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ISSUE 12 June 2010

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in this issue

4 Cereal options for saline waterlogged land get closer

8 Summer rainfall proves worth of perennial pastures

Mallee harvester arrives

10 Research confirms saltbush biodiversity benefits

Prototype harvester brings the mallee industry a step closer to commercial production i n n o v a t i o n

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(LEFT) Researchers in Western Australia are investigating the interaction of water and fertiliser inputs in oil mallee production to deliver a sustainable level of biomass supply in the long run for commercial purposes. (Photo: Richard Bennett, CSIRO)

Timely research

Intensive sites set to monitor mallees


orking out how to maximise mallee biomass production through better water and nutrient utilisation is the focus of two new Future Farm Industries CRC experimental sites near Narrogin and Wickepin, Western Australia. As part of the larger Water and Nutrients for Woody Crop project, with 17 sites investigating oil mallees, project leader Dr Daniel Mendham (CSIRO) and his team are focussing their attention on the interaction of water, nutrients and management options to maximise returns to farmers. This project is part of the Future Farm Industries CRC’s New Woody Crop Industries program, which aims to develop woody perennial systems for southern Australia. The program is also investigating how to provide new farm income sources, sinks for carbon and surplus water, and better environmental protection for farmland. “Through our intensive research sites at Narrogin and Wickepin we aim to answer several key questions,” Dr Mendham said. “We want to know if we can intercept short-slope run-off to fill the ‘dry soil dam’

i key points

Kondinin Group

that develops under mallee belts and to determine how effectively mallees use available water and nutrients throughout the year to produce biomass.”

Drying effect Prior studies have revealed a large ‘dry dam’ underneath belts of planted mallees. “The trees are extracting soil water to a depth of at least 10 metres,” Dr Mendham said.

• The Water and Nutrients for

Woody Crops project is funded through the Second Generation Biofuels Development Program.

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“We have several soil moisture probes at different depths and can measure infiltration. As the trees use the water we can measure as it transpires through the tree using sap flow meters,” Dr Mendham explained.

Practical applications

Earlier during the year one of the sites received about 90 millimetres of rain over a couple of hours and Dr Mendham is keen to capitalise on this type of rainfall event. “We want to try and trap run-off using some engineered contour banks and direct it into the soil so the trees can use it at will,” Dr Mendham said.

Nutrition comes next

• Researchers are intercepting •

One project goal is to track the value of water applied at different times of the year. Researchers will irrigate the trees across a selection of treatments and measure tree response.

“The trick is to see if we can capture surface run-off to water the trees.”

“Because we plan to harvest whole tops from the mallees there is potential for significant quantities of nutrients to be exported with the biomass,” Dr Mendham explained.

Results will be used to develop input models to boost biomass ready for an increasing demand by the biofuel industry

Existing information in other tree crops suggests that 5–6 cubic metres of wood is produced per megalitre. But as humidity drops and temperatures increase trees produce less wood per megalitre.

“There is some lateral movement but not much, although the soil is drying at least 20 m either side of the belt.”

• Two intensive experimental sites

rainfall run-off using engineered contour banks for demand-driven use by mallees

“In order to know what value that water has we need to measure how much biomass (tonnes of material) is produced per millimetre of available water,” Dr Mendham said.

“The aim is to better understand any interaction between water availability, nutrient uptake and biomass production to enable better strategic management of mallee belts to allow sustainable levels of biomass production.”

Water is not the only input under investigation. Dr Mendham and his team are also monitoring the role of nutrients in biomass production.

are investigating the interaction of water and nutrients on oil mallee biomass production


By Catriona Nicholls

Researchers also are keen to find out whether there are strategic times throughout the year where water is more valuable for biomass production.

“Part of this project will be to quantify nutrient export under a range of conditions, including different rotation lengths and types.” The final piece of the jigsaw is to determine whether there is an interaction between water and nutrient availability. “It follows there is probably a level of interdependency between the two,” Dr Mendham said.

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Former Future Farm Industries CRC PhD student Richard Bennett is charged with running the two sites. “Being native, mallees are adapted to the environment, but when planted intensively in belts there is increased competition for water and nutrients. After a couple of years growth the competition limits the water and nutrients,” Richard explained. “The idea is that if we can give them more of what they need they can grow faster and be more sustainable in the long run for commercial purposes.” “By measuring sap flow we can tell how much water each tree is using. By having instruments on the trunk we can also determine how much they expand and contract throughout the year and over longer periods as they grow,” Richard said. This information will allow the team to calculate water use efficiency, which can be extended to calculations of additional water application and potentially greater biomass. “By studying the interactions intensively at one site we want to gain a physical understanding of how the process works. This information can be put in a model to allow broader application further down the track,” Richard said.


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RIGHT: Dry dam belts are developing under belts of mallees (TOP RIGHT) and researchers are hoping to trap rainfall run-off using engineered contour banks (BOTTOM RIGHT) to water the trees. (Photos: Richard Bennett, CSIRO)

“We also will be able to extend these outcomes to other sites.”

