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ISSUE 9 OCTOBER 2009

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PERENNIALS

in this issue

2 Native pastures under the microscope

4 EverTrain™ makes tracks in adult education

Science seeks greater tolerance

8 EverCrop™ delivers flexible cropping systems

The search for salt-tolerant rhizobia spreads to Spain I N N O V A T I O N

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LEFT: Market research suggests producers are keen to learn more about native pastures. (Photo: Meredith Mitchell, DPI Victoria)

Kate believes the message for the EverGraze extension team is the need for a troubleshooting component into current grazing management courses to accommodate the needs of stock and pastures in a grazing management plan and calendar.

Native pastures strike a chord

“We also need to develop some economics around the different triggers for removing stock, which are outlined in the EverGraze native pasture management fact sheet,” Kate said. “There is a possible market for extension to promote the benefits of strategic grazing, providing practical steps for implementation, but recognising that producers are already consciously managing their native pastures.

By Catriona Nicholls

“We were keen to determine the potential market for our messages and research by investigating producers’ current attitudes and practices,” Kate said. “The investigation also allowed us to determine some evaluation benchmarks for our Supporting Sites.” Kate focussed her investigations on the current use of phosphorus fertiliser, attitudes towards native perennial pastures, the current use of a range of perennial species in existing grazing operations, grazing practices and preferences, the management of hill country and lamb marking percentages.

Phosphorus — spreading the news Across the regions surveyed, producers seem more likely to apply phosphorus on a regular basis to their low-lying and undulating pastures and not so regularly on their steep, hilly pastures, most often dominated by native pastures (see Figure 1).

 key points • • •

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Recent market research has uncovered producer attitudes towards perennial pastures Producers across Australia are keen to manage their native perennial pastures better and to learn more about them Results from the market research will help drive the National EverGraze Extension Program.

focus focusO ON NP PE ER RE EN NN NI AI AL SL S

Steep learning curve Investigations into grazing practices on hilly country revealed that many producers have difficulty managing environmental triggers (groundcover and feed availability) for removing stock in these areas in conjunction with production triggers.

Setting the scene Overall, respondents seem sold on the benefits of rotational grazing, but 45 per cent of respondents still use set stocking, according to Kate.

“Producers clearly identify and appreciate “A small proportion of respondents agreed that rotational grazing improves persistence that they graze stock more heavily on hills and production of perennials, provides during spring to control annuals,” Kate said. “But most remove stock from hills to lamb or calve allowing annuals to set seed, to provide winter feed FIGURE 1. Frequency of phosphorus fertiliser application by land class — transferring grazing pressure to more productive areas in the landscape.” Every year Every 2 years “Most producers also admit that they use grazing management in their hilly country to increase or maintain native pasture content in addition to maintaining groundcover and weed control.”

Every 3–5 years

60 50 Per cent

Agronomist Kate Sargeant, Department of Primary Industries, Victoria (DPI Victoria) recently gathered information from 240 producers involved with EverGraze® — More livestock from perennials project Supporting Sites in Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria and northern New South Wales.

“At a Proof Site level, there is an opportunity to measure the effects of summer grazing of native grasses. We can then make sound recommendations for how producers can best use the valuable summer green pick the natives provide, while not damaging their persistence.”

“Further investigations revealed this trend was linked to economic factors and weed control, as opposed to a belief that native pastures would not respond or be damaged by phosphorus application,” Kate explained.

An overriding message coming from producers is that they are keen to learn more about managing native grasses (see Figure 2).

a

40

Never

b

b

30 20 10 0

Steep hills (n=114) a

Rolling/ Lowlands/flats undulating (n=201) b (n=193) b

FIGURE 2. Attitudes and practices relating to native grasses* 60

Strongly disagree

53%

50 Percent

A

ccording to the latest market research, producers are keen to increase their knowledge about perennial pastures and incorporate both native and introduced species into their livestock enterprises.

KONDININ GROUP

37%

40

15%

17%

20 0

Agree

Strongly agree 44%

40%

37%

31%

27%

30 10

Disagree

8% 1%

Native good summer green pick (mean = 4)

1%

14% 13%

16% 6% 2%

11% 4%

25%

23%

22% 15%

9%

1%

5%

2%

4%

Use grazing Not enough Unsure how Cannot Not Keen to management natives to to manage identify productive learn more to increase worry about natives natives and best (mean = 4.2) (mean = 3.7) (mean = 2.4) (mean = 3) (mean = 2.3) replaced (mean = 2.8)

*Note: Respondents who answered “does not apply or no opinion” are not represented in these graphs.

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greater groundcover, allows for more even grazing and winter pasture growth and helps maintain native grass species,” Kate said.

FIGURE 3. Producer attitudes toward pasture species

When questioned about the triggers used to identify the need to move stock to the next paddock in a rotation, producers revealed they were using proven triggers such as kilograms of dry matter per hectare (kgDM/ha) and leaf stage, skills used in programs such as Beefcheque, Prograze and Sustainable Grazing Systems. “This is exciting as it shows that producers are using the skills learnt through our extension programs.” Kate said.

