, for areas where other production opportunities are limited. Enrich project leader Dr Dean Revell said the research shows that incorporating

perennial shrubs profitability can increase the profitability of the whole-farm system. “shrubs increase profitability by reducing the need for supplementary feed and through more indirect effects, such as allowing for improved management of other parts of the farm while livestock are grazing the shrub-based pasture,” Dr Revell said. The booklet lists the top-performing shrubs for a range of parameters, such as shrubedible biomass, digestibility and rumen fermentation, crude protein, minerals, rumen bioactivity, palatability and reduction of gut parasites.

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An extensive table of all species tested in the Enrich project is included. Perennial Forage Shrubs can be downloaded from the ffI CRC website — www.futurefarmonline.com.au

ISSUE 7 APRIL 2011

13


future farm EverCrop® — a snapshot

EverCrop opens door to innovative options in marginal landscapes ®

Kondinin group

e

verCrop researchers are investigating the potential of two innovative perennial-based options to fill the livestock feed gap in the low-rainfall mallee region of southeastern Australia. According to EverCrop project leader Dr Rick Llewellyn (CsIRo) there is a profitable niche for perennial options that can benefit both livestock enterprises and cropping management. pre-experimental modelling and early-stage field trials indicate pasture cropping, using perennial grasses, coupled with using fodder shrubs in marginal cropping country, could provide cost-effective options in mixed farming enterprises where producers are keen to reduce supplementary feed costs and focus cropping efforts on more productive soils.

key points • •

14

EverCrop research in the Mallee is looking for innovative options to fill the feed gap and increase production from marginal cropping soils. New perennial shrub options and the incorporation of summer-active subtropical grasses could provide summerautumn feed in low-rainfall mixed farming systems. Farmer consultation and a whole-system approach are critical to the future adoption of EverCrop research outcomes.

ISSUE 7 APRIL 2011

Summer rainfall has seen subtropical grasses thrive in the Mallee everCrop trials. (Photo: Dr Katrien Descheemaeker)

Identifying the gaps Based on what could be considered a typical farm enterprise at Waikerie, south Australia, researchers studied potential feed gaps in mixed mallee farming systems. “We modelled the pasture and animal production for a 2000 ha farm growing cereal crops in three-year rotations with medicbased pastures in a typical mallee landscape with dune and swale soils and a stocking rate of about 0.8 animals per hectare,” researcher Dr Katrien Descheemaeker (CsIRo) said. Three critical feed periods (see figure 1) were identified: 1.

Late summer–early autumn when the low-quality cereal stubble cannot maintain animal condition above a critical state.

2.

Around the break-of-season when medic pasture biomass availability is limited.

3.

early summer when harvest management and late cereal harvest could lead to a delay in cereal stubble becoming available.

“In this scenario, supplementary feeding is required to maintain animal condition from march onwards,” Katrien explained. “grazing of cereals is increasingly being used to fill part of that late autumn feed gap, but problems remain earlier in autumn and during years with a late break — this is where forage shrubs can be valuable.”

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Led by Dr Rick Llewellyn and Dr michael Robertson (CsIRo), EverCrop has three focus regions: the uniform rainfall zone (based in southern nsW); the medium rainfall zone (based in the northern agricultural region of Western Australia) and the low rainfall zone (based in the mallee region of south Australia and victoria). “To ensure our outcomes have maximum potential on farm we are working alongside farmers and farming groups and combining this approach with advanced farming systems modelling, financial analysis and decision-support tools,” Rick said. Support for the research is coming from GRDC, NSW I&I, DAFWA, CSIRO, DPI Victoria, SARDI and UWA.

“supplementary feeding is costly and can greatly limit stocking rates — compromising farm profitability and resource use efficiency. “new, practical and cost-effective options that can reliably help fill feed gaps have high potential value and adoptability.”

New forage shrub options native perennial shrubs, in addition to the main current commercial option De Koch old man saltbush (Atriplex nummularia), show promise as alternative feed sources as part of a mix that may include other perennials and annuals. forage shrubs could prove useful in addressing the autumn feed gap, which limits stocking rates. “At the Waikerie site, and the now-grazed Enrich trial at Walpeup in the central victorian mallee, some species, such as mallee saltbush (Rhagodia pressei), show considerable promise in terms of establishment rates, edible biomass production and shrub survival,” Rick said.

Figure 1 Animal intake of different feed sources for a decile 5 year 2 1.8 Animal intake (kg/head/day)

By Catriona Nicholls

The future farm Industries CRC and grains Research and Development Corporation (gRDC)-funded EverCrop project is investigating the roles perennials can play to address current and future production and sustainability challenges in the cropping-based zones of southern Australia.

