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Beyond the Bale : March 2015
44 ON FARM THE MAIN THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN ESTABLISHING FORAGE SHRUBS WHAT YOU’RE UP FOR • 500–1500 plants per hectare (depending on your layout). • $0.30+ per plant, depending on species and source (contact your local nursery). • Weed control at establishment. • Planting costs (yourself or a contractor). • Start small, identifying areas where you are keen for a new option for profitable land use, and consider building up towards about 10 per cent of the farm area to optimise the benefits of having perennial shrubs in your feed base. • Expect establishment to be in the order of $250–450/ha. WHAT YOU GET BACK • 500–600 grazing days/ha that are available at a time of year where feed supply and quality are often limiting productivity. • A forage resource that lasts at least 15 years (which means the high up-front costs provide a return over a long period of time). • Management flexibility by an additional forage resource, allowing deferred grazing on other parts of the farm. • Natural resource management benefits (eg reduced risk of wind erosion, potential reservoir for desirable invertebrates as part of integrated pest management). • Increase in whole-farm profit (economic modelling indicates it can be as high as 20 per cent), or maintenance of whole-farm profit with less area cropped (providing you with a risk management tool). • The Future Farm Industries (FFI) CRC’s Enrich project, partly funded by AWI, demonstrated a combination of forage shrubs and inter-row annual pastures can increase sheep live weight gain as well as reduce wind speed and provide shade for stock. • Planting perennial shrubs can provide valuable green feed – 500 -600 grazing days/ha lasting up to 15 years – during the typical dry time in autumn. • Perennial shrubs are a profitable option on marginal land where cropping is risky. The naming of southern Australia’s top 10 native perennial forage shrubs – which sheep have helped to select – is a highlight of the Enrich forage shrubs guide that was released in June last year by the Future Farm Industries CRC. The 76-page guide, Perennial Forage Shrubs – from principles to practice for Australian farms, can help farmers and landholders, including those with marginal land, to improve productivity, and increase profits by up to 20 per cent. Whole-farm profit for mixed crop-livestock farms can be increased by up to 20 per cent by including forage shrubs on about 10 per cent of a typical wheatbelt farm; and whole- farm profit could also be maintained with less crop area when perennial shrubs are included on the farm. Enrich project leader Dr Jason Emms, formerly of SARDI, said the Perennial Forage Shrubs guide is becoming popular for sheep farmers in southern Australia’s low rainfall zone. “It covers important information about how to design and establish a shrub system on farm, what to plant where, and what to expect. The grazing management techniques detailed apply to the whole of Australia,” said Dr Emms. He explained that the Enrich information in the guide is revolutionary for three key reasons. “First, using Australian native plants, which Enrich does, has largely been ignored for more than 200 years. Second, we are assessing the plants as a mixture and not relying on single species to deliver all the nutrients livestock require and a third innovation is using grazing management techniques based on animal behavior.” The potential benefits of forage shrubs will not be realised without appropriate grazing management – refer to the two guides listed below for details. Lead researcher Dr Dean Revell formerly of CSIRO summed up the Enrich project by saying, “We’re trying to eradicate that word ‘marginal’ from the term ‘marginal grazing land’.” The Enrich team gathered new information on the productivity, responses to grazing, and nutritional value of drought-resistant shrubs that show they provide nutrients when other conventional pastures do not. Overall, 101 native perennial species were assessed for nutritive value (protein, fibre, minerals), effects on rumen fermentation (gas production to indicate digestibility, and fermentation end products including methane, ammonia, volatile fatty acid composition) and anthelmintic properties (toxicity to intestinal parasite larvae). Sheep were used to guide decisions on what plant species to focus on, based on which plants the animals themselves selected. The preferred species include a range of species, mostly but not exclusively chenopod species that, based on their common name, are often described as types of saltbush. The major ones include: • Bluebush/small leaved bluebush/ Yanga bush • Nitre goosefoot • Old man saltbush • River saltbush • Thorny saltbush • River Murray saltbush/Silver saltbush • Rhagodia/Mallee saltbush • Ruby saltbush • Sandhill wattle • Tar bush Old man saltbush has also had a separate significant research focus to select improved lines, such as the recently launched Anameka variety. The guide was the culmination of nine years of work by the FFI CRC’s Enrich project team. The team was awarded a Eureka Prize in 2013, Australia’s pre-eminent science award, in the sustainable agriculture category for this work. The guide is a companion to Perennial forage shrubs providing profitable and sustainable grazing, published in 2011. MORE INFORMATION The 76-page Perennial Forage Shrubs – from principles to practice for Australian farms and the 44-page Perennial forage shrubs providing profitable and sustainable grazing guides are both available to download from www.wool.com/enrich or hard copies are available from Jason Emms on firstname.lastname@example.org SHRUBS PROVIDE PROFITABLE OPTION ON MARGINAL LAND