Appreciating perennials As Kate dug deeper to better understand attitudes toward particular species she found that phalaris is the most widely accepted and used species across most regions (see Figure 3). “Of all the winter-active perennials, producers rated phalaris* highest for production and environmental benefits, except in terms of winter production in south-west Victoria, where perennial ryegrass rated higher,” Kate said. The message is to focus on educating for better phalaris establishment, minimise weed risks and to use phalaris as the benchmark when comparing alternative species. Producers also lack a strong understanding of the benefits or production requirements of tall fescue (winter or summer-active) so this also could be a market for further extension.

Getting active over summer There is still significant potential for lucerne across a wide range of uses including:

Hay or silage production for on-farm use of sale

• • •

Green feed during summer

• •

Drought management

Filling the summer/autumn feed gap Fodder to maintain or finish young stock during summer Improving soil health and nitrogen availability.

Most producers are not using their lucerne pasture as a specific tool to manage salinity, maintain breeding stock, as part of their cropping rotation, to maintain groundcover, or to increase ewe and cow nutrition levels before joining.

Cocksfoot

P ryegrass

W fescue

N grasses

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50

“A significantly higher proportion of mixed sheep and cattle properties used set stocking compared to those running sheep or beef only. The mixed enterprises also ran less intensive rotations with less paddocks. “The practical restrictions to rotational grazing mean we need to focus now on implementation strategies, rather than selling the benefits when delivering rotational grazing workshops.”

Phalaris

60

“Managing several mobs and poor access to water points were identified as key reasons that grazing management was restricted or impractical on some properties.

40 30 20 10 0

Persisted well

Deep rooted

Drought tolerant

Autumn/ Responds winter to summer production rain

Good nutrition

Ground cover

Lucerne isn’t the only summer-active option available and about 20% of respondents were interested in using summer actives but don’t know enough about other options. Encouragingly, 85% said they were interested in learning more.

advanced strategy is in place in Victoria, and a similar process will follow in other States. The findings will also be used to design new EverGraze training packages for grazing management and pasture establishment to be rolled out early next year.

Current reasons for not sowing summer-active perennials were:

*Phalaris — The FFI CRC Weed Risk Assessment team cautions producers to manage the environmental weed risk posed by phalaris. For more information on the weed risk status of phalaris go to www. futurefarmcrc.com.au/weed_risks.html

• • • •

Concern about high establishment costs (all species) Don’t know enough about it (this was more significant for smaller farms and kikuyu and chicory) Soils not appropriate (lucerne) Insufficient summer rainfall (all species).

Findings from the study have been presented to the EverGraze extension team and used to tailor the national extension plan. An

EverGraze — More livestock from perennials is a FFI CRC, AWI and MLA research and delivery partnership.

More information Kate Sargeant, DPI Vctoria T: (03) 5735 4352 E: kate.sargeant@dpi.vic.gov.au

Fellowship recognises post-graduate perennial work

M

eredith Mitchell, Proof Site leader for the Albury/ Wodonga EverGraze site was recently awarded the highlycontested AW Howard Memorial Research Fellowship. The award recognises students who have a research project pertaining to the development, management and use of pastures.

“Microlaena is one of the most useful of the native grass species found in farmers’ paddocks, but despite this, little is known about the basic ecology of the species.”

Meredith has worked for 20 years for the Victorian Department of Primary Industries. During that time she has established a reputation for her skills and knowledge about Australian native grasses.

“Microlaena stipoides is widespread in the native pastures of south-eastern Australia, although its proportion is arguably less than it could be.”

Meredith has been involved in research aimed at devising management strategies that improve the profitability of native pastures while protecting them from degradation. She also has a long history in native grassland research that includes evaluation of native and low input grass species. “My studies will deal with important attributes of Microlaena in grazing systems, particularly how it survives prolonged summer water deficit and some of the basic population level information needed to understand its behaviour,” Meredith said.

“On many farms, a proportion of the land is suited to high input, introduced pasture systems, while other land is better (or only) suited to lower input pastures, typically dominated by native species.

After completing her PhD, Meredith hopes to provide new findings that farmers can use to better manage this species. Meredith has started her doctoral studies at Charles Sturt University (CSU) with assistance from CSU and FFI CRC. The $15,000 AW Howard Memorial Research Fellowship bursary will help finance Meredith’s research and field experiments.

More information Meredith Mitchell, DPI Victoria T: (02) 6030 4579 E: meredith.mitchell@dpi.vic.gov.au

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EverTrain® makes tracks in saltland education ABOVE: Participants are briefed at a saline site at Brinkley, SA before developing a management plan as part of the 2008 South Australian Salinity Concepts and Management workshop (Photos: Damien Doyle, I&I NSW).

By Kylie Nicholls Kondinin Group

T

he innovative EverTrain® learning program is up and running with regional salinity workshops set to kick off during September this year. Launched by the Future Farm Industries CRC (FFI CRC), the national online EverTrain program provides users with a flexible approach to learning, using a combination of training via the internet and practical skills development. According to EverTrain project leader Deb Slinger, Industry and Investment, New South Wales (I&I NSW), EverTrain presents the latest research results from the FFI CRC in a usable form. Participants can go online and complete the learning before attending a regional workshop to get a local perspective. “The difficulty with workshops is that participants can have different levels of knowledge and understanding,” Deb said.

 key points • •

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The EverTrain project offers participants a flexible learning approach using a combination of online training and practical workshops EverTrain can be tailored to specific regions and gives users the opportunity to achieve recognised accreditation, which could go towards a national qualification The EverTrain workshops, focused on salinity management, will be rolled out nationally during September this year, starting in Western Australia.