The bigger picture To be sustainable, mallee-based processing industries need confidence that feedstock will be sustainably produced well into the future. As with all crop production, key factors affecting potential productivity are; water, nutrients and crop physiology. “As mallee managers, we have the ability to influence each and every one of these factors,” Dr Mendham said. “While only in the start-up phase, the project will develop our knowledge, understanding and tools to underpin sustained productivity of mallees.” Acknowledgements: The Australian Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism’s Second Generation Biofuels Research and Development Program is a key project supporter.

More information Dr Daniel Mendham, CSIRO T: (08) 9333 6663 E:

Mallee biomass ready for biofuel boom


esearchers at Curtin University’s Centre for Advanced Energy Science and Engineering’s are turning up the heat on investigations into the utilisation of mallee biomass in Western Australia. Their efforts are currently focussed on the following mallee utilisation technologies: • Production of liquid fuels and chemicals by pyrolysis and biorefinery. The Centre leads a large collaborative project involving some key WA mallee researchers, funded by the Australian Federal Government as a part of its Second Generation Biofuels Research and Development Grant Program along with State Government and participating organisations. The Centre also collaborates with its United States partner at the Washington State University, which is funded under the Australian Government’s International Science Linkage program • Bio-char. As an essential part of the above project researchers also are investigating the production and use of bio-char as a soil

conditioner and for carbon sequestration, including life cycle analysis. This is in close collaboration with the researchers in the WA Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC), CSIRO, the Future Farm Industries CRC and Centre for Research into Energy for Sustainable Transport • Novel mallee gasification technology. Following intensive fundamental research on the gasification behaviour of mallee biomass, researchers have built a laboratory-scale pilot plant to demonstrate the key features of their innovative technology. If successful, the technology can be used to generate electricity for use by regional and rural WA with locally-grown mallee. It is predicted the technology could meet the energy demand of the booming regional economy. This project is funded by the Australian Government as a part of the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate in collaboration with researchers in China, Korea and Japan

• Hydrolysis of mallee biomass. Researchers aim to hydrolyse mallee biomass to produce sugars that may be further utilised, such as through fermentation to produce bio-ethanol • Other technologies. Centre researchers are investigating other possible ways to use the mallee biomass, such as co-firing mallee (or mallee-derived fuels) in the existing coal-fired power plants or fuel cell technologies. Co-firing mallee in existing power plants may encourage uptake of mallee biomass as a renewable energy source. On the other hand, fuel cell technologies will give high efficiency for mallee utilisation.

More information Professor Chun-Zhu Li, Curtin Centre for Advanced Energy Science and Engineering T: (08) 9266 1131 E:


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Left: Collaborators from University of Tokyo with UWA and CRC staff inspecting Hordeum marinum in the glasshouse. Tim Colmer (UWA), Hiro Takahashi (U Tokyo), Mikio Nakazono (U Tokyo), Lukasz Kotula (U Tokyo) and Mike Ewing (FFI CRC). (Photo: Greg Lawrence, Future Farm Industries CRC)

“In the second year, barley looked a lot better than our material because its shorter growing season meant it avoided some of the stresses at the end of the year, linked to increasing salt levels during grain fill.”

Progress continues for tolerant cereal

Plant physiologist Professor Tim Colmer, University of Western Australia (UWA), sees significant market potential for a productive cereal with these key attributes. “The most recent crosses have used long-season grazing wheats because the greatest potential market for a salt- and waterlogging-tolerant cereal is in alleyfarming system with perennials, such as saltbush, to produce fodder on saline land,” Prof Colmer said. “The new cereal will provide some bulk and lower salt-content feed.” Researchers are using the same principles and techniques by which triticale was developed — crossing two species (wheat and rye). Here the cross is between sea barleygrass (Hordeum marinum) and wheat.

i key points • Two salt- and waterlogging-

tolerant hybrids of wheat and sea barleygrass will be tested in a field trial near Darkan, WA as part of a ‘proof of concept’ trial for developing crop options for saline, waterlogged land

• A fully-fertile hybrid is

anticipated to be produced by the end of 2010, as a result of backcrossing work

• Collaborative work between

Future Farm Industries CRC and Tokyo University will assist the project with the identification of the genes regulating waterlogging tolerance in sea barleygrass, and the new hybrids.

During 2010, two amphiploids — one from a long-season grazing wheat that produces ‘better fertility’ hybrids and one from Westonia — will be going into the field.

By Lucy Kealey

While salt tolerance has been promising in the glasshouse, the hybrids have not been put to the test for waterlogging under field conditions because of recent dry seasons.

Kondinin Group

Like triticale, the new plant will contain the full chromosome sets of both parents, thus making it an amphiploid hybrid.

In search of a wetter site, field testing of the next two hybrids will be undertaken in the higher-rainfall zone near Darkan, in the south of WA.