1.6

Split grain Cereal stubble Pasture Supplement

1.4 1.2 1 0.8 0.6 0.4 0.2 0

Jan Jan Feb Mar Mar Apr May May June July Aug Aug Sept Oct Oct Nov Dec Dec

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“farmers see the potential and are looking for options beyond the common currently available shrubs. new shrub-based options in a higher-quality mix is where we are likely to see success in the future. “most existing forage shrub stands in the mallee are on sandier soils, but increased interest in farming to soil type has led farmers to look for grazing options on heavier, constrained soils or stony soils. This is where our whole-farm economic analyses suggest they will be most profitable even with lower growth rates. “However, there is little existing data on relative forage shrub performance on different soil types so EverCrop is looking at improving our ability to predict this, including having a growth by soil type trial underway at Waikerie.”

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Figure 2 Dry matter production from subtropical grasses at the Hopetoun, Victoria trial site 2007–11

Biomass (kg/ha)

I n n o v A T I o n

18,000 17,000 16,000 15,000 14,000 13,000 12,000 11,000 10,000 9000 8000 7000 6000 5000 4000 3000 2000 1000 0

Gatton Petrie Bambatsi ATF714 Strickland

May 2007

Jan 2010

Feb 2011

Summer-growing perennials go south It has now been shown that summer-active grasses can be productive in the mallee environment. Researchers are investigating to what extent these species can recruit seedlings and persist in the medium to long term under grazing, with new trials established at Karoonda, sA in partnership with mallee sustainable farming and ongoing work at Hopetoun, victoria, with Birchip Cropping group (BCg). “good levels of summer rainfall during 2009– 10 and 2010-11 have led to strong production at Hopetoun and promising early growth at Karoonda,” Katrien said. The Panicum maximum cultivars (cvv.) of petrie and gatton, P. coloratum cv. Bambatsi and Digitaria milanjiana cv. strickland established well and produced more than 1.0 t/ha of dry matter (Dm) during spring– summer 2007–08 and 2008–09 (see figure 2). “petrie produced the most Dm (4.5 t/ha) in the establishment year (2006–07) and more than 3.3 t/ha during summer 2009–10 in response to summer rainfall, with the extraordinary levels of rainfall over the 2010-11 summer leading to remarkable growth in 2011,” Katrien said. “ApsIm modelling of pasture growth across a range of seasons suggests a relatively short period of rapid growth during late spring and early summer, corresponding with moisture availability and adequate soil temperatures. “The preliminary simulation of subtropical grass growth at the Karoonda and Hopetoun locations shows they will support march grazing at 10 Dse/ha in about 25% of seasons. “This suggests the grasses can reduce feed deficits during summer but in many seasons the lack of rainfall means that growth won’t

extend to late autumn, which is where forage shrubs can still play a key role.”

relative advantage in mixed farming systems, they will need to offer benefits including:

Pasture cropping

• •

Researchers are now modelling pasture cropping potential in other mallee districts on a range of soil types. “We will trial pasture cropping using a base of subtropical grasses at Karoonda this year,” Katrien said. “our preliminary simulation experiment showed that in Karoonda the average cumulative pasture Dm production ranged from about 3 t/ha (soil with severe sub-soil constraints [sCC]) to 5 t/ha (low ssC) for pasture without cropping and from 2 t/ha (severe ssC) to 3 t/ha (low ssC) for pasture cropping. “Although yield penalties were considerable, they were less, as a percentage, on the more constrained soils, indicating pasture cropping could be a promising option for a landscape approach to farming. “pasture cropping reduces the chances of achieving a grain yield above 1 t/ha. However, depending on the season, growers can also decide to sacrifice the grain and graze the crop, so the pasture-cropped paddock would be grazed during summer and winter. “The field research site at Karoonda, where summer-growing grasses are pasture cropped with winter growing cereals, will allow further model validation.”

Keys to adoption Researchers have identified that for perennial-based options to have widespread

• • • • •

The ability to fill important feed gaps. The ability to adequately perform and persist on soils where cereal grain crops are not reliably profitable. The ability to perform and persist with relatively low annual input requirements. A level of palatability that supports grazing in a mixed species block. The flexibility to sow winter-growing options in seasons where the production potential is high (for example, from grain crops in winter). The ability to provide ongoing groundcover for erosion prevention in dry years when annual plant options provide little or no groundcover. The ability to be established reliably in difficult soil conditions.