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“EverTrain allows participants to go online and complete the training and assessment material so they are all at the same level when they get to the workshop to complete the practical skills. “People are also time-poor these days and attending a four-day workshop can be difficult, so being able to complete part of the learning online before attending a one day practical workshop is an effective method of upskilling.” An important component of the EverTrain project is the opportunity for participants to be assessed and achieve accreditation towards a national qualification. “The online assessments will take the form of simple question and answers using multiple choice and Yes or No answers so participants can get an immediate response and an actual assessor is not necessary,” Deb explained. “The program is ideal for a range of users including researchers, university students, agronomists, extension officers and farmers.”

identify appropriate practices and technologies for managing salinity and develop a salinity management plan and monitoring program for a property. Results from an I&I NSW evaluation report on the workshop showed that 95 per cent of the participants agreed that the course content and delivery were well organised and delivered. Most of the participants felt their level of knowledge on salinity processes and management was good to very good after completing the training. Important skills learnt during the course included gaining a greater understanding of salinity management options and identifying salinity indicators in the paddock. Deb said due to the success of the EverTrain pilot training workshop, planning is underway for more salinity concept and management workshops to be held throughout southern Australia from September 2009 into 2010.

Pilot program success A pilot EverTrain regional training workshop was delivered in South Australia during 2008. The workshop focused on salinity concepts and management. It was co-ordinated by a local FFI CRC representative with assistance from the EverTrain National Assessment Services Team. Some of the learning outcomes from the workshop included being able to describe causes of salinity, identify indicators of salinity, sample and test water salinity,

RIGHT: Participants felt the training improved their ability to identify and assess salinity indicators. (Photo: Damien Doyle, I&I,NSW).

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Effective skill development Major participants in the pilot workshop were Landmark agronomists and according to Deb, feedback from them on the EverTrain learning portal system has been positive. Landmark is a FFI CRC participant. SA Landmark Agronomy Development Manager, Steve Watts was instrumental in organising Landmark agronomy staff to attend the pilot EverTrain salinity workshop. He believes the agronomists, from recent graduates to ones with more the five years experience, have benefited significantly from the workshop. “Our young graduates and agronomists hadn’t been exposed to that level of salinity training before so it was a real eye-opener for them, while our more experienced agronomists also gained some new skills. “It is difficult for our staff to have sufficient time for a four-day workshop so the EverTrain method is great. They can do the initial learning online in their own time before attending a workshop which really focuses on their skill development.

“The workshops’ timing is important for Landmark. Holding courses between November and February is our least busy time and the EverTrain delivery system has that flexibility to tailor it to our needs.” Currently, the EverTrain system focuses on salinity concepts and management, but information and research outputs are being developed on a wide range of topics including soil biology and soil carbon. EverTrain will also link in with other FFI CRC programs such as EverCrop, EverGraze, Saltland Knowledge Exchange and the Investment Framework for Environmental Resources (INFFER) project.

More information Deb Slinger, Industry & Investment, NSW T: (02) 6938 1901 E: deb.slinger@industry.nsw.gov.au W: www.evertrain.com.au

ABOVE: The innovative EverTrain learning program uses a combination of online education and practical skills development. A workshop participant is pictured testing groundwater salinity in the paddock. (Photo: Damien Doyle, I&I NSW).

EverTrain® develops salinity partnership T

he lack of a comprehensive course in salinity management has created an exciting, new education partnership between two Western Australian agricultural groups and the Future Farm Industries CRC (FFI CRC). The EverTrain® online training system will be used to deliver a saltland pasture workshop at Kellerberrin in WA during September of this year in conjunction with the CRC’s Saltland Knowledge Exchange project. According to Saltland Knowledge Exchange project leader, Dr Nick Edwards (SARDI), this is one of the first concrete examples of a partnership between the Wheatbelt NRM (formerly known as the Avon Catchment Council), the Saltland Pastures Association, and FFI CRC, specifically driven by continuing salinity issues. Dr Edwards hopes it will be the first of many future opportunities for the Saltland Knowledge Exchange project to forge new partnerships with local industry groups and develop training programs and workshops, tailored to specific regions. Through the EverTrain project, FFI CRC will deliver a range of online information for participants that can be accessed before or after each workshop.

By Kylie Nicholls Kondinin Group

“Participants in this pilot training program will learn the basics of salinity and how it can impact on different landforms as well as the terminology used in online EverTrain modules. The face-toface workshop will address what plants will grow in a particular salt-affected area, the agronomy of those species and how best to manage them,” Dr Edwards explained. “The workshop is designed to be interactive through a combination of presentations and field activities. “The advantage of the EverTrain module concept is that information can be tailored to specific regions. “Workshop participants will also be given information on a real-life salt-affected site and asked to develop a management plan. This task will enable us to test their abilities to bring course elements together in a practical situation.” While the Saltland Knowledge Exchange workshops will be launched in WA, the course will be suitable for other salt-affected areas in the southern states. The workshops are a key part of the Saltland Knowledge Exchange project and are strongly aligned to the project’s Saltland Genie website.