Ground-truthing the new hybrid Dr Rafiq Islam, a cytogeneticist at the University of Adelaide, has successfully crossed different sea barleygrasses with several wheat cultivars. The resulting amphiploid hybrids have been screened in the glasshouse, but field testing is required to determine their ability to grow and yield in a commercial production environment.

Dr Ed Barrett-Lennard (DAFWA) has characterised how salinity level changes with moisture content through the growing season and highlighting the importance of developing the right phenology for new plants on saline land (see Figure 1). Plants that flower early and fill grain early will likely have an advantage in these drier, saline areas (for more information see Focus on Perennials Issue 10).

One of the hybrids produced by a cross between sea barleygrass sown from an international germplasm collection and Westonia wheat has been tested in the field for two years at Lake Grace, WA.

He is also confident this moderately saline site will experience some waterlogging.

“In the first year of field work, the new hybrid performed really well at germination — it was equivalent to barley, which is quite tolerant to salinity at germination,” Prof Colmer said.

In the meantime, all 16 of the wheat–sea barleygrass hybrids continue to be screened under controlled conditions at UWA and at CSIRO in Canberra, with the cooperation of Dr Rana Munns.

“There was quite a lot of late rain that year and it looked pretty showy. This particular amphiploid hybrid has low fertility, so the objective of the trial was just to assess biomass production.”

Under controlled conditions of moderate salinity and waterlogging, the group has seen the expression of major useful traits in the hybrids. One trait is the potassium to sodium ratio (K:Na) in the shoots, which is higher

Figure 1 Soil salinity changes on the saline field plot near Lake Grace during the 2008-09 growing season

Salinity high at start, delays germination Soil solution salinity (mM)


salt- and waterlogging-tolerant cereal moves a step closer to reality with the inclusion of two more breeding lines in field trials this year as part of a Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) Future Farm Industries CRC project.

Field testing the amphiploids

Salinity high at ripening, decreases yield

1000 800 Salinity low midseason


2008 2009

400 200 0 -30







Days after sowing Source: Barrett-Lennard & Altman (unpub)



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RIGHT: Small field plots at Lake Grace, where the amphiploid hybrid was tested during 2008 and 2009. (Photo: Left to right: Imran Malik (UWA), Katsuhiro Shiono (U Tokyo), Prof Tim Colmer (UWA), Michael Lloyd (Grower), Dr Ed Barrett-Lennard (DAFWA), Mikio Nakazono (U Tokyo), Hiro Takahashi (U Tokyo)).

in the hybrids than in the wheat parents — indicating better ability to withstand high salinity (see Figure 2).


Backcrossing to restore fertility

“Dr Islam is currently backcrossing the new hybrid plants to revert to wheat cytoplasm — this means checking the genetic material of every backcross made and selecting the plants with all the required chromosome complement. It is a painstaking process but it is really important to improve fertility. “What Dr Islam is doing is a similar sort of strategy used to develop triticale and some of the challenges have been similar, including this low fertility in the first generation of hybrids.” The issue of low fertility slows down progress in field trials. Firstly, enough seed has to be produced in the greenhouse to enable field trials. Secondly, field measurements have had to been taken as biomass production and not grain yield. The ‘transfer back to wheat work’ has been ongoing throughout the project and it is anticipated there will be a hybrid with restored fertility by the end of 2010. While the process of backcrossing has been technically complex and time consuming, there have already been some benefits with the isolation of useful chromosome addition lines. These lines contain specific chromosome pairs from sea barleygrass in a wheat cytoplasm, so they more closely resemble wheat. Some chromosomes contain genes for traits associated with salt tolerance, and so could become useful pre-breeding materials for bread wheat, although these are less tolerant than the full hybrids.

International interest The genetic material produced during the project has attracted international attention and collaborative work with Japanese scientists interested to characterise the





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“The hybrids contain sea barleygrass cytoplasm and this leads to some cytoplasmic-induced male sterility.

Wheat parent Available amphiploid


“A key issue is that the cross has to be done using wheat as the male parent because sea barleygrass has tiny anthers and insufficient pollen yield.

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“Restoring fertility is a crucial step if we are going to end up with a commercial feed cereal,” Prof Colmer said.


Figure 2 Glasshouse screening for salt tolerance in wheat versus amphiploids


Fertility of the resulting hybrid progeny is a constant challenge for researchers, impacting significantly on potential grain yield. The first generation hybrids have low fertility — particularly so in the Westonia hybrids, although much better in the hybrids with long-season wheats.


Wheat parent/amphiploid Glasshouse screenings conducted under 200 mM NaCl (approx 20 dS/m), show all amphiploids (green bars) have improved salt tolerance (K/Na selectivity) compared with their wheat parents (purple bars). Data from experiments conducted at CSIRO, Canberra. Source: Munns et al. (unpub)

genes involved in waterlogging tolerance has started. This gene discovery work will improve understanding of regulation of key traits of interest, and might aid additional breeding work if the key genes can be identified.

