Making a pasture that pays

Fanners across southern and central NSW have identified establishment as the top pasture research priority. This may hold true for other areas as well, particularly regarding lucerne. The GRDC grower-supported Pastures Pay program in NSW is developing sound advice.

"It's not a new cultivar that will make the difference between a poor and good lucerne stand — it's the whole package." This is the prediction of Peter Orchard of NSW Agriculture, who, with the backing of the GRDC, is heading 'Pastures Pay' to help farmers grow lucerne pastures.

Over the past two years, trials have been established, field days have been held on farmers' properties and tours organised so that farmers can see what other farmers are doing.

"The emphasis has been on lucerne simply because it is such a good plant," Dr Orchard said. "It has drought resistance, it produces nitrogen and it makes a good feed for stock — but there's not enough of it around because people have had a problem establishing it."

However, through 'Pastures Pay', people have been able to learn from local trials and from their fellow farmers. "There is no doubt that lucerne is the king of the fodder crops out here," West Wyalong farmer, Malcolm Manglesdorf, said. Mr Manglesdorf has a 1,336 ha cropping and sheep enterprise.

In his experience with sowing and growing lucerne, the prerequisites to success are controlling broad-leaved weeds in the previous cereal crop and preparing a level conventional seedbed which enables the emerging plants to grow weed-free. Mr Manglesdorf said control of redlegged earth mite was also essential.

Farmers' experience is showing the need to get weed and pest control right; the benefits of good seedbed preparation; and, the need to use good quality seeds.'Pastures Pay' is preparing a lucerne establishment checklist for growers detailing the above and also the benefits arising from seed inoculation and accurate seed placement. It will contain recommendations on sowing rates and fertilisers.

Other pasture contenders

According to West Wyalong district agronomist Bob Thompson, about 80 per cent of pastures in the western NSW wheatbelt have just been a collection of annual crop weeds. But with 'Pastures Pay', things are changing.

"Recently, for example, we have found that the old sub-clover variety Clare shows enormous promise on the grey clay soils and farmers should be growing a million acres of it instead of about 1,000." said Mr Thompson. Other varieties are York, Trikkala and Dalkeith.

Apart from clover. Mr Thompson recommends more perennials such as lucerne, phalaris and other sub-tropical grasses. Phalaris, for instance, will persist on flooded and waterlogged soils.

"It's all about fanning smarter, not harder," he said.