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ISSUE 8 AUGUST 2011

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in this issue

8 Lucerne — when more is more profitable

10 Overnight success with Profitable Perennials™

12 Natural regeneration boosts perennial content

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Systems approach supports success Perennial technologies offer whole-system integration opportunities on-farm

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Mallee harvester coming to WA

contents

By Kevin Goss CEO, Future Farm Industries CRC

• new alliance brightens

mallee future ................. 3

• Tropical grass pastures

have it covered ............... 4

• Systems-based research

ensures a smooth operation

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• Lucerne — the model

perennial option .............. 8

• Profitable Perennials™

— an overnight success in the making ............... 10

• Boosting pasture

production — the natural way .................. 12

• prioritising protects the

perennial investment ...... 14

our cover

he prototype mallee harvester, T launched in narrogin, Western Australia, April 2010, has just

completed major trials in new South Wales and victoria. It processed more than 200 tonnes of biomass with minimal hitches, and handled trees up to 10 m tall and over 150 mm trunk diameter. This is great news for mallee growers. It is another important step towards a viable mallee biomass industry. Over the past year, Richard Sulman (pictured), Biosystems Engineering, has been experimenting, re-designing and adapting the machine to achieve its targets for throughput and reliability. This R&D, based at Biosystems’ Toowoomba workshop, has been critically important to the design of a future commercial harvester. For Future Farm readers who observed closely the prototype harvester at the narrogin unveiling, you will see major changes to the machine as these photographs clearly show. After a bulk density trial and possibly addition trial work in eastern Australia, the machine will return to WA later this year for field trials.

vicky Geddes takes a systematic approach to implementing new research outcomes. • See full story page 6. photo: pamela Lawson

6 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).

Its first task in WA will be trial harvests of selected mallee stands as part of the continuing project to gather mallee growth data for the national Carbon Accounting System. This work is being done for CSIRO as part of the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency funded project, with the Oil Mallee Association assisting in WA. Efficient mallee biomass production is now a big step closer.

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.

Richard Sulman (top) standing next to the latest mallee harvester, which has successfully harvested trees up to 10 metres tall and over 150 mm diameter. (Photos: FFI CRC)

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 August, 2011 Design & production: Kondinin Group

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New alliance brightens mallee future

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new alliance between the Future Farm Industries CRC (FFI CRC), virgin Australia, the Renewable Oil Corporation and Dynamotive is set to turn mallees into a sustainable fuel source for the aviation industry. The agreement between the organisations was announced during July and should provide the impetus needed to expand the mallee industry. The partnership brings together companies with expertise in growing, harvesting and processing feedstock into aviation fuel to support the development of a full-scale commercial plant in Western Australia. In a world first, the alliance plans to use innovative fast pyrolysis technology developed by Dynamotive to process mallees. Kevin Goss, CEO of FFI CRC, believes the alliance has the potential to deliver strong markets for tree crops, which is just what is needed by farmers who have planted mallees. “Our research shows mallees can be an option for wheatbelt farmers in WA. “We know mallees provide environmental benefits when interplanted with cereal crops — they do all the right things in terms of lowering water tables, preventing salinity, reducing erosion, providing shelter, and providing wildlife habitat,” Kevin said. “However, for mallee biomass to provide a diversified on-farm income stream it requires new processors entering the market and a sharp reduction in supply chain costs through technological change. The alliance with virgin Australia, Renewable Oil Corporation

By Jill Griffiths

Future Farm Industries CRC

and Dynamotive opens up a new industry development path. According to virgin Australia CEO John Borghetti, during the past few years virgin Australia has been working with stakeholders across the industry to research and develop bio-derived renewable fuels that could be used to progressively replace conventional aviation fuels. “We believe this new project has great potential given the results with the technology and the availability of this unique Australian feedstock,” John said. vancouver-based Dynamotive Energy Systems Corporation has invested more than $100 million over 10 years to develop its carbon-neutral, fast pyrolysis technology. The technology uses medium temperatures and oxygen-less conditions to turn dry, waste cellulosic biomass into BioOil for power and heat generation. BioOil can be further converted into vehicle fuels and chemicals. The pyrolysis plants also produce biochar, for soil improvement and carbon sequestration. “We have a great opportunity to develop a sustainable industry in WA capable of producing second generation fuels that do not require food sources and have positive effects for land and water management,” Dynamotive CEO Andrew Kingston said. Renewable Oil Corporation (ROC), which identified the mallee tree as a promising

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Virgin Australia CEO John Borghetti (left) and Future Farm Industries CEO Kevin Goss have the mallees in hand. (Photo: Virgin Australia)

biofuel feedstock, is Dynamotive’s Australian partner and develops biofuel projects in Australia. ROC has an exclusive licensing agreement with Dynamotive. The consortium is currently finalising plans for a demonstration unit that will make biofuels for testing, certification and public trials. The demonstration unit is intended to be operational during 2012, followed by the construction of a commercial-scale plant, which could be operating as early as 2014. In related research, FFI CRC and Biosystems Engineering are working together on the prototype mallee harvester. The harvester is expected to start large-scale trials in WA later this year. Kevin Goss is enthusiastic about the potential benefits these partnerships could deliver to the mallee industry. “Just imagine if this takes off — a complete supply chain from mallees in the ground, through harvesting, to processing and then into transport fuels — Australian mallees fuelling jet engines; a double win for environmental sustainability with airlines running on fuel the production of which actually benefits the environment and farmers. It doesn’t get much better than that,” Kevin said.

for more information

• Peter Zurzolo, FFI CRC

T: (08) 6488 1429 E: peter.zurzolo@futurefarmcrc.com.au

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Tropical grass pastures have it covered

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ropical perennial grasses have allowed the Bowman family, in northern new South Wales to boost cattle numbers, while improving the condition of their soils. Tom Bowman recently shared the tricks to this successful outcome with Catriona nicholls. “We started investing in tropical perennial grasses four years ago after seeing the positive impacts they have had on other local properties,” Tom said.

farm info . Case study: Tom Bowman Location: Barraba, nSW Property size: 2700 ha Mean annual rainfall: 700–750 mm Soils: Basalt clay Enterprises: Beef cattle (spring calving enterprise and opportunistic trade cattle)

“After conventional cropping during the 1980s, our production system is now focused on cattle production and before the tropical perennial grasses we relied on a combination of lucerne, native pastures and winter grazing oats. While the lucerne provides some green feed during summer, groundcover is an issue, with patches of bare soil leading to significant compaction between plants and resulting in soil erosion from summer storms. Our main aim in introducing the tropical grasses was to improve groundcover and reduce this erosion. We direct drilled 40 hectares of undulating hill country down to a locally-recommended mix of premier digit grass (Digitaria eriantha ssp. Eriantha), Katambora Rhodes grass (Chloris gayana), Bambatsi panic (Panicum coloratum var. makarikariense) and Gatton panic (Megathyrsus maximus) during early november 2007. Following this we had a couple of heavy summer storms providing about 50–75 mm of rainfall each. I thought the seed would be washed away, but two months later it was all up and we

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Tropical perennial grasses provide a productive, highquality pasture option during warmer months. Rapid growth rates where soil moisture and fertility are high require tactical rotational grazing at high stocking rates to maintain pasture quality. Production can extend into autumn, filling a feed gap common to many northern NSW grazing systems.