Despite the challenges, Rick believes the wider adoption of perennials in low-rainfall environments has potential. “It’s a region where diversity for risk management will always be important and new options beyond the current main commercial options could drive wider perennial use,” he said. “There is a clearly identified feed gap and niche for a productive perennial-based option on mallee mixed farms. “However, the primary constraint to further adoption is developing and demonstrating the feasibility and profitability of improved perennial-based options — this is the current focus of EverCrop in the mallee low rainfall zone.”

contact

• Dr Rick Llewellyn, CsIRo T: (08) 8303 8502 E: rick.llewellyn@csiro.au

Photo: Dr Katrien Descheemaeker

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ISSUE 7 APRIL 2011

15


future farm

Messina makes mighty progress A

s progress towards commercial availability gets ever closer, recent seasonal conditions are providing an opportunity to showcase the potential of mediterranean annual pasture legume, messina (Melilotus siculus). The future farm Industries CRC-funded Understorey project identified the potential of messina as an option for saline and waterlogged environments as far back as 2005. But discovery of the hardy legume has only been half of the story — finding a suitable rhizobia as resilient to Australia’s hostile saline soils as the plant itself has been quite a challenge. And while south Australian Research and Development Institute (sARDI) pasture Research officer Amanda Bonython’s faith has never waivered, the road to commercialisation hasn’t always been smooth.

Saltland saviour With more than 5.7 million hectares of Australia’s agricultural landscape affected by dryland salinity, farmers have long been struggling to find profitable and productive

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Second-year plant germplasm trials are set to confirm the potential of the hardy annual pasture legume messina (Melilotus siculus). The shortlist for a suitable rhizobia to ensure successful nodulation in saline soils is narrowing. Widespread rain in southeastern Australia should see impressive production during the coming winter. A commercial plant–rhizobia package is on target for 2014.

ISSUE 7 APRIL 2011

Messina (melilotus siculus) is proving its worth in saline, waterlogged trial sites in South Australia. (Photos: Amanda Bonython)

By Catriona Nicholls* Kondinin group

farming options for these testing landscapes. With many salt-affected areas also subject to waterlogging and inundation, existing options are limited. “The combined effects of salinity and waterlogging render salt-affected areas unsuitable for cropping and they are mostly used for livestock production,” Amanda said. In their quest for a hardy pasture option well-adapted to Australia’s more extreme conditions, pasture researchers hunted far and wide. They sought out genera with reputed tolerance to salt and waterlogging from around the world and put them to the test. mediterranean messina proved a tempting possibility. While local farmers view melilotus species as little more than a weed, which can taint milk and meat and contaminate grain, Australian researchers believe that, after field testing numerous melilotus species, they have found one that can beat the bad press. According to Amanda, messina’s tolerance to the combined stresses of salt and waterlogging is unmatched and greatly surpasses that of all other available pasture legumes. And not only does messina tolerate salt and waterlogging, it has low coumarin levels. Coumarins are the compounds responsible for the tainting qualities of the melilotus species. “While Melilotus siculus is the same genera it is a different species altogether,” Amanda explained.

Performance anxiety While messina’s performance as a hardy pasture legume has never been in question, its development has been hampered by nodulation failure in regenerating stands. Research in the Upper south-east of sA and in Western Australia has shown that 70% of second-year messina plants fail to nodulate (see Focus on perennials Issue 7, march 2007). poor nodulation has occurred when

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messina is inoculated with the commercial group Am ‘medic’ strain of rhizobia. A successful messina seed and rhizobia collection trip to spain was undertaken during 2009, with additional support from the AW Howard Trust Inc (see Focus on Perennials Issue 9, october 2009). The collection increased the diversity and robustness of messina seed and rhizobia strains for evaluation. An extensive field and glasshouse program has evaluated more than 100 new strains of rhizobia. The strains have been isolated from plants and soils sourced from saline environments and have been evaluated for nodulation effectiveness with messina and persistence during summer. nine elite strains have been identified as having greater persistence than the group Am ‘medic’ strain and these strains are currently in their final evaluation phase.

Plant performance Running parallel to the rhizobia evaluation is the comprehensive evaluation of the messina plant germplasm. Twenty-one accessions of messina were sown in multi-site field trials in the Upper south-east of sA and in WA during 2010. Widespread drought in WA saw researchers spray out the trial site, while the sA trial flourished under more sympathetic growing conditions. measurements taken included seasonal dry matter yield, seed yield, regeneration and growth habit. Researchers collected first-year dry matter measurements (kg/ha) from two different field trial sites. site 1 experienced waterlogging, while site 2 experienced months of inundation. As shown in figure 1, at both sites messina outperformed the commercial varieties scimitar burr medic and Jota (Melilotus albus).