Dr Edwards said this initial workshop is targeted at Saltland Pastures Association Grower Support Advisors as well as other agronomists and advisory staff. Other versions will be developed for farmers and other target audiences in southern Australia. “The workshop should give participants the information and tools they need to have the confidence to go out and provide salinity management advice to farmers. This includes selecting and preparing sites, establishment of appropriate pasture species and managing these saltland pastures for persistence and production,” Dr Edwards said. The workshop is being run and funded by the Wheatbelt NRM, the Saltland Pastures Association, the Department of Agriculture and Food WA (DAFWA) and the Saltland Knowledge Exchange. The workshop delivery is being coordinated by DAFWA.

More information Dr Nick Edwards, Saltland Knowledge Exchange Project Leader T: (08) 8762 9184 E: nick.edwards@sa.gov.au W: www.saltlandgenie.org.au

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Spanning Spain for salt-tolerant rhizobia By Laureta Wallace Kondinin Group

T

ravelling to the other side of the world to search for elusive soil bacteria may not be everybody’s ideal overseas trip. However, for Department of Agriculture and Food Western Australia (DAFWA) senior researcher Dr Phil Nichols and South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) scientist Amanda Bonython it was all in the name of science. The aim of the mission was to uncover and collect salt-tolerant rhizobia for the promising pasture legume Melilotus siculus and to collect seed of other waterloggingand salt–tolerant species. The pair is a part of the Understorey: developing profitable pasture plants for saline environments project, which is a joint initiative between the FFI CRC, DAFWA and SARDI. Dr Nichols and Amanda successfully applied for two separate travel grants from the AW Howard Memorial Trust program. The trip was also partly funded by the FFI CRC.

 key points • • •

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More salt-tolerant rhizobia are needed to further develop promising legume Melilotus siculus Rhizobia collected from Melilotus siculus by researchers in Spain could be the solution to the species second-year performance woes If the rhizobia problem is solved Melilotus siculus may be commercially available within 4–5 years.

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Dr Nichols joined Amanda in London, en-route from a conference in France. “I presented a paper at the EUCARPIA Fodder and turfgrass congress on Melilotus siculus and two posters summarising other work with sub-clover and other annual legumes,” Dr Nichols said. “While there were other parts of the world we could have chosen to collect rhizobia, visiting Spain took us back to the origins of the first Melilotus siculus sighting and allowed us to take advantage of our established networks there.”

Background Research to date has identified the annual legume Melilotus siculus as the only pasture legume able to persist on highly-saline, waterlogged sites in Australia’s major agricultural regions. In trials, the species has performed well in the first year but its potential is being profoundly hampered by nodulation failure in the years after establishment (see Focus on Perennials Issue 7). Seedlings have been regenerating, but the commercial rhizobia are failing to survive the high surface salinity levels during summer. This results in a high proportion of stunted seedlings that fail to grow properly. To continue the species development researchers need to identify salt-tolerant rhizobium strains to complement those already under evaluation. “SARDI is currently investigating rhizobia obtained in SA from other Melilotus and annual medic species — as well as rhizobia collected from Melilotus siculus growing in Western Australia and Israel,” Amanda said. “But our mission was to collect rhizobia from host plants of Melilotus siculus growing in saline and waterlogged sites to give this promising pasture plant every

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ABOVE: DAFWA senior researcher Dr Nichols uncovers a patch of Melilotus siculus (Photo: Amanda Bonython) INSET: Dr Nichols and Amanda’s research path

chance of further development for Australian farming systems.”

Networking The first stop for Dr Nichols and Amanda was Alicante University, about 400 kilometres, south east of Madrid. The university is the base of Botany Prof. Segunda Ríos, who is currently working with senior DAFWA plant breeder Dr Daniel Real. “Dr Real and Prof. Ríos are collaborating on developing the perennial legume Tedera so it was useful to reacquaint with him and discuss the work we have been carrying out,” Dr Nichols said. Under the guidance of Prof. Ríos it was in the Oliva-Pego wetland that the first sighting of Melilotus siculus was made. “The area had once been used for growing rice but had become too saline.” Dr Nichols said the site proved to be typical of where they would find Melilotus siculus in other parts of Spain — marshy areas on the transition between relatively fresh water and saltland. “Where the plants were alive we collected live nodules and where they had dried off we took soil samples where the rhizobium cells had spread into the soil,” Dr Nichols said.

Tedera trials Amanda and Dr Nichols next stop was IMIDA— the agricultural research institute home of Enrique Correal, another researcher involved in developing Tedera, and Mercedes Dabauza

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Micó, who is currently on a three-month research visit to the University of Western Australia (UWA).

“We needed to hand thresh seed from pods and remove any dust or plant contamination for quarantine purposes,” Amanda explained.

“We added value to the trip by investigating Tedera trials at IMIDA and collecting more Tedera rhizobia for Dr Real,” Dr Nichols said.

