How Grain & Graze transformed mixed farming

Cam Nicholson, Nicon Rural Services


Grain & Graze was the first national collaboration on mixed farming in Australia. The first phase of the program (from 2003) was supported by the GRDC, Meat and Livestock Australia, Australian Wool Innovation and the now-defunct Land and Water Australia.

Much was learnt from that five-year phase, including the opportunities from grazing crops and the potential of various fodders to benefit a crop rotation as well as increase fodders for livestock.

The complexity of integrating crops and livestock in a mixed farming system also came to the fore and it was realised the Grain & Graze program was successful in providing information on single topics, but needed to start building decision-making skills and conveying information about risk.

The second phase of Grain & Graze (2009–13) was led by the GRDC in partnership with the Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (now the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources). It continued refining the grazing of winter cereals, canola and legume fodder rotations.

This phase demonstrated there were greater potential grain yield losses due to grazing than had been identified in the first phase of the program, reinforcing the need to maximise the benefit to livestock while minimising the impact on crops. However, the availability of canola with strong winter habit opened up the possibility of spring sowing and growing the crop over 15 months – first for grazing, before removing the stock in late autumn and taking it through for grain.

Emphasis was placed on learning the best ways to transition from the crop phase to a pasture phase and then removing the pasture to go back into crop. Marginal cropping land was identified and trials were conducted into options for the establishment of permanent pasture, perennial fodders and shrubs.

Decision-making and risk

The challenge of tackling decision-making and risk also took a leap forward in the second phase, culminating in the Farm Decision Making booklet, which explores the interaction between personality, farm business and risk. The booklet explains decision-making, what influences a person’s choices, and provides tips and tools to help make good decisions and hard decisions easier. The booklet also helps growers to understand the odds of certain outcomes and to quantify financial risk.

Understanding price variability – another risk in farming – was aided by the creation of a historic price guide. The free online guide enables a grower or adviser to examine the historic prices of grains, meat, livestock, wool and hay commodities at different locations. Price volatility, decile ranges and comparisons between commodities can be determined over a chosen time period and compared with today.

  • The final three-year phase of Grain & Graze was supported solely by the GRDC. It focused on extending the findings of the previous 10 years’ work and enabled the knowledge and insights to be clustered under three broad themes:
  • smarter grazing of crops and stubbles;
  • better management of crops and pastures within a rotation; and
  • growers making more-informed decisions.

All the reports, research results, case studies, tools and calculators from the program can be found on the Grain & Graze website.

In this GroundCoverTM Supplement, we bring you a selection of the Grain & Graze work across three main areas: grazing crops (A visual guide to estimating stubble value to livestock), fodder rotations (Sheep benefit from dual-purpose crops), and decision-making and risk (Without risk there is no return). We have also included some highlights from the EverCrop project, which aims to bring a new approach to mixed farming (New options for perennials in mixed-farming systems).

More information:

Cam Nicholson, Nicon Rural Services,
03 5258 3860,
cam@niconrural.com.au
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