Such knowledge would further enhance the possibility of a productive crop option for saline agricultural land.

More information Professor Tim Colmer (UWA) T: (08) 6488 1993 E:

Collaboration helps hybrid development


t the outset of the work to develop a salt- and waterlogging-tolerant cereal, Australian researchers looked to rice as a model for waterlogging tolerance. Two key features of the rice plant impart waterlogging tolerance. The rice has a ‘snorkel-like’ feature, called aerenchyma — gas channels that enable oxygen to move from the shoots and down into the roots. Rice plants also develop a physical barrier (suberin deposits) on the outside of their roots to stop oxygen leaking out. These traits have been well described in scientific literature for rice and many wild wetland species, but researchers found the same traits for waterlogging tolerance in sea barleygrass when screening wild relatives of wheat (tribe Triticeae). This work caught the attention of a group of scientists from Tokyo University in Japan with particular expertise in looking at gene

expression in specific tissues and cells. The Japanese team uses laser micro-dissection techniques to isolate a specific tissue or cells from plants and then looks at profiles of gene expression. The group at Tokyo University will evaluate roots of the wheat–sea barleygrass hybrids for gene expression of the traits associated with waterlogging tolerance. They will be able to find out whether or not the same genes are operating in sea barleygrass, as those in rice. Levels of gene expression in roots of the hybrids will then be compared. The collaborative work helps the Tokyo University group in its work of gene discovery and helps the Future Farm Industries CRC project team understand what regulates traits for waterlogging tolerance.

More information Professor Tim Colmer (UWA) T: (08) 6488 1993 E:


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Harvester launch paves way for mallee industry success


he launch of the Future Farm Industries CRC-supported mallee harvester prototype designed by Biosystems Engineering is a significant step forward for the commercial oil mallee industry. The invention of the harvester follows a proven and proud tradition of agricultural engineering in Australia that has made a global impact such as the Sunshine combine harvester. In 1885, Hugh Victor McKay started commercial production of the Sunshine harvester and in late 2008, more than 100 years later, the New Holland CR9090 broke the world record for grain harvesting — CRC’s goal is to produce a world-record beating woody biomass harvester. The attendance of more than 100 key industry stakeholders at the launch of the harvester prototype on April 13 at Narrogin,

i key points • The prototype oil mallee

harvester, designed by Biosystems Engineering was launched at Narrogin, Western Australia on April 13, 2010

• The harvester demonstrates

supply chain costs can be dramatically reduced increasing the commercial viability of the mallee industry

• Further investment is now

required to accelerate the mallee harvester’s commercially viability.



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By Kevin Goss

Future Farm Industries CRC

Western Australia, was a vote of confidence for WA’s mallee industry. Land managers across WA have long been planting mallees as a commercial resource for the future and as a commitment to combatting salinity, reducing soil erosion and improving biodiversity on Wheatbelt farms. There are currently 13,000 hectares of plantings on 20 per cent of Wheatbelt farms.

Engineering industry efficiencies In addition to the engineering feat alone, the launch of the mallee harvester prototype demonstrates the technical ability to dramatically reduce costs on the supply chain from mallee plantings to uniform quality, chipped biomass landing at the processor’s door. It’s from this wider context of supply chain development that the Future Farm Industries CRC settled on a suite of projects to make mallee biomass a preferred resource for bioenergy and other uses. A cost-effective harvester was a primary target. Detailed supply chain analysis in consultation with industry indicated the cost of supply to processors must be halved and the harvester component was a key target. The goal was the harvest and delivery of chipped biomass to roadside trucks at 50 green tonnes per hour. The mallee harvester prototype, invented and manufactured by Richard Sulman’s Biosystems Engineering company in Toowoomba, Queensland, is a significant step towards this goal. The machine is Richard’s mobile laboratory that evaluates the design at a sustained performance of 20 green tonnes per hour and

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ABOVE: The prototype harvester design by Richard Sulman of Biosystems Engineering is a significant step forward to achieving the goal of harvesting 50 tonnes of green mallee biomass per hour. (Photo: Richard Sulman)

sets up the design standards for the next pre-commercialisation machine. Already, the harvester has hit a peak of 30 tonnes per hour in its first outing at Condobolin, New South Wales.

Taking the next step The harvester is now set to start a series of field trials to test and modify the machine to hit its processing targets. This will ultimately lead to the development of a commercial harvester. The CRC is now looking to accelerate the project with additional investment. The $6 million mallee harvester R&D project was made possible with a $1.5 million grant from the Western Australian Government’s Low Emissions Energy Development Fund, and the expertise of others who form the CRC’s Mallee Industry Advisory Committee. The WA Department of Environment and Conservation, the Oil Mallee Company, Verve Energy, the Rural Industries R&D Corporation and the National Centre for Engineering in Agriculture at the University of Southern Queensland have also made valuable contributions in making the prototype mallee harvester a reality.

