Kikuyu reclaims ‘lost’ land

Location: Wellstead, WA.

Enterprise: Superfine wool, livestock export wethers and kikuyu seed production

Producer: Morgan and Debbie Sounness

Soil type: Light sand to sandy gravel, with some heavy clay

Pasture type: Kikuyu, sub-clover and some annual pastures

Applying the results of EverGraze research into kikuyu as a perennial pasture base has allowed West Australian producers Morgan and Debbie Sounness to turn land once considered ‘a lost cause’ into productive pasture.

Morgan and Debbie recently decided to stop cereal cropping and increase sheep numbers on ‘Tamgaree’, a decision underpinned by their experience with the MLA-funded EverGraze program.

“We would not have had the confidence to do this without understanding we need a systems approach to agriculture, as shown by EverGraze research,” Morgan said.

Morgan has served as a regional EverGraze committee member since 2005 and has found the principle of ‘right plant, right place, right purpose, right management’ well suited to his varying soils.

“Our soils range from light sand to sandy gravel for three-quarters of the property,” he said.

“The remainder is heavy clay along the Pallinup River, so we have had to find perennial grass species that grow well in each of these soil extremes and support our sheep enterprises, while also preventing wind and water erosion.”

Research on the south coast of Western Australia since the early 1990s has consistently found kikuyu can lift gross margins in sheep enterprises by increasing stocking rates and reducing the use of supplementary feed.

Spreading out

A tropical grass, kikuyu grows actively and provides green feed during the summer/autumn feed gap, but is dormant in winter, allowing sub-clover to grow as a companion. It is also deep-rooted and surface spreading, which allows it to dry out the soil profile and protect the soil surface.

Morgan began experimenting with kikuyu in 1993 as a perennial pasture base on sandy paddocks to prevent wind and water erosion, which were major problems.

“These soils were fragile and difficult to manage, sometimes becoming waterlogged in winter and then becoming bare, white sand, which blew away in summer,” he said.

“We now have about 550ha of kikuyubased pasture, over-sown with sub-clovers.

“The stabilisation of the sand plains and the steep gullies is remarkable. I once thought these areas were a lost cause, but they are now productive.”

The kikuyu base has extended the pasture growing season to most of the year, eliminating false breaks and providing an even base of nutrition.

“This has enabled us to increase our wool yield and staple strength and compete with woolgrowers who farm under better soil and weather conditions than we do,” Morgan said.

“We still supplement our sheep with oats and give hay during the cold winter months, but having kikuyu takes the pressure off for most of the year.”

The kikuyu forms the first ‘layer’ of a multi-layered pasture, with nitrogenfixing legumes as the second storey, and grasses as the third.

The Sounnesses are still experimenting with legume and grass varieties, but the success of kikuyu in their system and their faith in the plant has prompted them to include kikuyu seed production in their enterprise mix.

Fast facts

  • Cost to establish kikuyu pasture: about $150/ha (includes $90/ha for seed at 2kg/ha).
  • EverGraze trials have shown stocking rates on a kikuyu/sub-clover pasture could be increased by 60% compared to stocking rates on typical annual sub-clover based pastures.
Wellstead, WA.
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