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T

he wave of e-learning continues to change the way information is accessed to build skills and knowledge.

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EverTrain, a future farm Industries CRC initiative, is harnessing interest in e-learning to deliver programs to meet growing demand for flexible, online education in Australia.

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Frontier balansa clover

Scimitar burr medic

Jota (Melilotus albus)

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source: sARDI

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Melilotus siculus Melilotus indicus Balansa clover Subclover

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The system manages training and logistics, stores materials and delivers online tuition of accredited and non-accredited training packages. EverTrain’s flexibility can combine online tuition with conventional face-to-face training. It supports both customised and generic delivery of courses and related activities.

Figure 2 Relative salt tolerance of germinating seedlings

Relative germination (% control)

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EverTrain — the FFI CRC E-learning tool

Figure 1 First-year dry matter production comparison at two sites in South Australia

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e-learning enables people to participate in training without travelling long distances and allows students flexibility to complete the training when convenient.

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In a ‘blended course’, participants complete the basic theory online before attending a face-to-face workshop. They are then able to make the most of their time at the workshop to access the trainer’s expertise and gain practical experience.

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“This is not surprising as both these varieties, scimitar and Jota, are reportedly not being as waterlogging tolerant as messina or frontier balansa clover, “ Amanda explained. “Jota is also a biannual, but in waterlogged conditions it is not persisting and at site 2 it is completely gone.” At site 2, where there was inundation, messina’s production was similar to frontier balansa clover, which is renowned for its waterlogging tolerance. second-year germplasm and rhizobium trials will be carried out in sA during 2011 and firstyear trials in WA will be re-established. While conditions in WA have remained dry, a relatively wet summer has allowed for a wet soil profile that should see messina perform well for the second year in row in sA. “The real test for messina and the other varieties will be the second-year results,

when salinity starts to play havoc on plant growth,” Amanda said. However, this is when researchers expect messina to shine as its ability to tolerate salt is significantly greater than its counterparts (see figure 2). All going well a commercial plant–rhizobia package is on track for release during 2014. This research is funded by the future farm Industries CRC and carried out by sARDI and DAfWA. *This article has been adapted from an article that originally appeared in the Stock Journal, SA.

contact

• Amanda Bonython, sARDI T: (08) 8762 9194 E: amanda.bonython@sa.gov.au

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EverTrain is potentially of interest to landholders, farm advisors, regional natural resource management organisations, government agency staff, tertiary educators, postgraduate students and anyone with a general interest in agriculture and natural resource management. Training packages currently being developed include salinity management, soil biology, soil carbon and climate variability. The EverTrain team is trialling training packages with client groups including educational organisations and agribusiness. making training more accessible by using flexible delivery methods, EverTrain engages diverse audiences to deliver real and measurable practice change.

contact

• Deb Slinger, nsW DpI T: (02) 6938 1901 E: deb.slinger@industry.nsw.gov.au

ISSUE 7 APRIL 2011

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Perennials offer potential

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farm info .

recent foray into perennial pastures, has revealed to Western Australian producer John mottram their productive potential as he recently explained to Catriona nicholls.

Case study: John and Danielle and David and margaret mottram

Location: manjimup, Western Australia Property size: 450 ha Annual rainfall: 800 mm (500 during 2010)

“We’ve only recently discovered the potential of a perennial mix on our property, but so far it seems to fit the EverGraze® mantra of ‘Right plant, Right place, Right purpose, Right management’” John said.

Soil type: Deep red loams with high clay content over gravel

(60% of farm), blending into yellow and white sands, some over gravel and some over ‘coffee rock’

Enterprises: Beef cattle, poll Dorset stud and timber

“I’m the fourth generation on this property and the first perennial was common kikuyu, much of which still persists in lower-lying areas and where moisture lies in gullies. But apart from kikuyu I had little experience with perennials. our farming system is based mainly on volunteer annuals and maybe two years of seeding high-quality ryegrass.

no-one locally had much experience with perennials, so there was a bit of guesswork, but by using the ‘Right plant, Right place, Right purpose, Right management’ philosophy the project invested in lucerne, kikuyu, balansa, strawberry and white clover, tall fescue, tall wheatgrass, puccinella chicory and plantain — the only thing they missed was phalaris. I expect this was due to the perception of toxicity risks from phalaris, but I am still keen to give it a crack here.

key points • • •

Practical on-farm trials have supported the EverGraze mantra of ‘Right Plant, Right Place, Right Purpose, Right Management’. Perennials have reduced the need for supplementary feeding and provided opportunities for silage production. Rotational grazing increases grazing efficiency and manages difficult-to-control weeds.

