Simon Falkiner and Craig Drum assess the trial site at Lake Bolac.
A new farming system model for the southern cropping region’s high rainfall zone (HRZ) is emerging as a result of a Grains Research and Development Corporation-funded “pastures in crop sequencing” project.
The project, being undertaken by Southern Farming Systems (SFS), aims to help increase adoption of pasture and fodder-based practices, in order to solve problems threatening the long-term viability of cropping-dominant systems in the HRZ.
Simon Falkiner, of FalkinerAg, consults to SFS and says the project, established in 2011, has helped growers overcome the challenge of working with a cropping system inherited from north of the Great Dividing Range.
“Our circumstances down here are very different,” Mr Falkiner said.
“When we first started out on this project, we recognised the need for a legume or a break crop in our farming systems. This was a perfect opportunity to put some pasture into our cropping rotation…and to take the first steps in creating a new model for the HRZ.”
The project has four main areas of focus. The first is around combating weeds through pasture and forage systems and the second is the use of legume pastures as a source of nitrogen that didn’t “come out of a bag”.
The third focus is about overcoming climate variability by finding methods to capitalise on rainfall that occurs out of season.
“We’re seeing more and more often unusual rain events and so we want to be able to find a way of capturing the benefits of those rainfall events,” Mr Falkiner said.
The fourth theme revolves around building soil carbon, aiming to improve soil biology and hostile subsoil.
“One of the key findings was that weeds were surviving our pre-emergent and post-emergent chemical sprays and our canopy wasn’t closing quickly enough,” Mr Falkiner said.
“We were getting germinations of ryegrass and radish that were going through and they were the culprits. They were providing the seed bank for the following year. This project has worked on capturing those weeds and not letting them set seed.”
According to Craig Drum, director of Gorst Rural, “the initial cost may be a bit higher than letting it just run and do nothing, but the gain from extra livestock production, nitrogen, weed competition, and hence ryegrass control, is well worth it.
“It’s important to get that message out for growers to fully understand, so they can then put the information to use more extensively out in the paddock,” Mr Drum said.
“SFS and the GRDC have worked together for a long time, really well. This project’s also allowed us to work with the engineering department of Melbourne University to develop a machine to take pasture and put it underground,” he said.
“Once we’re confident that we’re on the right track, we can then involve the farmers and get them to do broader paddock-scale trials. And that’s really important for us, because we’re trying to develop a new farming system.”
More information about the project can be found in the Pastures in Crop Sequencing YouTube video https://youtu.be/1fSi3DrIIFM.
Simon Falkiner, FalkinerAg
Sharon Watt, Porter Novelli
GRDC Project Code