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Tom Bowman (far left) is thrilled with the rapid response of tropical perennial grasses in his grazing system (Photos: Lester McCormick)

had weaners grazing the new pasture by the second week of February. Our 600 weaners continued to graze the paddock from March through to April — this is a real bonus for us as autumn is a feed gap.

Getting established Since that first paddock we have continued to establish more country to tropical perennial grasses each year. The key to success is to make sure your paddocks are weed-free before you start. We establish our tropical perennials onto paddocks that have had at least two years of grazing oats and we control weeds throughout the crop and fallow periods. We aim for a plant density of about 10 plants per square metre.

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post establishment we continue to invest in the pasture base through soil fertility to support maximum growth. We soil test each paddock and apply nitrogen and trace elements as needed. The cost of soil testing to determine appropriate fertiliser rates is nothing compared with cost of fertiliser — testing allows us to supply only what is needed. The growth potential is spectacular, both with and without the summer rainfall, and the challenge is to ensure there are enough mouths to keep the pasture under control. To this end, effective grazing management requires small paddocks and high stocking rates to maintain the tropical grasses at the leafy growth stage during periods of peak growth.

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We have divided paddocks into blocks of 10 to 15 ha using single wire electric fencing, with watering points supplied to each paddock. It is a significant investment in water and wire, but we achieve longer and better grazing than we did under lucerne and the results are worth the investment. During the warmer months (november– February), when the tropical perennial grasses are actively growing, we stock at a density of about 250 steers to 10 ha, moving the stock every three to five days.

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However by maximising the energy and protein of the pasture through fertiliser and careful grazing management, we have been able to achieve growth rates of about 1.5 kg/hd/day. We have had a mob of steers that increased from an average weight of 400 kg to 480 kg after 50 days grazing perennial tropical grasses. The grasses also help us fill the autumn feed gap for our weaners. The native pastures only provide low-quality fodder during autumn, which is unsuitable for weaners.

To achieve sufficient stocking densities during this period of rapid pasture growth we bought in trade steers during spring and fattened them over summer.

With well-planned grazing, the tropical grasses provide suitable feed right through late summer–autumn until oats are available for winter fodder.

The key is to know the appropriate length of time the pasture will need to recover before the next grazing — this varies according to temperature and soil moisture.

Up until now we have only had enough tropical grass pasture for trade stock and weaners, but as we establish more we will put more cows and first calvers on these paddocks.”

We generally move stock when there are 1200 to 1500 kg DM/ha left in the paddock and ideally place them into each new paddock before stem elongation commences.

• A series of fact sheets on tropical

It can be difficult to keep these grasses at the leafy growth stage as large stock numbers and strict rotational grazing are required.

perennial grasses has been produced by NSW DPI and FFI CRC. They are available online at: www.futurefarmonline.com.au/ research/future-livestock-production/ tropical-grasses.htm

High stocking rates and regular rotation help maintain the feed quality of Tom’s (right) tropical grasses, as he explains to Bob McGufficke (left).

contact

• Tom Bowman M: 0428 663 234 E: bigtombowman@hotmail.com

science behind the story

By Bob McGufficke, DPI NSW

• Interest in tropical perennial

grasses in northern NSW has grown during the past 10 years. Estimates from commercial seed sales suggest that more than 250,000 ha have been sown in the past three years.

This has greatly improved the pasture feedbase in this area, providing increased options for producers during the warmer months.

As indicated by Tom, adequate soil nutrition is essential for these grasses to achieve optimum growth and quality for animal production. Given adequate moisture, tropical perennial grasses respond to increased nitrogen and, as a rule of thumb, can produce an additional 100 kg DM/ha in the growing season for every kg/ha of nitrogen applied.

Tropical perennial grasses are drought tolerant and can produce up to 20 t/ha of dry matter (DM) in a growing season. They also have a role in providing persistent perennial species in the landscape and year-round high levels of ground cover if well managed.

One of the biggest challenges, due to their rapid growth, is to maintain high feed quality. This can be achieved through good plant nutrition and appropriate grazing management strategies.

Water use efficiencies are high compared with native perennial grasses. In trials in the Tamworth region, premier digit grass (Digitaria eriantha) produced almost 30 kg DM/ha for each millimetre of water used.

plant nutrition can be improved with fertiliser to raise soil phosphorus, sulphur and nitrogen to a productive level for tropical perennial grasses, and replace these nutrients (particularly nitrogen) when required.

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Well-managed legumes can also supply much of the nitrogen required by these grasses. With adequate soil moisture and fertility, and warm summer conditions, tropical perennial grasses grow rapidly and require regular grazing at high stocking densities to maintain the high quality, leafy pastures required for maximum livestock production.

• Bob McGufficke is the local district agronomist at Inverell on the northern slopes and tablelands of New South Wales.

contact

• Bob McGufficke

District Agronomist, DPI NSW T: (02) 6722 1388 E: bob.mcgufficke@industry.nsw.gov.au

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farm info .

desire to create a stable, yet progressive, production system has lead Holbrook graziers vicky and Tony Geddes to actively seek information about new perennial pasture options and improved management techniques from many sources. vicky recently shared her philosophies with pamela Lawson.

Case study: vicky and Tony Geddes Location: Holbrook, new South Wales Property size: 1800 ha Mean annual rainfall: 700 mm Soils: Clay-loam Enterprises: Breeding self-replacing Merinos and prime lambs,

“I have a strong background in science, which ensures I look for a high level of scientific rigour behind any new technologies we trial on-farm. But I also seek systemsbased research that provides practical, useful results for the whole production system,” vicky said.

trade beef cattle, cereal cropping

“Before the drought our pastures were about 70% improved perennials, 20% annuals and 10% degraded native pastures. We were focused on improving the production of a large area of wiregrass-dominant native country, which was degraded and underutilised. But once the drought really took hold, we needed to find the best way to manage and protect our perennial pastures. We knew we would realise a far greater loss when the drought eventually ended if those pastures were lost or significantly degraded and needed re-sowing. We had always used a rough rotational grazing system, but with the pastures under stress we needed to better understand their physiology, so we could manage them for their health and persistence as well as satisfying our animal production needs.

