21st C pastures: for cropping, sheep ... and landcare problem

Trevor DeLandrafft

Landcare options were high on the wishlist when growers from the GRDC's western region met with researchers at Wongan Hills and Katanning recently.

They were there for an Industry Linkage Group workshop canvassing their views on future directions for the National Annual Pasture Legume Improvement Program (NAPLIP).

The predominant farming system is mixed sheep-cropping in mainly low- and medium-rainfall areas of acid soils. NAPLIP is providing the first opportunity for farmers to influence directly the direction of breeding programs for annual legumes.

A common theme was the wish for high-water-use, deep-rooted pasture varieties, to combat salinity and waterlogging, pasture species that don't contribute to further soil acidity, or are acid-tolerant, and those that are adaptable to varying soil types. A major concern was the wish for pastures that don't contribute further to any soil problems and, instead, like deep-rooted perennial lucerne, can help ameliorate these problems.

Most of the participating growers also wished for hard-seeded varieties for improved persistence in the soil. Concerns about herbicide and insecticide resistance and the cost of spraying were also themes.

Since this was 'wishlist' time, participating growers, in addition to voicing the above concerns, also outlined the following views.

Trevor DeLandgrafft, Newdegate:

Farms 5,600 hectares, of which 4,500 is arable in a 300 mm average annual rainfall area; crops approximately 2,500 hectares.

"Pastures in our farming system offer flexibility: they provide a break in the cropping phase and supply pasture for wool and meat production. The pasture phase is also needed to control herbicide-resistant weeds.

"Changes happening in this district include more meat production from sheep, with some people phasing out continuous cropping, maybe replaced by green/brown manuring. We're interested in Cadiz serradella and vetches to prevent disease and weed resistance build-up, but they need to be more cost-effective than lupins.

"Pastures need to be able to sustain longer cropping rotations."

Herbicide and insecticide concerns

"Pastures also need to be less sensitive to pasture topping, so we can do pasture manipulation — in other words, we need pasture varieties with better herbicide tolerance.

"Pastures need to have upright growth habits to suit stockfeed, hence we have moved to Dalkeith clover (not that hardy, but it is upright).

"Because insect control is expensive, we would like pasture species which are more insect-tolerant. This would also be useful because insects are likely to build up resistance to treatments, and residues in wool could also be a problem."

Roclea South

Roclea South, Darkan:

Farms 2,800 hectares, of which 2,300 hectares is arable, 33 per cent crop and 66 per cent pasture (all sub-clovers); 200 hectares planted to bluegums.

Rising watertable (approx 1 m/yr) on his property is causing large salt outbreaks.

Sub-lucerne

"The main purpose of pasture for us is to support 17,000 sheep (stocked at 10-11 DSE). We appreciate the value of nitrogen fixation from clover and its organic input to crops. Also, rotation with pastures is becoming more important with ryegrass resistance.

"Lucerne could be useful for its high water use but it would be good to get a lucerne variety which set seed underground. Due to winter droughts in June-July, pastures which grow when it's cold would be useful."

Neil Ballard

Neil Ballard, Tincurrin:

Farmer, licensed seed-grower and seed cleaner. Farms 1,400 hectares in a 375 mm annual rainfall area, gravel sandplain soils with some clay and loam.

Acidity is becoming a problem. Has had good clover pastures but acidity and aluminium toxicity have made them less productive.

"I'd like high-water-use pasture species which use all the water which falls on the farm and therefore would not cause problems for other farms in the catchment."

More herbicide concerns

"I would like more research into herbicide tolerance before new pasture varieties are released — results need to be published more widely.

"We need pastures with greater tolerance to gramoxone, so it can be used safely to take out grasses. We also need pastures tolerant to simazine — silvergrass is the number-one problem in serradella clover pastures".

Ian Turton

Ian Turton, Wandering:

Crops 1,000 hectares to canola, wheat, barley, oats and lupins. Has 1,500 hectares under pasture and runs 8,000 sheep (adults and lambs). Areas prone to waterlogging and salt.

"We grow Dalkeith, Geraldton and Daliak sub-clovers and we're now planting Balansa (aerial-seeded variety tolerant of waterlogging and salt)."

Better winter feed productivity

"I'd like greater feed production from pastures in autumn and early winter. And legumes which are competitive with other pasture species, particularly grasses.

"New legume varieties could use better promotion to growers."

Trevor Elsegood

Trevor Elsegood, Yealering:

In partnership with brother Brian, farms 4,000 hectares, 3,200 of which are arable. Crops wheat, barley, lupins, canola; 1,400 hectares of pasture support 5,800 mixed-age wethers and are planted to Nungarin, Dalkeith and Geraldton sub-clovers.

"I'd like the option of pasture species which are unpalatable to sheep so that unwanted grasses are eaten first. And, with sheep, more underground-seeding varieties are always desirable.

"I'd also like leguminous species with large root systems. And species good at extracting soil nutrients, e.g. phosphorus and potassium, so we don't have to add too many inputs."

Geoff Sandilands

Geoff Sandilands, Kendenup:

Poll merino stud breeder who farms 2,000 hectares in a 600 mm rainfall area 70 km north of Albany. Two-thirds of farm is pasture — mainly seeded to a ryegrass and clover mix. Weeds include capeweed, geranium, silvergrass and brome grass.

The cropping rotation includes canola, wheat, barley, oats, lupins and processing peas for two or three years, returning to a pasture phase for four or five years.

"In gross returns, economic analysis last year showed very little difference between 67 kg/ha of 20.5 micron wool and 3 t/ha crops.

"Pasture improvement is like ram breeding. You need to allocate economic values to each important trait and work on a whole package. It is no good having a cultivar that is hopeless in one particular trait.

"Likely changes to our farming system would be to defer grazing at the season break and then to use a simple method of rotational grazing.

"We need to look at improving pastures during the first year out of crop phase and increase the proportion of clover as quickly as possible. I'd also like increased winter activity and better persistence of pasture after cropping and after false breaks."

- Grower reports and photos by Brendon Cant

Program 3.6.1

Contact: Dr Bill Collins 08 9368 3596 AGWEST

Dr James Ridsdill-Smith 08 9333 6640 CSIRO

Region North, South, West