More information Peter Zurzolo, Woody Crop Harvest System Project Manager T: (08) 6488 1429 E:


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Additional projects boost mallee industry confidence


he confidence that mallees will become a farm crop has seen the Future Farm Industries CRC tackle R&D much like other agricultural crops. A new water and nutrient management project, funded by the Australian Government’s Second Generation Biofuels Program in partnership with Curtin University of Technology, CSIRO and the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC), is set to improve yields by active water harvesting and nutrient input to maintain coppicing vigour in successive rotations (see Intensive sites set to monitor mallee story on page 2). As part of this program, a tree breeding project has established second generation breeding populations for three major species selections with field sites in New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia.

ABOVE: The mallee harvester prototype in action and on display at Narrogin. (Photos: Richard Sulman)

From the broader perspective of industry development, the CRC is undertaking economic analyses including feasibility studies with companies to better define paths to commercial use of mallee biomass and to attract further investment. Farm business analysis shows that wide-spaced mallee belts grown in harmony with crop production could directly compete with current enterprises, covering the opportunity cost for wheat production and allow for competitive differences between mallees and crops. The results of this work will allow the CRC to advise farmers and energy companies about supply side configuration, cost structure and the profitability of mallee production. RIGHT: Biosystems Engineering’s Richard Sulman, the mallee harvester prototype designer. (Photo: Marisa Wikramanayake)


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Summer rain proves perennial worth By Catriona Nicholls


elcome rain across much of southern Australia during spring and summer has showcased the benefit of summeractive perennial pastures. Producers and researchers across the country have been impressed with the ability of various species to respond to out-of-season rainfall and convert water into feed.

Northern exposure Across northern New South Wales, a run of dry autumns and wet November–Decembers has seen repeated failure of annual legumes but a huge response by perennial tropical grasses. Researchers are focussing their efforts on developing drought-tolerant perennial options to use this summer rainfall. Industry & Investment NSW researchers Dr Suzanne Boschma and Carol Harris are investigating a range of grass and legume pasture mixes to address persistence and production challenges in the region as part of the EverGraze® linked Productive Persistent Tropical Grasses CRC Project. “Traditionally native pastures and lucerne provide most of our feed during summer. However, despite lucerne being the most productive and persistent legume in the region, producers are hesitant to establish pure stands of lucerne because of the

i key points • Widespread summer rain across

much of south-eastern Australia has proven the value of summer-active perennial pastures

• In lower-rainfall areas in eastern Australia lucerne remains the standout performer for livestock producers

• Continuing impressive

performance by Tedera in Western Australian trials could see the perennial legume become and addition option for lowrainfall areas in years to come.



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associated bloat risk and poor groundcover,” Dr Boschma explained. “We are investigating a range of mixes based on lucerne to overcome these issues along with other annual temperate and perennial tropical pasture legumes in mixes with tropical grasses that will provide better grazing options and respond to summer rainfall.” Performance during the 2009–10 summer has showcased the ability of the perennial tropical grasses to capitalise on rainfall (see Table 1). “After a dry spring and hot, dry November, the region was inundated with about 200 millimetres of rain during the Christmas — New Year period,” Dr Boschma said. “In terms of our sown summer-growing species, everything responded to rainfall really well.”

ABOVE: Late summer rain in Western Australia saw perennial grasses, such as panic (pictured) flourish. The false break also instigated a flush of sub-clover germination, but without follow-up rain most seedlings died. (Photo: Geoff Moore)

above-ground production offered by perennials during the past summer at his trial sites near Tamworth, NSW. “Of the 199 mm of rain we received during late December and early January, the tropical perennial grasses had used most of it by the second week of February (see Table 2),” Dr Murphy said. “I’m constantly surprised at how quickly tropical perennial grass pastures use soil water.” Summer-active perennials tend to take up whatever is available and use it to grow herbage mass according to Dr Murphy.

Looking deeper

“That is why we are targeting the tropical species — they have a tremendous ability to use summer rainfall events and deliver high amounts of herbage.”

Industry & Investment NSW hydrologist Dr Sean Murphy saw more than just the

However, Dr Murphy warns that managing this production is quite challenging.

Table 1 Pre-grazing herbage mass and plant frequency of elite lines and cultivars of Megathyrsus maximus, Panicum coloratum and Chloris gayana sown in the grazing experiments at Tamworth and Bingara, NSW




November 2009 (kgDM/ha)

January 2010 (kgDM/ha)

November 2009 (kg DM/ha)

January 20 10 (kg DM/ha)

M. maximus cv. Gatton





M. maximus cv. Green





M. maximus (049)





M. maximus (050)





M. maximus (057)





M. maximus (059)





M. maximus (062)





M. maximus (066)









P. coloratum cv. Bambatsi P. coloratum (020)





C. gayana cv. Katambora





C. gayana (018)










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“The perennials respond so vigorously to the moisture that producers may under estimate how much herbage mass will be produced,” Dr Murphy explained.