Information sources “In the past, we relied on local resources, or information such as agronomists, the

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Holbrook grazier Vicky Geddes sees value in systems-based research based on a high level of scientific rigour. Paddock preparation through cropping aids weed control before pasture establishment. Lucerne has been reintroduced after an association with EverGraze and the breaking of the drought. On-farm trials offer evidencebased results that mimic real-life challenges.

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Holbrook grazier Vicky Geddes uses science-based perennial pasture information to make on-farm changes that benefit the whole production system. (Photos: Pamela Lawson)

Holbrook Landcare Group and Department of Primary Industries extension officers. We also received local and national research extension material from various organisations. More recently we look to the internet to find more detail and background information about any new developments in pasture management, to see if and how they might best fit our production system. Our phalaris-based perennial pastures were originally established and managed according to trial results from Broadford, victoria. The trials focused on allowing phalaris to return to the four-leaf stage before grazing to maximise production and persistence. Much of the work now done by EverGraze® has built on these results, so I was keen to do an EverGraze rotational grazing course (Whole Farm Grazing Strategies) during 2010. The course was exceptional in terms of delivering the technical understanding of plant and animal needs and then fitting both into a whole-farm grazing system.

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The ethos of ‘Right plant, Right place, Right purpose, Right Management’ was also front and centre. My interest has now culminated in me being one of four producer representatives sitting on the EverGraze national Advisory Committee.

Monitoring performance We run 12,000–13,000 sheep, with a midwinter stocking rate of 20,000 dry sheep equivalents (DSEs) running on our grazing country at a rate of 15–18 DSE/ha. For most of the year, we rotationally graze our sheep in flocks of 2000 head. We add and remove trade cattle from the system according to seasonal feed availability, with 1000 head of cattle being traded during 2010. To monitor pasture performance, we keep records for each paddock, showing flock numbers (as DSEs), days they grazed the paddock and the subsequent rest period.

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This information, as well as other EverGraze tools, helps us plan future rotations and feed budgets, and determines the fertiliser needs of each paddock.

necessary, so no longer conserve any fodder in the form of silage or hay.

it certainly fits well with our production system.

Return to lucerne

We used to follow a typical routine fertiliser program thought suitable for the local area, but now use the potential carrying capacity and past performance of a paddock to strategically apply phosphorus.

One of the most significant changes we are making to our pasture program, following our association with EverGraze and the drought breaking, is to reintroduce lucerne.

It is really important to establish a stable production system, so the benefits of new technologies can be fully realised.

Our rotation records also identify underperforming paddocks quickly, allowing us to assess when best to bring them into our cropping rotation. Through Holbrook Landcare I have also just completed a pilot phosphorus training course developed by nSW DpI (5 Easy Steps), which was extraordinarily good. It dramatically increased my scientific knowledge of phosphorus in our system and more importantly, the economics of production curves and phosphorus application rates.

Cropping supports productive pastures Cropping is an increasingly integral cog in our pasture renovation program — it also helps to fill the autumn–winter feed gap. We have had success retaining stubble to conserve summer rainfall, allowing us to sow early and have early autumn feed available. If paddocks are suitable, we crop for five to six years before sowing pasture. The less suitable cropping paddocks are sown sooner. We are still exploring whether it is best to go straight from cereals into pasture or tack on a grazing brassica as the last clean-up phase before pasture.

The right mix We are assessing where to head next with phalaris varieties and perennial species. During the past two autumns we have had rust in one of our phalaris varieties and want to avoid a varietal or species monoculture in case something untoward happens and we lose or degrade this great pasture asset. This year we are sowing a winter-active fescue in a wetter paddock, which will help fill our autumn and winter feed gap, and we have two paddocks down to phalaris. Recent varieties include the new Advanced AT, which is more acid tolerant than previous varieties, as well as Grazier, Holdfast and Australian II. The mix also includes subclover, bladder clover and cocksfoot. With a predominantly sheep operation, we prefer to supplementary feed grain if

Before the drought, we had a couple of stands of lucerne, but they were too small to manage appropriately and did not satisfy our weaner summer feed requirements. During the drought these stands did not persist and lucerne fell off our radar for a while as we replaced failed stands with grazing brassicas for late spring–early summer weaner feed. But the trial results from the Wagga Wagga EverGraze proof Site rekindled our interest in returning lucerne to our system. I’m particularly impressed by its superior dry matter (DM) production compared to phalaris and how well it stacks up economically compared with establishing a brassica crop each year. This time we will aim for a larger total area of lucerne, which will give us greater scale for production and allow optimal management. We will also select a variety that is better balanced for production and persistence. While we will still use brassicas to clean up paddocks before pasture if necessary, during the next 3–4 years we aim to sow 10–15% of our pasture system to lucerne. My one lingering concern about lucerne is its low ground cover on our sloping country. We are still exploring companion species, but the best advice so far is to sow winter-active fescue into the older stands when plant densities drop below our desired threshold. This should also make it easier to manage our grazing, by providing a transition pasture when rotating stock from our fescue/clover and phalaris/clover pastures to pure lucerne, hopefully keeping the gut flora happy.

We want to learn to manage our baseline system really well and then incorporate new technologies as we tweak production in different areas. I think you can expend a lot of energy chasing the newest fad, without having perfected what you are already doing. The idea of a stable yet progressive production system based on a whole-system approach is also integral to coping with future challenges, such as climate variability. If you know your system well, you are better equipped to manage extreme dry or wet as you know how your system copes. Our job as primary producers is to set the right system up, understand how it works and then manage it for resilience. producers need to continually ask themselves what change is needed (to fill a feed gap for example), what they want from this change (such as improved production, reduced costs or more leisure time), what resources are available and whether they can manage this change well and profitably. Then it is the role of information providers to equip producers with enough knowledge to implement these changes and get the day-to-day management right. This will allow producers to react quickly and change things, such as grazing management, as needed before costly mistakes are made.”

For the Science Behind the story read Lucerne — the model perennial option on pages 8 and 9.