“This also involved heating the samples to 60°C for 24 hours to kill any insects.”

“That was an important part of the whole experience — it wasn’t just about collecting rhizobia and seeds for our own research.

True to the laid-back nature of life in parts of Spain, Amanda said the research station only operated between 8.30am and 2.30pm.

“We networked and added value to other projects that our Australian colleagues are working on, while all the time keeping our eyes out for species that might warrant further investigation.”

“We only had limited time to process our samples and needed to stay until 8pm, which was a shock to our Spanish colleagues, but it was interesting to note the different cultural habits.”

Sussing out Seville

The seed collection was split three ways between DAFWA, SARDI and the Spanish seed gene bank.

Travelling south-west, the next stop was Doñana National Park, a world heritage wetland and bird nesting sanctuary — Spain’s equivalent to Kakadu. “This was a key site, as research before the trip showed that Melilotus siculus was present in the park,” Dr Nichols said. “We had to get written permission at a regional and national level for the whole trip and additional permission to collect in the park by providing authorities with details of our intended work. “The south of the park is extremely saline and to get into it we had to drive 50 km along the beach to the mouth of the Guadalquivir River. “At first we found no legumes, then a lot of other less-desirable Melilotus species, such as Melilotus sulcatus and Melilotus indicus. Then in the centre of the park, Melilotus siculus was discovered on saline soils next to fresh water lagoons and canals. “It only grew in small patches and was actually a much rarer plant than we had originally expected. At one site we collected rhizobia and seed from burr medics Medicago polymorpha that were growing along a salt lake with fresh water flowing into it. “In Australia, burr medics are known to have some salt tolerance, but are not known for their waterlogging tolerance, so maybe our discovery can help rectify that.” The Seville collection proved to be a hectic, yet profitable ordeal for the pair. “We were in the field all day until about 7.30pm and then at night we entered our data and sorted our samples in the ‘laboratory’ — the kitchenette of our accommodation,” Dr Nichols said. “The Spanish don’t eat their evening meal until after 9pm so it fitted in well with us — however it made for some late nights!”

Bringing it all together Armed with rhizobia, soil and seed samples Dr Nichols and Amanda arrived at the Spanish gene bank for pasture legumes at Badajoz in western Spain to process seed samples for entry into Australia.

“It was only fair we shared the seed with Spain. The arrangement also acted as a security measure if some samples were to go astray or get caught up in quarantine,” Amanda said.

The results The collected soil and root nodule samples have been given to rhizobiologists at both SARDI and Murdoch University who will isolate the rhizobia for future testing in the field. After a salt-tolerant rhizobium has been found, the next step will be to test a range of Melilotus siculus genotypes on saline sites with the aim of selecting a new cultivar for commercial release. “All going well Melilotus siculus could be commercially available within 4–5 years,” Dr Nichols said.

More information Dr Phil Nichols T: (08) 9368 3547 E: phil.nichols@agric.wa.gov.au

Research — a global vocation A manda’s Spanish adventure has cemented her passion for research and opened her eyes to the benefits of international collaboration.

“It was amazing, we worked really long hours but it was great meeting the local people and having Spanish scientists show us around the environment,” Amanda said. “Seeing Melilotus siculus growing in its natural environment was great too. It reassured us that our previous research had targeted the right species for saline environments in Australia. “And going with Phil I knew I’d learn so much more about agriculture and the role plants play.” Amanda holds a Bachelor of Applied Science in Environmental Management and has worked on Melilotus siculus for three years in her role as a researcher with SARDI. “It has been an introduction to agriculture for me — I had the plant biology background but not agriculture.” “I’ve really enjoyed the work we do with salinity and finding plants for saline areas. “I love setting up the trials, recording the data and the pulling the story together.” Under the guidance of senior SARDI researcher and Understorey project leader, Andy Craig, Amanda has taken on a leadership role with Melilotus siculus.

“I’m responsible for managing the field trials and am getting more involved with the budgeting and writing up of projects,” Amanda said.

Amanda describes the research environment in Spain as different to her base in Struan Research Centre, Naracoorte, SA. “After a long day collecting seed and soil in the field, we often had to complete the soil analysis back in our accommodation. We would be working out EC and pH levels in the kitchen, using limited resources — so we had to be imaginative and it was a challenge. “The whole experience opened my eyes to the benefits of international research collaboration and how it can help us get better results. “On a personal level I have reassured myself that I love research and it is an exciting career with the opportunity to work not only interstate but across the world.”

More information Amanda Bonython T: (08) 8762 9194 E: amanda.bonython@sa.gov.au

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EverCrop gets farmers’ attention ®

ABOVE: EverCrop researchers assess a New South Wales EverCrop trial. (Photo: Dr Rick Llewellyn)

By Laureta Wallace Kondinin Group

F

armers across southern Australia are getting involved in EverCrop®, motivated by a desire to find new, more profitable and reliable pasture systems in the face of a drier farming environment. “We have found keen groups of farmers with a real hunger for new pasture options and a willingness by farmers to challenge the status quo,” EverCrop project manager and CSIRO researcher Dr Rick Llewellyn said. The three–year project, focussing on how perennials can best play a role in Australian

 key points • • •

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The EverCrop project is looking at new ways of incorporating perennials into mixed farming systems Predicted climate change and current dry conditions are motivating farmers to take part in EverCrop trials Fodder shrubs, new perennial pastures and pasture cropping are just some of the new strategies under evaluation.