As a result, farmers are forced to pay a high price for less-than-ideal cultivars or choose to grow something else entirely.” The other impact of the rain was an influx of summer weeds according to Richard.

“It is not uncommon for producers to have insufficient stock to utilise the growth at the time. However, there are strategies to use the dry feed later during autumn even if follow-up rains don’t eventuate, which has been the case during recent years.

“Producers who didn’t have lucerne found themselves battling with an influx of weeds such as witch grass and black grass. “Where there are good stands of lucerne we didn’t see summer weed invasions.”

“We still have some way to go to understanding the best way to match the production capacity of these species with grazing strategies.”

Richard is currently looking at new lines of phalaris, cocksfoot and tall fescue.

Southern summer rains

“Unmanaged vigorous growth can increase the weed risk potential. Producers need to consider this risk in their production systems.”

Summer rains in south west Victoria produced good results in all of the perennials trialled at Hamilton. Department of Primary Industries Victoria researcher Steve Clark is quietly hoping for a hotter drier summer next time around to allow the potential of his new cultivars to show their worth.

Moving south Similarly, wet conditions were experienced across much of southern NSW and after 10 years of dry summers, producers who have stuck by lucerne finally found their persistence paying off according to Industry and Investment NSW research agronomist Richard Hayes.

“Normally, we hope to see big differences between existing cultivars and our new ones, but this summer everything survived,” Steve admitted. “Where we had summer rain, all varieties in our experiments demonstrated the value of perennials as they were able to grow feed over summer and persist.”

“Our experience during the past 10 years is that lucerne is the most drought-tolerant perennial species available for this region and the only practical option farmers perceive they have,” Richard said.

“That’s really what we are after, but the existing cultivars normally get quite stressed and with a couple of hot dry summers in a row you start losing quite a lot of plants.”

“Lucerne proved it’s worth, surviving the drought and summer rain saw survival turn to surplus — local lucerne growers had paddocks that were unable to be fully utilised due to lack of grazing power.”

“I expect the new cultivars to persist better.”

According to Richard, alternative species, such as chicory, are an option that persists only in higher-rainfall areas. Richard suggests producers in the lower-rainfall areas of southern NSW have perennial grass options such as phalaris and cocksfoot, but if these pastures are not yet established the current cost of seed can be prohibitive. Tropical grasses are not an option in the south due to a high risk of poor establishment. “Phalaris seed currently costs up to $24 per kilogram this season, compared with lucerne at less than $10/kg,” Richard said. “In addition, there are some desirable cultivars that are simply unattainable due to the effects of drought on seed production.

Heading west Throughout most of the northern agricultural region of Western Australia, conditions were dry from mid-November through to late March. However during mid-March as storms lashed Perth, the upside was the northern region received between 40–100 mm. According to Department of Agriculture and Food WA (DAFWA) pasture researcher, Geoff Moore, the subtropical grasses are tough and persist even through dry summers when there is no rain for up to seven months. This year the established perennials (a range of panic grasses and Rhodes grass), exhibited minimal growth during the dry, hot summer, but revived more or less overnight with the warm conditions and rain — unfortunately

Table 2 Soil water balance components (stored soil water, SSW) of a range of perennial pasture species for an eight-week period between December 9, 2009 and February 10, 2010 where total rainfall was 199 mm

Premier digit

Premier digit +Venus lucerne

Venus lucerne

Kasbah cocksfoot

Dalkeith subterranean clover

Start SSW (mm)






Rainfall (mm)






End SSW (mm)











Water use (mm)






Daily water use (mm/d)






Change in SSW (mm)

the story was the same for many of the annual pasture species. “At the same time as the perennial grasses reacted to the summer rain annual pastures germinated on the false break, particularly softened sub-clover seed,” Geoff explained. “There was a large germination of annual pasture and in some areas the pasture has hung on, but most of the germinating annual pasture has died. “Unfortunately for producers, a high proportion of the seedbank will be lost, especially for species like subterranean clover.” The picture for perennials is much brighter as the rain produced good quality feed to carry the animals through the autumn feed gap. “As a rule of thumb, subtropical grasses will produce 20–30 kg/ha per mm of rainfall over the summer-early autumn period (assuming rainfall events of >20 mm over seven days),” Geoff said. “New perennials sown last spring generally looked good prior to the rain in March as they were growing into subsoil moisture and with the rain these pastures have provided valuable grazing in their first autumn.” While lucerne is the main perennial legume, not a lot is grown across WA and the potential of Tedera still has researchers excited. Once again, experimental plantings of Tedera has shown that through a tough dry early summer, where lucerne drops its leaves, Tedera remained green and didn’t wilt,” Geoff said. “After the rain, the perennials legume really jumped away. “A commercial release is still a few years away but a recently formalised agreement with three Spanish research institutions ensure continued access to a broad range of genetic material.” EverGraze — More livestock from perennials is a Future Farm Industries CRC, Meat & Livestock Australia and Australian Wool Innovation research and delivery partnership.