• EverGraze — More livestock from

perennials is a Future Farm Industries CRC, MLA and AWI research and delivery partnership. For further information, go to www.evergraze.com.au

New technologies A new technology we have trialled is gibberellic acid, which we used during the drought to great effect. It was brilliant after a late autumn break (when winter feed was short) to boost dry matter production in the phalaris, especially in lambing paddocks that had been locked up. Although we would not use it every year,

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• vicky Geddes T: 0408 519 470 E: vicky@geddes.net.au

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Lucerne — the model perennial option K

nowing how much of a good thing is enough is always a tricky question, but recent EverGraze research results are adding weight to modelling work investigating optimal lucerne areas in perennialbased grazing systems in south-eastern Australia. Research results from five years of EverGraze trials at the Wagga Wagga new South Wales proof Site show that across a contrasting range of seasonal conditions more is better when it comes to lucerne in a spring lambing meat-Merino system. Such a system allows for higher ewe numbers during winter, but can require high rates of supplementary feeding in failed springs or autumns. According to EverGraze proof Site leader Michael Friend (CSU), these results will prove valuable for validating modelling across a wider range of pasture and grazing system scenarios in the coming years. And regardless of the proportion, Michael is convinced lucerne is an essential component of local grazing systems. “During the past five years lucerne has proven to be both productive and persistent

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Research results from the Wagga Wagga EverGraze Proof Site support, in the main, results from complementary modelling work. Results suggest that a greater proportion of lucerne (40% vs 20% of the farm) in a perennial-based spring-lambing system was beneficial across a range of seasonal conditions (2006–2010). These findings will allow research to continue modelling work with confidence to investigate the impacts of altering the proportion of lucerne on the returns from a range of livestock enterprises.

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Researchers at the Wagga Wagga EverGraze Proof Site have been impressed with lucerne’s ability to perform across a contrasting range of seasonal conditions. (Photos: EverGraze)

By Catriona Nicholls Kondinin Group

under drought conditions, but last year’s wet spring–summer allowed it to add even more value to the livestock system,” he said. The EverGraze proof Site set out to increase profitability in a dual-purpose Merino enterprise through higher stocking rates and weaning percentages to drive increased wool and meat per hectare. It also aimed to develop a system that was flexible enough to capitalise on good years and minimise the need for supplementary feeding during dry autumns and springs. “In addition to these goals, we set out to develop a robust grazing system that would reduce recharge, maintain a productive pasture composition resilient to weed invasion and provide groundcover year round,” Michael said. The proof Site was established during 2005 with lucerne, tall fescue and phalaris (each sown with sub-clover) in separate paddocks on a site with a long-term average rainfall of 620 mm.

Getting the balance right Under a spring lambing system, researchers were keen to investigate the relative benefits of various proportions of summer-active perennials in the system — in this case lucerne. “We ran our spring lambing flocks, consisting of Centreplus ewes joined 50:50 to terminal and Merino sires, on the 5 ha ‘farms’ where lucerne made up either 20% or 40% of the total farm area. The rest of the area was phalaris or tall fescue,” Michael explained. “Ewes were run at 8.5 ewes/ha and lambs were sold at weaning (three months post lambing) unless seasonal conditions allowed a longer finish — as was the case during 2010.” The average gross margin for 2006–2010 for the spring lambing enterprise with 40% lucerne was $176/ha compared with $118/ha for 20% lucerne (see Figure 1). “Even during the drought years, the 40% lucerne option outperformed the 20% option,” Michael said.

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“But the wetter spring/summer of 2010 really allowed the lucerne to shine.” “The high gross margin of the 40% lucerne system was due to more lamb produced per hectare in better rainfall years and less supplementary feed in poorer years (an average of 70 kg/ha less each year of the trial).” “not only were the gross margins greater, but the greater proportion of lucerne allowed for more flexibility in the system, with lambs able to be retained past weaning to be finished at heavier weights than the 20% lucerne system.”

Modelling supports practice preliminary modelling of the systems across a broader range of seasons supports the hard data from the trials — most of the time. “For a spring lambing Merino flock joined to terminal sires, modelling over a 40-year period (1971–2010) suggests no difference in gross margin between systems of 20% and 40% lucerne if lambs are sold at weaning (14 weeks),” Michael explained. “However, if lambs are retained until 23 weeks, the 40% lucerne system had a higher gross margin than 20% lucerne ($343/ha vs $299/ha).” “Unfortunately the model doesn’t allow us to alter weaning time depending on season — in practice the benefit of the 40% system would be greater if producers strategically sold the lambs at weaning in poorer years and retained them in better years — the benefit of having more lucerne in the system is that it provides the flexibility to do this.” “While our research looked at the benefits of more lucerne for spring lambing, modelling will look at the effects for other systems. For example, early modelling results for a self-replacing Merino flock lambing during July show a slight benefit in gross margin from having 40% lucerne compared with 20% lucerne in the system ($186/ha vs $176/ ha), and suggest the optimum percentage of the farm to have down to lucerne is

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about 40%, where the balance of the farm is predominantly phalaris.. “The modelling is showing that the value of extra lucerne to a farm will depend heavily on the type of enterprise run and its management.”

Future focus While on-the-ground research at the proof Site has finished, researchers will continue to model a whole range of scenarios on top of those already modelled. “The valuable thing is that the diverse range of seasons we experienced at the proof Site has provided the data to validate the models,” Michael said. “We will look at a wider range of lucerne in systems and try to identify the optimum composition to improve gross margins across a range of production systems.” “We have good hard data on how the pastures and the livestock performed.”

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“Unfortunately its widespread use is often limited by soil acidity, but the Future Farm Industries CRC (FFI CRC) is evaluating some exciting new summer-active perennial options that could be used in areas not suited to lucerne, such as tedera and birdsfoot trefoil. What we’ve learnt in EverGraze about the value of lucerne in the system should apply to other summer-actives. The potential benefit of these species will be further explored through modelling during the next three years.” “Lucerne produces high-quality feed with potentially a short payback period, depending on seasons, market prices and crop rotations.” Michael agrees that many producers are critical of commonly-stated payback periods of up to five years. “Time and time again I will hear producers say that lucerne paid for itself in the first year,” he said. “It’s all about tactical use and opportunity cost — lucerne provides producers with a tool to make management decisions and provides flexibility offered by few other existing options in this area.”

“prior to this our models were validated on pasture growth rates under different conditions and we extrapolated livestock performance, but this is a whole system approach.”

contact

Michael is confident farmer interest in lucerne is increasing — not just because of EverGraze results, but because the results have been widely apparent during the recent drought.

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

“Locally, lucerne persisted better than the other species at our proof Site during the drought, and people have a lot more confidence in establishing lucerne — it’s now seen as a bit of a safe bet,” he said. Figure 1 Gross margins for Wagga Wagga site for September lambing meat Merino 600 20% lucerne 40% lucerne

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Changing face of EverGraze®

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ack in 2003, EverGraze was a research idea initiated by the former Dryland Salinity CRC with Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA). A group of leading scientists was challenged to put forward a potential perennial pasture-based livestock system that could increase profit by 50% and halve the recharge to ground water. Over eight years EverGraze has developed more profitable, sustainable grazing systems tried out on many farms following the ‘Right plant, Right place, Right purpose, Right Management’ principle. Through this journey Angela Avery, victorian Department of primary Industries, has been the EverGraze national research and project leader. On 30 June this year, Angela finished her term with EverGraze to give herself time to concentrate on her other research responsibilities within DpI victoria. Kate Sargeant, also of DpI victoria, has stepped into the role of EverGraze project leader. Kate is the national extension leader for EverGraze and has been involved in the project for several years. She will now fulfil both roles in EverGraze — project leader and national extension leader. Dr paul Sanford, Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia (DAFWA) has been appointed as the new EverGraze research leader. paul has been Albany EverGraze Proof Site leader for five years and has extensive agricultural research experience. Kevin Goss, CEO of Future Farm Industries CRC, said Angela had been a superb leader and was confident the high standard she set would be maintained.