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mixed farm and where they see the potential for perennials to fit into their system. farming systems, is an initiative of the FFI CRC with support from the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), CSIRO and the various state agriculture departments. “We’re only part way through our first year of full field work and the interest being generated by some of the perennial options is very encouraging — gaining keen farmer input into the development of these farming system options is critical,” Dr Llewellyn said. “Climate and risk are definitely significant drivers for farmers to consider new mixed farming options — the past few years have been very dry in places.”

“The project is made up of a mixture of core research sites with detailed work being carried out on novel plants; on-farm trials, which test the farm and paddock-scale practicalities and performance of perennials; and modelling to evaluate the likely performance and whole-farm economics of the system under a range of current and future scenarios.”

A localised approach The opportunities for perennial pastures and fodder shrubs varies across Australia according to Dr Llewellyn.

Field work is in full swing across three focus regions: the uniform-rainfall region near Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, a mediumrainfall region in the northern Western Australian wheatbelt and a low-rainfall region in the Mallee region of Victoria and South Australia. Dr Llewellyn said the project was very much focussed on research and development with farmer involvement. “The various farmer adaptation groups provide researchers with practical information on the economies of operating a

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“In Western Australia the focus is on the relatively new innovation of pasture cropping, which can create both new pasture and grain production options on marginal soils. Research sites in WA are exploring the potential for using perennials such as Rhodes grass and panic as base pastures for over cropping. “In the Mallee, farmers want to fill the summer-autumn feed gap by making use of land not well suited to cropping and this is where fodder shrubs come in.” Dr Llewellyn says exciting work is being carried out, in collaboration with the Enrich project, on a range of possible new native species that may complement saltbush. In the southern NSW region, where lucerne is already a staple pasture species, the opportunity for chicory and other perennial grasses to join the fold is under investigation. ABOVE: Western Australian farmers inspect an EverCrop trial site. (Photo: Diana Fedorenko

“Farmers in this region are also looking at different ways to establish, manage and maintain perennials,” Dr Llewellyn explained. “In southern NSW the run of dry seasons has many farmers questioning the best way to establish pastures and what further benefits perennials can provide.” Dr Llewellyn suggests that determining the value and optimal role for perennials in a mixed farming system is complex with many interactions so there has been strong interest in developing the whole-farm analysis tools that help researchers and advisors test the various options.

The economics According to Dr Llewellyn, a big part of the project so far has been asking the question ‘What would it take for these perennials to be profitable?” “Because at the end of the day if perennials aren’t economical to establish or if they don’t do something to improve whole-farm performance, farmers will not be interested,” Dr Llewellyn said. “A key question farmers want to know is how can they establish perennials in way that is low-cost but also reliable.

LEFT: A chicory root on display. (Photo: EverCrop)

“Other key questions investigate where the best place is for perennials on the farm, what it takes to maintain them and how long will they be productive. “They also still want to have the flexibility to have a strong cropping program when the season and market permits — perennials need to fit in with this.” To help answer these questions, the project has an EverCrop Decide component that is developing and running analysis tools customised to evaluate the production and profitability of perennials. Sophisticated models such as APSIM and MIDAS are being used in each region to look at not only what can increase whole-farm profitability, but also under a range of other farm, market and climate scenarios. “The ability to test the ‘what-if’ scenarios plays a big role in being able to identify future farming systems that offer both profitability and natural resource management benefits,” Dr Llewellyn said.

Looking forward Options for the different rainfall zones are likely to be different so each EverCrop region has a team and a leader focussed on the local opportunities and needs.

More information National project leaders Dr Rick Llewellyn, CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems T: (08) 8303 8502 E: rick.llewellyn@csiro.au Dr Mike Robertson, CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems T: (08) 9333 6461 E: michael.robertson@csiro.au Regional leaders NSW uniform-rainfall zone: Dr Brian Dear, I&I, NSW T: (02) 6938 1856 Mallee low-rainfall zone: Dr Patricia Hill, CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems T: (08) 8303 8528 Western Australian medium-rainfall zone: Dr David Ferris, DAFWA T: (08) 9690 2117

“This is work that has an eye on not just the short term but longer-term outcomes and what is likely to provide valuable mixed farming options for farmers many years down the track,” Dr Llewellyn said.

LEFT: Mixed farming operators are keen to see where perennial pastures will fit in to their cropping systems. (Photo: EverCrop)

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LEFT: Researchers have discovered a significant range in summer dormancy expression across phalaris varieties. (Photo: Catriona Nicholls)

In this context, a meeting to present advances in knowledge of summer dormancy as a survival trait, seemed timely.