Photos: Eric Dobbe (DAFWA)

In 2006 the south West Catchment Council, along with (then) Waters and Rivers, came up with the idea of helping lower the salt content of the Warren River by planting perennials. The project consisted of 100% funding to establish 2000 ha of perennial pasture within the catchment in the hope of enticing other farmers to adopt perennials to a point where it would have a positive effect on the river’s salt content.

Perennial pastures, such as kikuyu (above and inset) are finding their place in different parts of the landscape on John Mottram’s property.

A leap of faith our first 10 ha planting during early June 2007 was a mix of Quantum tall fescue (12 kg/ha), paradana balansa (2 kg/ha) and strawberry clover (2 kg/ha) after a double knockdown — one through cultivation, and the second a spray. By the last week of August we grazed with cattle and continued grazing once a month up to December 16 and then gave it a rest. on 15 october 2007 we put in 10 ha of kikuyu on separate piece of land.

We grazed continuously from september 2008. one paddock was grazed right up to Christmas. When the clover gave up the fescue was there, ready and waiting.

During the first week of June 2008 I put in another 13 ha of summer-active tall fescue (Carmine) and 20 ha of lucerne.

The clover has now receded to the low-lying moist areas and in the sandier country it has died out, which could be a pH issue.

That first year I estimated we had 12 tonnes of dry matter/ha from the tall fescue mix — I don’t reckon it has come lower than that.

Lucerne was brilliant during the first year but during the second I oversowed it with annual ryegrass (Winter star), which competed with the lucerne for moisture. now the lucerne has receded back to the sandier country and I’ve probably only got maybe 8 ha of the original 20 ha left.

During 2010 we produced 9 t/ha in silage and we would have taken at least 4–5 tDm/ha through grazing.

Trial and error I tried a tall fescue (Carmine) and white clover mix the second year (2008), as the

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strawberry struggled to establish. I didn’t really like white clover, but it grew that much during the first year it wasn’t funny — all I saw was clover for about four months, ankle deep.

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I will continue with lucerne but with a less winter-active variety — one more suited to our drier conditions.

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I haven’t planted anything since 2007 — I want to get the pH right first, then I’ll try more tall fescue and kikuyu to cover all my low-lying country. I also want to try some winter-active perennials — phalaris, spanish cocksfoot, and winter-active tall fescue. We have higher feed utilisation on the perennial paddocks — I suppose I look after them better because they are smaller paddocks. The first paddock is nearly four years old and it seems to grow a lot more pasture than our annual paddocks. And if you have a false break it doesn’t matter — feed quality still remains high. But the biggest eye opener has been the amount of feed perennials produce on the same fertiliser as the annual paddocks — and the animals like it.

Grazing management Before trialling perennials we changed to rotational grazing and haven’t changed anything since — except mob size. During the past year I have reduced mob sizes (180 cows to three mobs of 60) and I have noticed a difference in the weeds. Leaving mobs in the paddocks longer to get the job done has improved weed control —

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especially capeweed. Within the perennial paddocks, weed control is effective because the whole paddock is eaten low.

We still had 1.8 tDm/ha on the ground in february and if I can get that to 3t/ha it will last me longer.

every time the cows go in it is no higher than 15–20 cm and they come out at 3–5 cm. I work on putting them in at 2.5–3 tDm/ha and bringing them out at about 1 tDm/ha.

I’m in a change phase, where I want to increase my sheep and stud sires. I’ve culled my older cows due to the season and I’ve currently got 150 cows at 10 Dse/ha/yr plus sheep at 1 Dse/ha/yr.

The only paddocks with weed challenges are the annual paddocks where the stock don’t get into the corners.

Current conditions even though we had a dry spring and summer, I could have grazed the lucerne and tall fescue during february — although I waited till early march. our annuals are about back to dirt after summer — I utilised them fairly well before January and have only got about 15 ha of grass from a total of 300 ha that I need to eat off — the rest is back ready for germination. I will start supplementary feed two weeks before calving and keep them going until they don’t need it. In the future I hope to grow enough green stuff to get a higher plane of nutrition before the cows calve so they won’t need as much supplementary feeding.