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“The CRC is fortunate to have people like Angela, Kate and paul in these leadership roles,” he said.

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“On behalf of all EverGraze participants, I most sincerely thank Angela Avery for her superb leadership and remarkable achievements. And I assure everyone that EverGraze remains in good hands.”

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Table 1 Effect of proportion of lucerne on production and feeding 2006–10 average

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*provisional analysis

contact

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

Source: EverGraze

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ISSUE 8 AUGUST 2011

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Profitable Perennials™ — an overnight success in the making

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By Kevin Goss

look forward to the day when Profitable Perennials™, the banner of Future Farm and Future Farm Industries Cooperative Research Centre (FFI CRC), are claimed to be an overnight success. When that happens, it will be 30 years in the making. Farmers’ success stories in this magazine and the good science behind those stories are at the leading edge of how dryland agriculture will adapt and use land sustainably across southern Australia. Until a decade ago the challenge of adaptation was most evident in tackling dryland salinity in Western Australia and stream salinity in the Murray-Darling Basin. plant research within FFI CRC and the former CRC for plant-Based Management of Dryland Salinity (CRC Salinity) has evolved from its salinity management origins to a commitment to develop innovative perennial plant-based farming systems for the meat, grain, wool and bio-energy industries.

Salty origins As early as 1924, it was recognised in WA that clearing native vegetation led to dryland salinity — excess leakage of rainfall to groundwater —because of consequent

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Perennial plant-based research has evolved from a focus on salt management to the development of productive perennial-based systems. The Profitable Perennials™ concept is designed to provide systems that balance economic and environmental benefits. Farmer engagement in the research process will help drive acceptance and adoption of technologies currently being developed.

ISSUE 8 AUGUST 2011

CEO, Future Farm Industries CRC

rising groundwater. From the 1970s dryland salinity started to have devastating impacts on wheatbelt farms, on natural habitats in conservation reserves and remnant vegetation, on potential water supply from rivers, and on buildings and roads. Within a decade dryland salinity spawned the Landcare movement in victoria and WA, and by the 1990s southern states had dryland salinity policies, strategies or plans. In the Murray-Darling Basin there was the spectre of rising stream salinity in the upland catchments. There was concern that if left uncontrolled this could undo the successful reversal of rising River Murray salinity that had earlier damaged irrigated crops. Analysis of trend data for stream salinity to 1995 followed by the 1999 Basin Salinity Audit quantified these threats and pointed to the need for a new whole-of-catchment salinity management strategy. The conventional wisdom of the day was to tackle the cause of dryland salinity through tree planting and greater water use. This became a dominant theme of Landcare. From the 1990s an awkward new research finding started to emerge. Hydrological modelling for WA’s Salinity Action Plan concluded that the desired revegetation of 10-20% of farm land would not significantly control the onset of salinity. The scale of tree planting to restore water balance would be too daunting, even at revegetation levels that could make a difference — 70-80% of farm land, which would trade off profitable agriculture — this could take hundreds of years. In the Murray-Darling Basin, where security of water supply in an over-allocated system was the main concern, the conversion of farm land to plantation forestry in the higher rainfall zone could result in marked reductions in surface water flow and a resultant rise, rather than decrease, in stream salinity.

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After more than 40 years working at the forefront of salinity research and mitigation, Future Farm Industries CRC’s retiring CEO Kevin Goss (centre) reflects on the role perennial plants can play in profitable and sustainable farming systems. (Photo: FFI CRC)

During 2004, the national Dryland Salinity program’s (nDSp) Breaking Ground report concluded that revegetation for dryland salinity management remained an important option but its scale and placement needed careful evaluation. Sustained R&D on profitable solutions for farmers would be necessary before incentives for farm practice change could be offered. And, living with salinity was inevitable. These messages from decades of research, monitoring and analysis are the raison d’être for FFI CRC and its predecessor the CRC Salinity — two national joint ventures of the major R&D organisations in WA, victoria, new South Wales and South Australia.

Profitable Perennials™ We are now 10 years into the Profitable Perennials™ R&D program, which is designed to provide perennial plant-based systems that balance economic and environmental benefits — pasture-based grazing systems, perennials in cropping systems, new fodder shrubs, and a new woody biomass option. The aim is to do more than address dryland salinity through groundwater management. Our goal is to offer farmers new systems and technologies with a large enough profit increase to overcome the risks involved in changing land use. And, through their largescale adoption, sustain natural resources, water quality and quantity, and biodiversity, while adapting to climate variability. The Profitable Perennials™ concept is innovative, well supported by farmers and owes a lot to the creativity of agricultural and environmental scientists in our leading R&D organisations. When the Murray-Darling Basin Commission was preparing the 2001 Murray-Darling Basin Salinity Management Strategy to

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Figure 1 The FFI CRC Profitable Perennials TM vision for radical land-use change address the new salinity threat in tributary rivers, it commissioned CSIRO to write two seminal reports that distilled the scientific understanding of the time. The first — Effectiveness of Current Farming Systems in the Control of Dryland Farming Systems — quantified the limits of current farming practices in water use. The second — A Revolution in Land Use: Emerging land use systems for managing dryland salinity — advocated the development of a suite of novel land uses matched to the diverse climate, soils and hydrological conditions of the Basin. These included diversified, commercial tree production; new farming systems with a perennial component; new adapted crop and forage options; refined land assessment techniques to best locate them; and new tools for monitoring plant performance and water use. As part of this thinking, from 2001 CRC Salinity’s Florasearch project assessed a wide range of Australian native plants for their production potential — for wood, fodder and oils. This led directly to the Enrich program, as featured in Future Farm Issue 7, April 2011. CRC Salinity’s genesis of EverGraze ­— regularly reported in Future Farm, including this issue — responded to the call for a ‘revolution in land use’ by challenging a multi-disciplinary group of scientists to design a perennial-pasture based livestock production system capable of increasing farm profit by 50% and decreasing leakage to groundwater by 50%. The transition from CRC Salinity to FFI CRC took up broader messages too — R&D carried out in partnership with farmers to provide perennial plant-based options for all parts of the farm and catchment for commercial and multiple natural resource management benefits. Five farming systems — EverGraze, Enrich, EverCrop, Energy Tree Cropping, and Saltland Systems — are under test for profitability and water use goals in different zones and regions, and now with measured impacts for water resources, biodiversity, climate adaptation and in some cases carbon bio-sequestration and mitigation of methane emissions. However, as we know, Australian agriculture does not stand still — its track record of innovation, technological change and productivity growth to adapt to economic squeezes has been superior to most other industry sectors. And so it should be with Profitable Perennials™. A choice of perennial plant technologies to cover the range of climates, soils and enterprises is required for farmers to manage price and climate risks while changing to these new farming systems and for those systems to continue to grow in productivity. FFI CRC has sustained, but narrowed down, the selection and breeding of new Profitable Perennials™ cultivars and species to generate more production and profit per hectare.

