Right plant, right place, right purpose
23 July 2015
This is part one of a two-part series on perennial pasture establishment and management. This week, producer Henry Bridgewater and NSW DPI technical specialist Phil Graham share their experience of selecting and establishing perennial pastures.
Cooma dual-purpose Merino and Poll Hereford producer Henry Bridgewater has been implementing a pasture improvement program on his family’s property ‘Sherwood’ since 2004.
The 5,500ha property includes 700ha of alluvial river flats which had previously been devoted to 100% lucerne hay production.
In the past 12 years Henry has steadily replaced the ageing lucerne – at a rate of about 50ha/year – with a perennial pasture mix of lucerne, phalaris, clover and winter-active fescues.
Past management involved spraying out old lucerne stands, cropping for a couple of years with winter wheat to clean up broadleaf weeds and get benefit from stored nitrogen, then resowing lucerne.
The new regime has involved spraying out the old lucerne, growing a single cereal crop, then sowing the pasture mix.
“Last year I grew a paddock of barley in winter and then sowed the mixed pasture in spring. That paddock still has some horehound in it – a common problem on lucerne flats – so this year when I spray out the next two lucerne paddocks I’ll sow them with ryegrass," Henry said.
“Hopefully the ryegrass will last for 18 months to two years and I can spray the horehound in both spring and autumn, and still have something productive in the paddock. I’ll then sow the mixed pasture.”
Henry took advice from a local reseller agronomist when choosing pasture varieties for his property.
“For the first pasture mix we included some plantain as an experiment,” Henry said.
“It looked brilliant for a year and then disappeared. Since then we’ve stuck to the basic fescues, clover, phalaris and lucerne.
“They have worked well to reduce weeds and wind erosion, while providing high quality feed for the sheep.
“It’s all about choosing the right pasture species for your area and then managing carefully.”
Henry’s advice is echoed by Yass-based NSW Department of Primary Industries technical specialist Phil Graham, who adds the pasture also has to match the job at hand.
“Ask yourself: What do I want to use this paddock for – will I finish stock on it over summer, or do I want a lot of winter production?,” Phil advised.
“Also make sure the pasture mix matches the paddock aspect and soil type.
“There are a lot of tools and information out there, so do your research.”
With new perennial pastures costing upwards of $350/ha to establish, Phil is concerned by new varieties’ lack of persistence.
“As the cost of sowing pastures has gone up, payback times have lengthened and if the pasture species aren’t going to persist, you start asking ‘why am I doing this?’,” he said.
“If you’re grazing-only and you have some productive species in your paddocks, you may be better off improving what’s already there by getting your fertility right, direct drilling in a couple of key species, or just resowing poor sections of a paddock, rather than doing a complete resow.
“Target your dollars to the parts of a paddock that really need it.”
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