The manjimup pasture group is on 1.2 cows/ ha — about 20 Dse. And they want to go a bit further than that. If I had more fescue I could easily go to 18–22 Dse. I will invest in more perennials, but at $12.00/kg I want it to establish and grow. The key to tall fescue success is mainly the clay content — it has to be a heavy loam to work and it will grow and hold quite high into the landscape because of the water holding capacity of the clay. The tall fescue roots were down to about one metre in three years and it really held the water from a wet winter during 2007 right up until August.”

contact

John mottram T: (08) 9773 1179 E: rockbridge@activ8.net.au

science behind the story

By Paul Sanford, DAFWA

• In contrast to the other EverGraze research locations on the south coast at Albany and Wellstead, Manjimup experiences more severe frosts and hot dry summers resulting in substantial feed gaps during winter and summer.

In its favour are high growing-season rainfall and predominantly fertile soils. This combination means the suite of suitable perennials will be different to other parts of the south coast with infertile sands and summer rain. perennials are relatively new in John’s region and farmers and their advisors have been determining what works with paddock-scale plantings that started in response to the need to reduce the salt content of the Warren River. EverGraze is monitoring pasture, livestock and water-use on John’s farm. The results will be modelled to explore ways to further optimise profit and natural resource management outcomes. To date the most impressive result has been the performance of the summeractive tall fescue. During 2010 it out-

yielded the control annual pasture by 4.5 tDm/ha at a total yield of 9.3 tDm/ha. overall its persistence is excellent with losses confined to relatively small areas.

findings that lucerne and kikuyu have superior summer growth over tall fescue.

Lucerne has failed to persist in more than 50% of the paddock into which it was sown, yet where it persisted it outyielded the annual control by 5.3 tDm/ ha at 10 tDm/ha. even though much of this production can be attributed to the annual companion species, if the persistence problem can be solved lucerne has real potential in this environment.

This year we will test a range of commercial and novel species and cultivars, looking for superior winter performance, better tall fescue lines, productive cocksfoots and more persistent lucerne.

The kikuyu-based pasture situated on a less-fertile soil still produced 2 t more Dm than the annual pasture control at 6.8 tDm/ha. It has persisted through relatively cold winters and has a strong clover component during the growing season.

EverGraze is a ffI CRC, mLA and AWI research and delivery partnership. for further information, go to www.evergraze.com.au

With the recent summer rain during January, it is interesting to compare the subsequent growth of the three perennials. Lucerne yielded the most (2.4 tDm/ha) compared with kikuyu (1.4 tDm/ha) and tall fescue (0.9 tDm/ha). This result supports general EverGraze

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While there is still much to learn, farmer, advisor and researcher results to date confirm perennials are beneficial to livestock systems in this region.

• Paul Sanford is the EverGraze Proof Site leader in south west Western Australia.

contact

• paul sanford, DAfWA T: (08) 9892 8475 E: paul.sanford@agric.wa.gov.au

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The final word O

n April 1, 2011, future farm Industries CRC and eH graham Centre phD students maggie Raeside and Bree Wilson graduated.

Bree’s project The effect of dryland salinity on arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi in southern NSW showed that although salinity decreased the genetic diversity of soil mycorrhiza they still helped plants cope with salinity effectively. In experiments with Melilotis siculus, Bree illustrated that mycorrhiza can improve nodulation and plant growth in saline soil. Bree is now working on the biocontrol of pestiferous aphids using Metarhizium anisopliae with CsU professor gavin Ash. maggie’s phD project, Managing summer-active tall fescue (Lolium arundinaceum syn. Festuca arundinacea Schreb.) in southern Australia saw her develop practical on-farm guidelines for managing summer-active tall fescue in the highrainfall zone of southern Australia.

From left to right: Dr Michael Friend, Lucinda Corrigan, Dr Bree Wilson, Dr Maggie Raeside, Dr John Harper and Prof. Gavin Ash.

maggie found summer-active tall fescue is most productive when sown on heavytextured soils. Her thesis documented the species’ response to a range of grazing and fertiliser regimes. maggie now works for DpI victoria at Hamilton as a research scientist — agronomy — where she works on a number of ffI CRC projects including evergraze® — more livestock from perennials.

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Please return this form to: Future Farm Industries CRC The University of Western Australia M081 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley WA 6009 Tel (08) 6488 2505 Fax (08) 6488 2856 Or email: gmadson@futurefarmcrc.com.au

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Future Farm #7  

Magazine of Future Farm Industries Cooperative Research Centre

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