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■ Complexity: It is clear that agriculture is more complex than many businesses and one definition that has been used for agriculture is: “When there are many complicated decisions combined with risk, uncertainty and social factors the decision is complex not merely complicated”1 This is an important point as when making complex decisions there are no right answers1 and many practices such as fertilizer, herbicide and area cropped have “flat payoff curves,” i.e. very similar profit over a wide range. This means that farmers have a wide margin for error and flexibility to pursue outcomes2 such as native grassland regeneration and social/ community activities. Figure 2: Profit from wheat production as a function of herbicide dose

Grass Comeback by GRAEME HAND

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he Stipa Native Grasses Association was formed by farmers in 1997 to promote the profitable management and use of native grasses in agriculture. Many of these farmers had developed or adopted management practices on their properties that regenerated native grasslands. These practices have been proven to work in many environments and scientifically corroborated (Badgery et al. 2008, Thapa 2010). The management practices promote 100 per cent ground cover by growing leaf litter and trampling this litter onto the soil. The litter is managed with impact and disturbance so that it is composting, decomposing and providing germination sites. Examples of these practices are explored in Holistic Management (Savory & Butterfield 1999). Stipa members throughout most mainland states have confirmed the following practices and trials are underway in Tasmania.

Grasses 101—manage your grazing

SOURCE REFERENCE 2

Conclusion It appears clear that current static agricultural economics and associated “best practice” is leading to poor advice as risk is either poorly understood or ignored. In the next article I will explore what practices successful Stipa members are using to reduce and manage risk. Contact me if you would like to discuss this article further. This article was first printed in the Stipa Newsletter. Graeme Hand is the Chief Executive Officer for Stipa and can be reached at: graeme.hand@bigpond.com. References: 1. Farm business decision making – how can we help? Nigel McGuckian, RMCG, Bendigo Victoria 2. Flat Earth Economics: The Far-reaching Consequences of Flat Payoff Functions in Economic Decision Making, David J. Pannell 2006, Review of Agricultural Economics—Volume 28, Number 4—Pages 553– 566 3. A financial analysis of the effect of the mix of crop and sheep enterprises on the risk profile of dryland farms in south-eastern Australia , TR Hutchings and TL Nordblom, 2011, Charles Sturt University AFBM Journal vol 8 no 1 4. Sense and Nonsense in Dairy Farm Management Economic Analysis, Alexandria Ferris and Bill Malcolm, Department of Food Science and Agribusiness—Institute of Land and Food Resources—University of Melbourne, Paper 31, 29 November 1999

The impact of unmanaged grazing on native grasslands in the Wannon country, southwest of Horsham, Victoria, was recorded by John Robertson in 1853. When he first arrived Robertson counted 37 different species of perennial native grasses on his run. Sheep were often difficult to find in the long growth. Within two years, Robertson observed that bare ground caused by overgrazing gave way to numerous deep erosion gullies across his land, accompanied by the emergence of saline springs (Billis & Kenyon 1930 in Jones 2009). It follows that if unmanaged grazing was the cause of this degradation, then managed grazing of native grasslands may reverse this degradation. The description below is the basis for the on farm trials. As discussed above, conditions need to be met for grassland regeneration. The first is creating the soil surface condition of a stable decomposing litter layer with germination sites. The second is the presence in the immediate environment of a viable seed bank.

Improve the Soil Surface The soil surface conditions that promote this germination and establishment are complete litter cover and composting/decomposing litter at the soil surface. These soil surface conditions promote water infiltration and storage while at the same time inhibit weeds (Tongway & Hindley 2004). Disturbance/impact of the soil surface is also required to create germination sites and to trample litter from fully recovered grass plants onto the soil surface. The litter must be composting/decomposing to cycle nutrients (Tongway & Hindley 2004) and to increase the fungal content, which allows native grasses to access nutrients. The CONTINUED ON PAGE 10

Number 147

Land & Livestock

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#147, In Practice, Jan/Feb 2013