Source: FFI CRC

The Profitable Perennials™ illustration (see Figure 1) best portrays the vision for a ‘radical change in land use’. In different regions it covers all parts of the farm and the catchment. While the five farming systems are major departures from current practices, they fit well with existing grazing and cropping systems. There are new technologies in the pipeline to assist farmers to make changes at lower risk. The natural resource outcomes are achievable and the benefits are predictable.

Personal reflection My professional journey as an agricultural and social scientist in research management and policy advice mirrors the path to Profitable Perennials™. Through my employment with the then WA Department of Agriculture and Murray-Darling Basin Commission, I grappled with how best to assist farmers and protect natural resources facing the dryland salinity threat and was heavily involved in the aforementioned events. More recently, in charge of two CRCs, I have gained satisfaction from the evolution of research and its application to innovative solutions for the whole farm, adapting to climate variability. With best endeavours by FFI CRC’s participating R&D organisations, these innovative farming systems could be on 5-6 million hectares, that’s about 10% of the farming regions of southern Australia, by 2030. While I’m confident the Profitable Perennials™ program will achieve this target, there are uncertainties. The job is not done yet, and neither will it be when FFI CRC completes its work during 2014. This is at least a 30-year journey in the hands of readers of Future Farm — farmers,

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their consultants and advisers, and our R&D partners. Farmers need the right years and right prices to switch to these new farming systems. They are complex, which is known to slow the rate of adoption. Individual perennial plant technologies (new cultivars and new species) provide a simpler, safer route. However these technologies alone can’t deliver the changes needed — they need the whole farming system to extract maximum value. Encouragingly, such a system change has been achieved before — today, about 90% of grain growers practice no-till cropping. This too is a system change, achieved through cumulative adoption of many new technologies. The commercial release of selective herbicides was pivotal. Could it be that the range of Profitable Perennials™ cultivars in the pipeline is the ‘selective herbicide’ equivalent for adoption of EverGraze, Enrich, EverCrop, Energy Tree Cropping and Saltland Systems? Like no-till cropping, farmers will adopt and adapt these farming systems successfully across millions of hectares by 2030, looking very different to today’s technologies.

• Kevin will leave the FFI CRC helm in

September. Peter Zurzolo, who has been FFI CRC’s Commercial Manager since 2009, will replace Kevin as CEO.

contact

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

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future farm Pasture agronomist Dr Roshan Thapa (CSU) has developed a management package that provides producers with a cost-effective tool to renovate perennial grass pastures. (Photo: Bimla Bashyal)

Boosting pasture production — the natural way

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armers in south-eastern Australia can increase the perennial grass content of their pastures using a cost-effective management system. The management system, developed through a Future Farm Industries CRC-funded research project, can be used to stimulate seedling recruitment of desirable perennial grasses within existing pastures in the 600–800 mm rainfall zone of south-eastern Australia. pasture agronomist Dr Roshan Thapa, (Charles Sturt University) developed the management package from his phD research and says practices to encourage recruitment cost much less than re-sowing new pasture. “Many permanent pastures across southern Australia contain less than 20% perennial grass species and have been overcome by annual pasture species and weeds — severely reducing carrying capacity,” Roshan said. But re-sowing degraded pastures at a cost of about $300 per hectare is usually unprofitable and difficult due to steep terrain across much of south-eastern Australia. “Improving paddocks through natural seedling recruitment costs only a tenth of that required to re-sow a new pasture because fewer inputs are required. And when desirable perennial grasses make up 60% of

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Encouraging perennial grass seedling recruitment through management can be a far more cost-effective option than re-sowing pastures. When perennial grasses make up at least 60% of the pasture composition, stocking rates and subsequent livestock production can be increased significantly. Select a relatively weed-free paddock in which to implement the strategy.

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“We imposed a range of treatments from grazing through to pasture cutting (simulating grazing), soil scarification and irrigation across two seasons to determine the conditions and procedures that maximised seed production and seedling recruitment of the desirable grasses,” Roshan said. The results were integrated into a decision support tree designed to guide producers wanting to stimulate perennial grass recruitment within their pasture paddocks.

Promoting seed set

By Janet Paterson Kondinin Group

the pasture composition, livestock production will increase, either through greater carrying capacity or more production per head.” Estimates for some native perennial grass pastures in new South Wales suggest livestock production could be more than doubled in the medium term, depending on soil characteristics.

Recipe for success According to Roshan, successful seedling recruitment depends on three factors: 1. Removal of stock from selected paddocks during spring to promote seed set. 2. After seed has matured and been shed, enough rain to keep the top 50 cm of soil moist for 10 days. 3. A light soil scarification on hard-setting soils to foster a good germination rate. If required, insecticides can be used to control seed-harvesting ants (phalaris is particularly vulnerable to ant attack). producers also can apply sub-lethal herbicide doses at seed maturity to reduce competition during seedling recruitment. “Our analysis of the climate during the past 30 years for south-eastern Australia indicates that soil moisture conditions during February– March should favour seedling recruitment in most years,” Roshan said.

Field trials Roshan’s phD research focused on the native grasses red grass (Bothriochloa macra) and wallaby grass (Austrodanthonia spp.) and the introduced perennial grass, phalaris (Phalaris aquatica). He carried out a series of field trials in the central tablelands and nearby slopes of central nSW, where native perennial grasses are widespread and important for grazing (see Figure 1). Field sites containing a range of plant species were deliberately selected to assess the ability of red grass and wallaby grass to compete with annual grasses (their main competitor), other perennial grasses and broadleaf plant species.

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The starting step is to select a paddock during spring with sub-optimal perennial grass content. When first using the management system it is best to choose a paddock with about 20–30% perennial grass content and one without major weed issues. “Selecting a better paddock to work with in the first instance provides faster rates of improvement and quick seed production that is then available to harvest and redistribute to poorer paddocks,” Roshan explained. Few seeds of perennial grasses remain in the soil from previous seasons and it is best to assume seedling recruitment will depend predominantly on current seed set. Grazing therefore needs to be managed to encourage flowering and seed set. “To promote seed set producers need to remove stock and lock up the selected paddock by late spring to allow the grasses to flower and set seed and for that seed to mature and fall,” Roshan said.

