Pasture cropping with perennials
GroundCover™ Issue: 112 | Author: Melissa Williams
More Western Australian growers could be taking advantage of the dual crop and livestock benefits that come from incorporating perennials into a pasture cropping system.
That is the message from AgVivo consultant Philip Barrett-Lennard, who has led seven years of research into applications for sub-tropical perennial pastures in WA through Grain & Graze (funded by the GRDC, Meat & Livestock Australia and Australian Wool Innovation) and Grain & Graze 2 (funded by the GRDC and the Australian Government’s Caring for our Country initiative).
Using perennial species in pasture cropping systems involves growing a grain crop in a living perennial pasture, which is kept alive during the crop phase.
Mr Barrett-Lennard says the best fit is for growers who have already established perennials and are seeking an alternative to grazing in these areas as well as for those who are new to perennials.
He says potential benefits of a perennial pasture cropping system include:
- increased profits from grain production (as opposed to livestock production);
- rejuvenation of perennials and increased pasture productivity;
- stabilisation of erosion-prone soils; and
- producing a good supply of green feed for stock in summer and autumn.
Mr Barrett-Lennard says most perennial pastures have good herbicide tolerance and can withstand a wide range of commonly used cropping herbicides.
He says without this tolerance, pasture cropping would not be possible.
Grain & Graze 2 trials have shown that the best fit for perennial pasture cropping systems in WA is in medium and high-rainfall zones.
In the northern agricultural region, the most proven and profitable systems use panic grass or Rhodes grass with lupins and/or cereals.
In the high-rainfall parts of the Great Southern, lucerne can work well with canola and cereals. In the medium-rainfall and more sandy soil areas of the Great Southern, along the south coast and around Esperance, kikuyu used with canola, lupins and/or cereals is showing good potential.
At a three-year Grain & Graze 2 focus site on a non-wetting sand site at Esperance, including kikuyu in the system boosted average crop yields (in a barley/canola/barley rotation) by 19 per cent compared with having no perennials. Tissue testing in 2013 showed that using kikuyu also dramatically increased barley crop nitrate (by about 300 per cent) and potassium.
The Grain & Graze 2 website (www.grainandgraze2.com.au) contains a range of case studies outlining how WA growers are using perennials and other pasture species in their cropping systems and some useful tips and tools for successful perennial establishment and production.
Mr Barrett-Lennard says pasture cropping using perennial species is a viable option for poor, non-wetting, sandy soils.
However, he says most growers with this type of country are trialling mouldboard ploughing and spading as alternative methods to improve productivity.
The Grain & Graze 3 program – funded by the GRDC – commenced in 2014 and there are a range of projects underway in WA to further investigate pastures in the cropping rotation, grazing crops and whole-farm systems.
0429 977 042,
Grain & Graze 3,
0429 676 077,
GRDC Project Code FGI00007