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Perrenial Grasses Are Proving To Be Profitable

29 October 2009

AUSTRALIA - The use of sub-tropical perennial grasses along the Northern Coastal Plain has increased dramatically in the past eight years to more than 40,000 hectares - transforming poor sandy soils into profitable grazing land.

The transformation has been assisted by the Persistent, Productive Tropical Grasses project, run by Australia's Department of Agriculture and Food in association with the Evergreen Farming Group and the West Midlands Group and Heritage Seeds, with funding through the Future Farm Industries Co-operative Research Centre.

The project aims to develop a productive and profitable package for perennial grasses to grow alongside annual pastures, crops and/or tagasaste to achieve a robust farming system to manage seasonal variation.

Trials are being run to examine the use of new panic and Rhodes grass lines in a range of applications on sites at the Badgingarra Research Station, Gillingarra and Eneabba, plus Wellstead and in northern New South Wales.

Department researcher Geoff Moore said the project focus was to develop a profitable package that also improved on-farm natural resource management (NRM).

“We are working on how to best establish perennials in a low cost system that will help lengthen the growing season, reduce supplementary feeding and assist growers to produce stock out of season to capture market advantages,” he said.

“There are also NRM benefits, including a reduction in wind erosion, increased water use and the potential for soil carbon sequestration.”

Mr Moore said by including sub-tropical grasses the overall grazing system could become more resilient; especially in years with poorly defined growing season breaks, like in 2006 and 2007 when the annual pastures struggled.

“In these years the perennial pastures can produce significantly more biomass than the annual pastures, as well as provide green feed outside the growing season,” he said.

The project is also exploring different companion annual legume options to drive the productivity and enhance both the nutritional quality of the grasses and stock performance.

“One option is to use regenerating hard-seeded legumes like blue lupins, yellow and hard-seeded French serradella. We are testing both the commercial varieties plus experimental lines with a different hard-seed breakdown pattern,” Mr Moore said.

“Another option is soft seeded legumes, such as Cadiz French serradella and narrow-leaf and yellow lupins.”  Mr Moore said the legume trials need to go through several different seasons to get a full picture of which system would work best.

“Establishment of the perennial grasses has markedly improved over the past five years.  Farmers are using a nine point establishment package that, if followed, the grasses come up like a wheat crop,” he said. 

Mr Moore warned that under certain circumstances young stock grazing perennial grasses can be affected by secondary photosensitization and we are currently investigating the conditions when this may occur. The emphasis of the project is getting all the parts of the package right and then we can really ramp up the productivity.

Next year there are plans to establish focus groups to trial the concepts on a commercial scale.

Interested farmers can contact Geoff Moore at [email protected]

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