Controlling weeds “Having a relatively weed-free paddock is a prerequisite for the recruitment strategy to succeed,” Roshan said. producers need to control annual grasses and seasonal weeds in the year before pasture improvement. If the paddock has a history of annual grass issues a sub-lethal dose of a selective-grass herbicide treatment can be used at seed maturity without impacting on desirable grass seedling recruitment. In much of the landscape, where native grasses are widespread, there will only be occasional issues with annual grasses. The more serious problem, particularly in central nSW, is serrated tussock (Nassella trichotoma), which will out-compete perennial grass seedlings. Current control recommendations are to spot spray individual plants, minimising collateral damage to desirable species.

Soil moisture Roshan advises producers to monitor seasonal conditions carefully through December and January. The research showed that unless 40% of the average December–January rainfall is received the chances of obtaining an

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Figure 1 Perennial grass seedling recruitment trial sites

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of new seedlings. This can be done using harrows dragged behind a vehicle.

153°E

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Adapted from: R Thapa, phD thesis

Climate analyses indicate that a significant rainfall event during late February or early March resulted in sufficient soil moisture for seedling establishment. Maximum seedling establishment occurred with 15 days of moist soil in the top 5 cm, with a maximum of two dry days during this period. The minimum condition for any seedling recruitment was at least seven days of soil moisture. “Our analysis suggests that in most years some recruitment will occur and if possible it is best to rest selected paddocks from spring

“There appears to be an upper limit for soil litter of about 1000–2000 kilograms of dry matter per hectare above which seedling recruitment is diminished,” Roshan said.

Rates of improvement 35°S

adequate seed set are low — in which case the paddock should be opened to livestock.

The availability of bare ground and low litter is a crucial requirement for effective seedling recruitment with a bare ground proportion of 30–50% offering the greatest advantage — particularly during dry years.

through to late March (seasonal conditions permitting) to maximise the opportunity for successful establishment,” Roshan explained. “We also found that no seedlings emerged after autumn or winter rain, showing there is usually only one germination event after grass seeds have matured during summer.”

Promoting germination Roughing up the soil surface by harrowing, especially on hard-setting soils, increases the locations where seeds can lodge and germinate, thus enhancing emergence

In the first year of applying the management tactics, a conservative rate of increase in perennial grass content is likely to be 0–20% of the total mass of dry matter produced. “It will take 4–5 years to reach a target of 60% desirable perennial grasses, if there is an average of 10% improvement per year,” Roshan explained.

• The Establishing perennial pastures

fact sheet can be found at www.futurefarmonline.com.au/ research/future-livestock-production/ perennial-pasture-establishment.htm

contact

• Dr Roshan Thapa, CSU T: (02) 6365 7799 E: rthapa@csu.edu.au

Research project tackles the tricky questions

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he FFI CRC’s Establishment of Perennial Pastures project was instigated to develop more reliable establishment packages for three types of perennial pasture species: (sub-tropical perennial grasses, saltbush species and native perennial grasses) and to enhance natural native perennial grass seedling recruitment. project leader, Dr phil nichols, Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia (DAFWA) said the experimental phase of the project finished during 2010 and since then the team has been preparing management packages and extension material from the research. “At the start of the project, seeding failures of sub-tropical perennial grasses in south-west WA were high and establishment often patchy, with an average establishment density of less than one plant per square metre,” phil explained.

“But less than four years on, establishment densities of 20–50 plants/m2 have consistently been achieved and there has been a widespread adoption of our management package for establishing sub-tropical perennial grasses.” The research team has also developed a method for direct seeding old man saltbush (Atriplex nummularia) using conventional farm machinery — enabling extensive planting at low cost. Methods to break seed dormancy in native grasses are now better understood. Treatments such as smoke water, gibberellic acid, heat, and floret manipulation used in the laboratory improved grass germination rates from 5–90% in some cases. “The next step is to translate these laboratory successes into the field and develop low-cost, reliable methods producers can use to improve germination rates at the paddock level,” phil said. Poor seed quality was identified as a major factor limiting perennial pasture establishment and phil believes an

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education program to raise awareness about seed quality issues is likely to have the greatest impact on increasing seed quality standards across the perennial pasture industry. “Successful perennial pasture establishment is underpinned by seed quality — without which even the best management package will be compromised,” he said.

• Additional funding for the Establishment of

perennial pastures project was provided by Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA), Australian Wool Innovation Limited (AWI) and the former Land and Water Australia (LWA). A Farm Note on Establishing sub-tropical perennial grasses is available at www. agric.wa.gov.au/objtwr/imported_assets/ content/past/pp/fn_key_steps_grasses.pdf

contact

• Dr Phil Nichols, DAFWA T: (08) 9368 3547 E: phil.nichols@agric.wa.gov.au

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future farm

Prioritising protects the perennial investment

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farm info .

hile the end of drought delivers long-awaited relief, rain is not always what is it cracked up to be — particularly if it won’t stop. victorian dairy farmer Darren Farley shares some of the challenges of the current wet conditions with Catriona nicholls and some strategies he employs to weather the storms.

Case study: Darren Farley Location: port Fairy, victoria Property size: 235 ha (across several properties) Mean annual rainfall: 652 mm Soils: A mix of sandy loams, black loam over limestone and heavy black cracking clay

Enterprises: 210–220 cow dairy

“Each year is different and throws up a different challenge — for the past few years the challenge was drought and we had to come up with ideas to deal with that — now we have completely saturated soils,” Darren said. “The soil moisture hasn’t left the root zone at all this season and we had a green summer — my father is in his 80s and he’s never experienced a green summer. And it’s not only the weather that has changed; stocking rates have increased and the ownership and structure of farms in the area have changed. We have an influx of farmers and farm managers who are relatively new to the area through corporate farms, or from new Zealand or the United Kingdom. These farmers are struggling to know how to manage the range of local conditions and seasons and we are seeing an increase in pasture degradation under prolonged soil saturation and more lameness and mastitis due to the sodden conditions.

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Ranking pastures for their importance in the system will allow for appropriate management to protect the most valuable pasture investments. Maintaining a strong feed wedge will help to ensure adequate groundcover in waterlogged conditions. A well-planned feed budget, incorporating supplementary feed to prevent overgrazing during wet conditions, will protect the homegrown feedbase and ensure cows are fed to meet production targets.