Perennial persistence linked to summer slumber

A

Kondinin Group

Industry & Investment, New South Wales (I&I, NSW) research agronomist, Dr Mark Norton believes the trait could provide livestock producers with another tool to address the impacts of climate change. The key limitations to pasture persistence in many southern Australian grazing systems are low rainfall and long, hot, dry summers. Major perennial grasses featuring in our grazing systems include perennial ryegrass, phalaris, cocksfoot and tall fescue, which all express summer dormancy to some degree. Better utilisation of the summer dormancy trait found in selected varieties within these species could enhance their resilience to increasing intensity and frequency of drought and therefore improve their persistence. Dr Norton also observed that the development of a perennial wheat adapted to southern Australia might also require the use of a potent drought resistance trait such as summer dormancy, particularly where these crops would have to survive several months of dry conditions each year.

 key points • • •

10

Summer dormancy could prove a valuable tool in tackling the impacts of climate change Most pasture species use a combination of traits to resist drought An international forum brought leading pasture researchers together to discuss the current state of play in summer dormancy investigations and developments.

focus

The workshop featured presentations on FFI CRC research by Steve Clark and Zhongnan Nie, Department of Primary Industries, Victoria, Richard Culvenor, CSIRO and Mark Norton and Carol Harris, I&I NSW.

By Catriona Nicholls

s the impacts of climate change continue to drive research priorities, interest in the summer dormancy trait of coolseason perennial grasses is burgeoning.

ON PERENNIALS

According to Dr Norton, summer dormancy can be defined by four key criteria:

Reduction and/or cessation of top growth

• •

Death and shedding of mature foliage

These behaviours occur even in the presence of adequate soil moisture.

Dehydration of surviving tissue (as is seen in cocksfoot)

A range of summer dormancy occurs and it is best expressed on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 representing a fully summer-active type and 10, completely dormant. “So far we have discovered dormancy across cocksfoot ranging from 1 to 10, in tall fescue from 1 to 8 and in phalaris from 3 to 8,” Dr Norton noted. Most species use a combination of traits to resist drought with each trait expressed in varying degrees. For example, deep rooting is found across all phalaris whereas dormancy is relatively more important in cocksfoot. A key priority now is to develop compatible pasture mixtures that combine both summeractive and summer-dormant species. “In this way we can produce fodder in response to rain during any season, while minimising competition between the pasture components,” Dr Norton explained.

Interest on a broader scale Perennial cool-season grasses are the principal fodder for ruminant livestock in the world’s temperate pastoral systems. However, persistence of these grasses in Mediterranean-type environments on a worldwide scale is poor. “As recent devastating droughts have wreaked havoc on livestock production in these types of climates across the world, interest in the summer dormancy trait, which is well adapted to the chronic water deficits characteristic of Mediterranean summers, is increasing,” Dr Norton explained.

I N N O VAT I O N

IN

The First International Workshop on Summer Dormancy in Grasses: Coping with Increasing Aridity and Heat under Climate Change was held in Oklahoma, United States during April 2009. The Workshop convened a diverse group of plant physiologists, plant breeders, agronomists, and seed company representatives. Nine countries were represented including the US, Australia, France, Israel, New Zealand, Argentina, Morocco, Italy and the Netherlands.

P R O F I TA B L E

“The first workshop session dealt with biological aspects of summer dormancy,” Dr Norton said. “The second session exposed the nature of the stresses experienced by grasses in the US Southern Great Plains, southern Australia, and the western Mediterranean Basin. These talks also highlighted key plant traits with superior survival. “The genetics, breeding and development of cool-season grasses for these environments (with the addition of Argentina) were then addressed in the second half of this session. “The third session of the workshop examined the integration of summer-dormant grasses into land-use systems, targeting pastoral systems in Australia and the western Mediterranean. “The final discussion session revealed priority areas for future research and communications to facilitate progress in the science of summer dormancy and the promotion of summer-dormant grass cultivars in their appropriate regions.” It concluded with the establishment of a permanent international committee, with members representing broad skill areas. Dr Norton was elected as the chairperson. The committee will develop standardised evaluation techniques, terminology, measurements and protocols for different grass species across diverse regions; encourage synergistic research collaboration, and organise a second meeting to further the progress of improving grassland sustainability in the face of climate change. The knowledge and contacts gained will help Australian researchers increase and improve the use of grasses with this trait, enhancing the survival and profitability of southern Australian grazing enterprises.

More information Mark Norton, I&I, NSW T: (02) 6246 5548 E: mark.norton@industry.nsw.gov.au

PERENNIAL

FA R M I N G

SYSTEMS


Joint Venture Agroforestry Program — the highlights rofitable and sustainable P forestry on farming land is about sound and proven knowledge of species selection, establishment techniques, management, harvesting and marketing.

It was to advance understanding of these issues back in 1993 that Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC), Land & Water Australia (LWA) and Forest & Wood Products Australia (FWPA) came together as partners in the Joint Venture Agroforestry Program (JVAP). Fifteen years on, JVAP has concluded its final phase of research. The benefits from $29 million of partner investment, along with an equivalent amount leveraged from research providers such as the CRC Salinity and FFI CRC, has recently been captured in a synthesis report prepared by John Powell, previously the FFI CRC Extension and Adoption Manager. The result is a publication highlighting the broad scope and achievements of JVAP, the significance of the knowledge being generated by JVAP at the time, and its relevance to today’s issues. The report also proposes priority areas for a future program on woody crops, responding to the significant changes that have occurred

during recent years and those likely to lie ahead.

