02 February 2016
In 2014 MLA launched a program to put pasture research back into the paddock and in the hands of producers. Twenty-five Producer Research Sites were established as part of MLA’s investment in the southern feedbase. The program partners producers with researchers to discover if and how pasture research fits into farming systems.
Producers are involved with the design and running of the trials.
Here we find out about two of the Producer Research Sites managed by Southern Farming Systems and the early days of the trials.
A tropical solution for wet southern summers
Pasture species that have helped producers fill the summer and autumn feed gap in Western Australia may provide a solution for producers in Victoria’s Gippsland region.
Research underway through MLA’s Producer Research Sites program has brought together tropical pasture specialist Paul Sanford from the Department of Agriculture and Food Western Australia, and producers from the Gippsland branch of Southern Farming Systems and the local Better Beef groups.
Gippsland often receives as much rainfall in summer as it does in winter.
Producer Trevor Caithness said he and fellow producers were keen to utilise the summer rainfall currently going to waste.
“We run a cattle enterprise and having green feed and a source of protein over summer would be of great benefit,” Trevor said.
“We have tried to grow lucerne but have lost it through waterlogging, so to have some other productive and persistent grasses and legumes would add diversity and spread the risk.”
Under Paul’s guidance, the group has established three paddocks (at Seaspray, Bairnsdale and Bengworden) with tropical grasses and trying alternative legumes, which will also be used for other MLA funded research.
The group is measuring dry matter and feed quality, and ranking which subtropical grasses the stock prefer grazing. Although establishment and persistence is also being monitored, the group really needs to know if the grasses provide a feed source worth the investment.
The group members were surprised by the production of Rhodes grass, kikuyu and panic grass. Some of the panic grass plots reached a metre in height at the start of March. Premier digit grass and summer active tall fescue (comparison species) didn’t perform as well in the establishment phase due to having weak seedlings, but have not yet been dismissed.
Producers are considering other potential benefits of tropical grasses, including:
- a reduction in fodder conservation by creating ‘living haystacks’ rather than making silage
- as part of adapting to climate variability, the prospect of more summer rainfall could see some of the tropical grasses really shine
- Rhodes grass is short-lived, at five years, and might neatly fit into a crop pasture rotation.
The work is supported by the Victorian Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources, which is helping to run the trial sites and data collection. Its involvement has allowed the group to establish and collect data on a third site and take additional feed quality measurements.
Paul said having a site in Gippsland would strengthen the work being done in WA and northern NSW by providing information from a different environment.
“The information from this site will also help calibrate the GrassGro program so we can include subtropical grasses as another pasture choice for people to model,” Paul said. GrassGro is a computer program developed by CSIRO Plant Industry to assist decision-making in sheep and beef enterprises.
By quantifying the variability in pasture and animal production, producers and advisers can assess the risks that variable weather imposes on a grazing system.
Users can test management options against a wide range of seasons to achieve more profitable and sustainable utilisation of grasslands.
The next phase of the project will apply more grazing pressure and look closely at animal production to see if the tropical species are better than currently used pasture species.
Lifting the lid on run down
Investing in new pastures can be one of the highest input costs for a livestock business, so how do producers get more value from their existing pastures? New research aims to shed light on how to best lift persistence.
Under the MLA Producer Research Sites program, Victoria’s South West Prime Lamb (SWPL) Group and University of Melbourne pasture researcher Professor Kevin Smith are researching the issue.
The work is examining how many years a pasture persists and the productivity of that pasture in those years. Initial economic research by the group found there are big financial gains if pastures can be maintained near maximum productivity for as many years as possible after sowing.
“Typically, pastures begin to decline after a few years and therefore the potential return from them is also declining,” Kevin said.
“However, if we can maintain near maximum productivity in the early years after sowing, the payback period is greatly reduced and we can think about introducing improved species more frequently.”
Members of the SWPL Group near Heywood are road-testing weed control and seedling recruitment strategies to stop perennial ryegrass pastures from losing productivity and being invaded with weeds.
“We want to know what intervention strategies work in our high stocking rate systems and where we can easily fit them into our farming system,” producer member Ewan Price said.
“Already we are seeing we can revamp paddocks we thought we had to renovate just by spraying out silver grass. The intervention strategies need to be driven by understanding what is in the pasture and what’s holding them back.”
Victorian Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources officer Bindi Hunter, who is working with the MLA producer groups, said the ability to test the ‘theory’ with some of the best lamb producers in the state would ensure the research message is practical and achievable for other producers.
“Involving leading producers will ensure the final messages have immediate and widespread application to farmers,” Bindi said.
MLA Producer Research Sites Victoria
coordinator: Lisa Miller
T: 0488 600 226
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