More information Dr Suzanne Boschma, I&I NSW T: (02) 6763 1202 E: Dr Sean Murphy, I&I NSW T: (02) 6763 1244 E: Richard Hayes, I&I NSW T: (02) 6938 1615 E: Steve Clark, DPI Victoria T: (03) 5573 0977 E: Dr Geoff Moore T: (08) 9368 3293 E:


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Validating ‘hearsay’ on biodiversity value of saltbush

“There was anecdotal information about fauna in saltbush, but we set out to systematically compare biodiversity in planted saltbush, pasture and remnant vegetation, using birds and invertebrates as measures of biodiversity,” said Dr Andrew Fisher (Department of Water, Land and Biodiversity Conservation, South Australia). “Not surprisingly, we found the remnant vegetation had the most bird species (species richness) and the planted saltbush sites were next, with significantly higher numbers of bird species than the improved pasture sites.” (See Figure 1) Interestingly, three threatened bird species (Elegant parrot, Hooded robin and Restless flycatcher) were recorded in the saltbush plantations, as well as a range of beneficial invertebrates. The CRC project will build on these findings to look in detail at the way birds use the resources provided by planted saltbush. PhD student, Tim Richards, University of Adelaide will provide support to the project.

i key points • Previous research has

documented a surprising range of bird and invertebrate species using saltbush plantations

• A Future Farm Industries CRC

project is investigating how selected bird species are using planted saltbush for food sources and protection in the mallee landscape

• The research will help with the

development of management guidelines for saltbush plantations and other fodder shrub species in order to promote sustainable natural resource management.



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ABOVE: Orange Chats (male) perching in a saltbush plantation. (Photo: Stuart Collard)

By Lucy Kealey Kondinin Group

Figure 1 Bird species richness in remnant, saltbush and pasture sites (treatments) 16 a Number of species


vidence is mounting that saltbush can provide onfarm biodiversity benefits. In response, the Future Farm Industries CRC, through the Production Perennials for Biodiversity project, is now investigating what planted saltbush has to offer from a biodiversity perspective.






0 Remnant



Note: The results show the mean (± standard error) values for species richness for each vegetation type (combined data from six surveys across five sites of each treatment). Means sharing the same letter are not significantly different (a priori contrasts p>0.05)

The project team is currently undertaking a literature review and field work will start later this year. Landscapes with and without planted saltbush will be selected for study across the Murray Mallee of South Australia. “We will collect information on the time spent by selected bird species in saltbush, and make observations of how the birds are moving in relation to the saltbush and the surrounding bush, what they are eating and where they are nesting,” Dr Fisher said.

Understanding leads to win-win Observations and interpretations from the project will enable better biodiversity management in areas with saltbush plantations for grazing purposes, however, the relationship between birdlife and livestock, when it comes to saltbush, appears already to be relatively harmonious. “Livestock generally graze planted saltbush at the end of summer and into autumn, so it is a fortuitous twist that birds can use the saltbush as a resource for feeding, protection, and for some species, nesting, from later winter up to about Christmas time,” Dr Fisher said.

i n n o vat i o n


p r o f i ta b l e

“Not all landholders use saltbush the same way. Some graze livestock on the saltbush each year, some once every few years, and some haven’t used it at all for many years. “From a landscape perspective, this gives the birds a mix of sites to use, and this is important in understanding how to provide realistic management guidelines to landholders, recognising that the planted saltbush is there to be used by stock.” In addition to land management benefits, the hard data from the project will also help provide information about the biodiversity value of the saltbush system. “As ecosystem services become better recognised and understood, we will be better placed. Everyone is talking about carbon but there is a host of other things that could be quantified, valued and traded,” Dr Fisher said.

More information Dr Andrew Fisher, Department of Water, Land and Biodiversity Conservation T: (08) 8303 9634 E:


fa r m i n g


Alliance builds better bonds


ormed during 2005, Ag Excellence Alliance (Ag Ex) is providing better links and collaboration between South Australia’s Grower Groups, Natural Resource Management (NRM) boards, and other agricultural industry stakeholders resulting in increased grower adoption of improved business, sustainable production and resource management practices. With 15 affiliated grower groups, both State and regionally based, the Alliance has regular interaction with the top 60 per cent of SA’s broadacre growers. Ag Ex also works closely with NRM boards, particularly Landcare facilitators and Sustainable Ag officers, with researchers, and others working in the agricultural industry. Ag Ex is currently facilitating meetings across the State with key growers, NRM personnel, consultants, agronomists, and researchers in dryland agriculture. The meetings will identify current projects in the region, increase understanding of regional NRM targets, and identify and prioritise gaps in research, development and extension. Decisions will be made about who will take the lead to fill the highest priorities, and how others may support with resources and knowledge.