ISSUE 8 AUGUST 2011

Maintaining a good feed wedge (ground cover) is essential to protect saturated pasture paddocks from pugging according to Darren Farley (inset). (Photos: Darren Farley (inset) Clare Farley)

A combined approach One of the ways we are tackling these challenges is through the south-west regional extension committee (previously known as Target 10 committee) of which I am currently the chair. Committee members made up of farmers and service providers from across the region, gather information and monitor seasonal conditions in an attempt to influence extension providers to develop practical and sound solutions for farmers across south-west victoria. Our current focus has been developing solutions and strategies to help manage the wet conditions. We deliver our strategies to farmers through a mixed bag of extension channels including workshops with speakers, online material and printed information. These days the message will not hit all the people at once, but farmers talk to farmers, so the information is drip fed down the track.

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We also are trialling new methods of extension, such as online forums, with a recent successful forum on fertiliser applications — most progressive farmers will have internet access and be quite comfortable to get a podcast or participate in an online chat.

Guiding principles I would say that the principles of the DpI victoria-delivered Feeding Pasture for Profit program has been something that has really helped me manage the current saturated conditions. The program highlighted that it is critical to rank your pastures and understand how each paddock fits in terms of priority. new pastures are the best, then your longerterm perennials followed by your annuals and then the paddocks marked for renovation. you need to understand where you are going to put your cows and where your maximum investment and value is.

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Look after these paddocks first, treat them carefully and do not put cows on if it is really wet, or use an on–off grazing approach (graze for a couple of hours then take the cows off).

In the past I have listened to the hype over mixes, but I think you are better off to stick with one species per paddock, which makes pastures easier to manage.

Ideally you would have a feed pad you can move your cows onto, or you might have a road reserve or tracks — I haven’t got the luxury of any of those, but I do have stony barriers on which I feed silage to protect my better pastures.

We tend to sow our perennial ryegrass around the autumn break, somewhere around midMarch and we are usually grazing them six or eight weeks later. If the perennials go in late or are not ready to graze before the onset of winter I do not risk grazing until spring.

If you stuff up annuals it is not the end of the world, but you need to really look after your new perennials.

Staying undercover

Our pastures are predominantly perennial ryegrass, but we also have annual ryegrass and some cropping of brassicas, sorghums and millets on our lighter sandy loam country. Our feed gap is during summer — our perennial ryegrass has usually shut down by Christmas so silage and crops get us through to the autumn break, with some irrigation when required. Having said that, during recent years I have been putting some of the cropping area back into perennials on a rotation, rather than continually using annuals. Even on the cropping soils I am starting to put in perennials to get a longer break — with good management perennials are persistent.

The other key tool to protect saturated paddocks is to ensure a consistent feed wedge — lots of cover on the ground to stop the cows going straight through to the mud. It is all about knowing the growth rates and how these will change throughout the year and under changing seasonal conditions. At the moment (during winter) we have a long rotation (50–60 days compared with a 14–15 day rotation on annuals during spring) because growth rates are slower due to high moisture, cold conditions and fewer sunlight hours. It is critical to understand the impacts of seasonal conditions on growth rates — timing of rotation and planning are crucial.

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It is important to then stick to that rotation — don’t speed it up because the cows are hungry. To get a long rotation the cows need feed, you’ve got to have a good feed wedge, but you still need to feed the cows to achieve your production targets. You need to have a feed budget to ensure you have a good supply of quality supplementary feed to support the animals and protect the pasture base. I have found the easiest, quickest and most cost-effective way, with no waste, is to put supplementary feed through the bale as pellets or grain.

Industry outlook Like all agricultural industries, dairying has its ups and downs. Ours is a fourth generation dairy farm, but I came to farming late after a stint as a computer programmer — I might have retired now if I’d stuck with it, but life in a large city wasn’t for me. Lots of dairy farmers have jumped ship and some are still leaving — but if you can stick at it I believe food security will become a serious issue and as a result farmers will be paid and treated with the respect they deserve.

science behind the story

By James O’Brien, Landmark Pty Ltd

• Recent research by DPI Victoria

in south-west Victoria sought to identify the effects of pugging by dairy cows on pasture and soil.

Other management options, including those Darren is incorporating, include onoff grazing, regular movement of electric fences and slowing the rotation.

Medium–heavy pugging reduced the perennial ryegrass tiller density by 41% up to 49 weeks after the pugging, whereas light pugging did not.

On-off grazing allows cows to graze for 2–4 hours before removing them to a holding area. This could be a yard, laneway, sacrifice paddock or feedpad.

Medium-heavy pugging during winter reduced pasture yield in the following spring by 40–42%, and pasture utilisation by 34–40%.

This strategy, using laneways and sacrifice paddocks, will meet with limited success if the wet conditions extend over a long period. There will be high levels of wastage of supplementary hay and silage, laneways will be damaged and herd health issues will likely occur.

Heavy pugging also reduced soil macroporosity at 0–50 mm depth by 9%, 49 weeks after the treatment was imposed. Time spent grazing was reduced under heavy pugging conditions. The cows on heavy pugging plots spent 46% of their time walking, standing and lying (without grazing), compared to cows in light pugging conditions that only spent 29% of their time in these activities.

The alternative to using sacrifice paddocks or laneways is to construct a feed pad. However the two main constraints to installing a feed pad are cost and location.

Farmers can employ a range of strategies to minimise the effects of pugging.

A number of farmers in the district have installed feed pads during the past 12 months. For an average herd-size, the cost can easily amount to $150,000 or more. This includes concrete, feeders, steel work and wash down systems.

Reducing stocking rates is one option, but unless this reduction is quite severe, pugging still occurs. Moreover, a small reduction in stocking rate can have a significant negative impact on farm income.

In addition to cost, feed pads need to be located with environmental factors in mind. A feed pad needs to be close to the dairy, for ease of management, and preferably slope towards the effluent system, so recycled water from the

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second pond can be re-used for washdown purposes. Slowing the rotation, using supplementary feed during autumn, allows producers to build up a feed wedge before winter. This has two flow-on benefits. First, it increases the amount of feed available at grazing, which means the cows require less time grazing to consume requirements. Thus, the cows can be moved off the pasture sooner. Secondly, pugging damage is reduced when the pasture is longer — use nitrogen fertiliser during autumn to increase the feed wedge. Whatever option is chosen, it is important to protect the most valuable assets first.

• James O’Brien is an agronomist with Landmark, based at Timboon and Cobden in south-west Victoria.

contact

• James O’Brien

Landmark Pty Ltd, Vic T: 0429 960 821 E: james.obrien@landmark.com.au

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The final word

Reprinted with permission from the Weekly Times. First appeared in the Weekly Times, 13 July 2011.

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Future Farm Issue 8 August 2011  

August 2011 Issue of Future Farm Industries CRC Innovation in profitabel perennial farming systems