A new era dawns Woody crops have unprecedented potential to address many economic, environmental and social imperatives confronting Australian producers and society at-large. Producers in particular seek credible strategies that collectively respond to the challenges of income diversification, carbon markets, climate variability, drought preparedness, sustainable farming and environmental stewardship. Future broadacre agricultural landscapes can produce this mix of private and public benefits through integrating traditional farming systems with crops of trees and shrubs — a synergy between alternative land uses rather than competition. The research and policy communities increasingly recognise that woody crops are a vital part of future farming systems, and have signalled the need for change, underpinned by targeted and specialised research, development and extension.

Already several partners, including the FFI CRC have committed one year’s worth of funding or in-kind support for the development of a prospective new program, Woody Crops on Farms. This developmental year (2009-2010) will:

Bring partners and potential investors together to reach agreement on and commitment to a new program’s scope, priorities, resourcing and management arrangements

Enable consultation processes that meet the requirements of individual organisations

Align with the strategic planning processes of partner organisations

Provide sufficient lead time for allocating funds

Maintain the momentum generated by 15-years of JVAP investment.

More information Dr John de Majnik T: (02) 6271 4138 E: john.demajnik@rirdc.gov.au

> Fifteen years of the Joint Venture Agroforestry Program — foundation research for Australia’s tree crop revolution (by John Powell) and the Prospectus Woody Crops on Farms — integrating trees and shrubs in broadacre farms for multiple benefits are available on the RIRDC website at www.rirdc.gov.au > Farm Forestry

FloraSearch firms industry potential of woody crops

T

he final report on the FloraSearch project, a study of southern Australia’s vast array of woody plants, details significant opportunity for woody crop production in the lowerrainfall regions of southern Australia. This collaboration between the Joint Venture Agroforestry Program (JVAP) and the former CRC Salinity and more recently the FFI CRC, has systematically advanced the prospects of native plants becoming commercially viable woody crops for southern Australia’s agricultural regions. In seven major reports, FloraSearch focussed on selecting and developing new woody crop species to supply feedstock for large-scale markets including wood products, renewable energy, carbon sequestration and fodder.

Given the likely impacts of climate change, the search for biofuels and the carbon biof economy, this research is of great importance and is likely to trigger further research and development on new production systems to meet future industry requirements. The final FloraSearch report investigates the markets, economic drivers and spatial influences on developing commercial woody biomass crops in the lower rainfall regions of southern Australia. It does this through surveillance of new markets and industries, detailed studies of production system economics and spatial modelling and analysis for a range of industries and regions. As an example, the report explores bioenergy opportunities for electricity generation and creation of liquid biofuels to replace

fossil fuel consumption in Australia. A spatio-economic analysis for a case study in the upper south-east of South Australia identifies a region with significant potential for a wide range of woody crop industry types and investigates their feasibility at high spatial resolution. Overall, this research provides a solid base for development of several Australian species for woody crop production in the lower-rainfall regions of southern Australia. The successful development of these new crop species can greatly diversify and improve agricultural land use without trading off food or fibre production.

More information All FloraSearch reports are available on the RIRDC website www.rirdc.gov.au

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About Focus on Perennials Focus on Perennials is a quarterly research-in-progress newsletter published by the Future Farm Industries CRC Ltd (FFI CRC) ACN 125 594 765. FFI CRC was established in 2007 under the Commonwealth Government’s CRC Program and builds on the research of the CRC for Plant-based Management of Dryland Salinity. FFI CRC is a unique co-investment between meat, grains and wool industry research corporations, the Landmark agribusiness company, and the combined research power of CSIRO, six State agencies and four universities. For further information about FFI CRC visit www.futurefarmcrc.com.au. Focus on Perennials draws on the work of both CRCs, to describe the potential application of Profitable Perennials™ to innovative farming systems and new regional industries better adapted to southern Australian dryland–farming conditions. The information contained in this newsletter has been published in good faith by FFI CRC to assist public knowledge and discussion and to help improve profitability of farming and sustainable management of natural resources and biodiversity. Neither FFI CRC nor the Participants in the CRC endorse or recommend any products identified by trade name, nor is any warranty implied by the CRC and its participants about information presented in Focus on Perennials. Readers should contact the authors or contacts provided and conduct their own enquiries before making use of the information in Focus on Perennials.

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FFI CRC Contacts: CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER Kevin Goss T: (08) 6488 2555 E: kevin.goss@futurefarmcrc.com.au

RESEARCH DIRECTOR Mike Ewing T: (08) 6488 1876 E: mike.ewing@futurefarmcrc.com.au

AGRIBUSINESS DIRECTOR Scott Glyde T: 0427 517 279 E: sglyde@csu.edu.au

COMMERCIAL MANAGER Peter Zurzolo T: (08) 6488 1429 E: peter.zurzolo@futurefarmcrc.com.au

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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 8559 Fax (08) 6488 2856 Or email: gmadson@futurefarmcrc.com.au

Front cover: Photo: Amanda Bonython

Focus on Perennials October 2009  

Quarterly publication from the Future Farm Industries CRC that provides an overview of their latest research developments and activities int...

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