Annual forum — sharing success The annual Ag Ex Forum brings together a broad range of industry participants for a day of networking, reporting, and learning. A highlight of this year’s forum, held during March 2010, were the Grower Group presentations on key activities and learnings from the previous 12 months, with a special focus on young farmer engagement. The forum resulted in networking, the sharing of resources, research results and other information, which has sown the seeds for future research collaboration. Importantly, non-group members gain an understanding of what is happening in producer-managed Grower Groups.

Enriching activities A key focus for many groups is to identify better perennial shrubs for lower-rainfall environments as a risk management strategy, providing vital soil cover and filling a feed gap at critical times — this is where Future Farm Industries CRC funded Enrich project plays a key role. The Eyre Peninsula Agricultural Research Foundation, under the new Grain and Graze 2 project combines elements of Enrich, and several Ag Bureau of SA branches are working

under the Enrich program focussing on native perennial shrubs for grazing and soil cover purposes. Upper North Farming Systems and Mallee Sustainable Farming both have Enrich sites trialling potential new fodder shrubs for use in mixed forage systems. In the medium- to high-rainfall zones, the Yorke Peninsula Alkaline Soils Group and Mid North High Rainfall Group will initially work with Future Farm Industries CRC and Ag Ex under the new Grain and Graze 2 project. These groups will focus on growing biomass and comparing annual, biennial and perennial forage and fodder species. Other Grower Groups will take part as Grain & Graze 2 progresses. MacKillop Farm Management Group’s involvement has been to coordinate a seminar and pasture walks around CRC perennial pasture trials.

More information Heather Baldock, Ag Ex Project Coordinator T: (08) 8627 4056 E: W:

Planning tool takes guesswork out of grazing


riginally created as a feed budgeting tool, the recentlyrefined EverGraze® Feed Budget and Rotation Planner helps producers plan their overall pasture rotations with confidence. According to pasture agronomist Kate Sargeant, Department of Primary Industries Victoria (DPI Victoria), the tool allows producers to develop a whole-farm rotation based on individual paddock information. “The Excel-base spreadsheet macro is designed so producers can input data on individual paddocks and animal mobs and the tool will deliver a grazing rotation that maximises animal and pasture production and pasture persistence across the farm,” Kate said. The tool helps producers calculate pasture growth rates, determine how long feed will last and also provides suitable feed rations where feed on offer is limited.

Total package To enable producers to enter realistic information from their own systems, data tables have been included as part of the tool. “Data tables covering feed intake across various livestock types, pasture dry matter calculators, stocking rates and other simple calculators have been included to help producers with data entry,” Kate said.

The planner accommodates native and introduced pasture species across most southern Australian grazing systems.

“We are currently trialling the tool with producer groups and consultants and will continue to refine it.

Rotations are based on grazing pastures to the three-four leaf stage and maintaining animal condition according to livestock class.

Kate developed the Feed Budget and Rotation Planner in consultation with Lee Beattie, Beattie consulting services. However she acknowledges that the tool is a result of numerous years of work and contributions from various researchers and extension staff including Lisa Warn (McKinnon Project University of Melbourne), Gary McLarty and Phil Shannon (DPI Victoria), who devised the original equation for the rotation planner. Key resources used in the program include the Prograze Manual (Meat and Livestock Australia), Lifetime Wool project research (Australian Wool Innovation), the DPI Victoria drought management books and the Broadford Grazing experiment.

According to Kate the initial focus of the tool is on individual paddocks, pasture growth rates and feed availability and stocking rates. “When information for each paddock has been entered, producers will know how much feed should be available when stock go in any given paddock, how long they can graze the paddock and when they leave how much pasture will remain in the paddock,” Kate said. “However rainfall and pasture growth rates will influence actual feed availability, so producers need to use the tool as a guide and continue to monitor what is happening in the paddock.”

Group benefits While the feed budgeting aspect of the tool will be useful for individual producers, Kate sees great benefit in the rotation planner component for producer groups.

The Feed Budget and Rotation Planner can be downloaded from: EverGraze — More livestock from perennials is a Future Farm Industries CRC, MLA and AWI research and delivery partnership.

More information Kate Sargeant, DPI Victoria T: (03) 5735 4352 E:

“The rotation planner will be really useful for groups who have already developed some feed budgeting skills,” she said.


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About Focus on Perennials Focus on Perennials is a quarterly magazine that provides an update on the latest research and activities by the Future Farm Industries CRC Ltd (ACN 125 594 765). Future Farm Industries CRC was established in 2007 under the Commonwealth Government’s CRC Program and builds on the research of the CRC for Plantbased Management of Dryland Salinity. Future Farm Industries 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 Future Farm Industries CRC visit 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 Future Farm Industries CRC to assist public knowledge and discussion and to help improve profitability of farming and sustainable management of natural resources and biodiversity. Neither Future Farm Industries 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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T: (08) 6488 8559 E: W: Design & production: Kondinin Group Front cover: Photo: Richard Sulman

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:

Focus on Perennials June 2010 edition  
Focus on Perennials June 2010 edition  

Quaterly publication that provides an update on the latest research and activties by the Future Farm Industries CRC.