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Beyond the Bale : December 2016
Hard-seeded legumes are providing mixed farmers around Esperance in Western Australia with a profitable option to fill the autumn feed gap for their sheep, as well as providing nitrogen rich soil for their crops. Young farmer Tom Pengilly, who along with his parents Bruce and Trudy farm nearly 4,000 ha on their property 100km north-west of Esperance, has seen great success in the adoption of legumes and grazing crops. The Pengillys run a mixed enterprise, with 60 per cent cereals and 40 per cent Merino sheep. Aside from running 3,500 Merinos, they grow wheat and barley as their two cereal crops. The property has mostly clay- loamy soils, with the occasional patch of sand, and receives 250-300mm of rainfall depending on the year. In September, Tom attended an AWI Feedbase Advisory Forum that visited several properties in the Esperance region, and spoke about the benefits of introducing legumes into his enterprise’s feedbase. “Pastures are a key part of the rotation and sheep are a key part of the system,” Tom said. “The legume base for the nitrogen fixation is mainly for the cereal side of the business but the added benefit that naturally comes with that is a greater feedbase so we can run more animals. “We’ve been trialling some non-traditional legumes such as Casbah biserrula, a yellow strain of very hardy serradella and vetches, which have really found a place in our enterprise. While it’s not necessarily a silver bullet for everyone, it’s definitely done the trick in our local environment. We get the option to graze over winter, freeing up other pastures, and the benefit of organic nitrogen fixation for the following cereal crop. It is a variety that we find benefits both our enterprises. Tom said these hard seeded legumes are making inroads because of their impressive ability to be planted during the hot summer months while remaining dormant until the break in the season. “Because they are a hard seeded variety, they are a really good fit for our location. We put them in around early February. They then take a bit of time to break down their hard pod, and the seedlings start to come up anytime between early March and April which helps fill in that feed gap early on. “At the moment, thanks to these new legumes, we are producing more feed than we can keep on top of; our end goal is definitely to increase numbers of Merinos and take advantage of the feed that we are creating.” Twenty-four-year-old Tom, who undertook AWI’s Breeding Leadership course in February 2014, said he is very positive in the way things are shaping up for his business. “The next challenge for us is actually management, as we’re struggling to keep up with our own progress. We’re now busy learning how to use this feedbase and how far can we take it.” Dave Vandenberghe, who also attended the AWI Feedbase Advisory Forum, farms 5,500 ha north of Esperance with his wife Katherine. They crop 3,000ha and run 5,000 adult sheep and 2,500 lambs. Dave said the new legumes have transformed their farming system, and they will increase their number of Merinos due to the increase in feed that the legumes have made available. Indeed, such is their new-found optimism for wool that they have recently built what is the first new shearing shed in the region for probably a decade or two. “These hard seeded legumes are absolutely changing our business,” Dave said. “We’re very confident about the sheep aspect of the business. Wool is an increasingly important part of our mix. In a bad year you still have the same income, it’s just that it might cost you a little bit more to get there.” AWI General Manager for Research, Dr Paul Swan, told the Feedbase Advisory Forum it was encouraging to see sheep making a comeback in what had become mostly a permanent cropping region. “The climate around Esperance means there is a real autumn feed gap, but the area has been a real hotspot for innovation in pasture plant breeding and there is a close relationship between pasture scientists and farmers to come up with solutions,” Dr Swan said. “AWI and its predecessor made a long-term investment in new types of legume suited to modern cropping systems, such as biserrula, vetch and serradella. It is wonderful to experience how AWI research can absolutely transform a farmer’s system, and to talk to Wool is becoming an increasingly important part of mixed enterprises, partly due to co-investment by AWI and its predecessor into the development of new hard-seeded legume varieties. THE FEED GAP LEGUMES FILL Participants in AWI’s Feedbase Advisory Forum near Esperance in Western Australia, standing in one of Tom Pengilly’s vetch paddocks recently cut for hay, looking at another of his vetch paddocks. Hard seeded legumes are not only proving to be robust performers in tough Western Australian conditions, but are also putting essential nitrogen back into nutrient deficient soils. “In all honesty, it’s scary how positive our future – and the industry – is looking. With our adoption of these legumes and the new feedbase we’re creating the ability to progress our business.” Woolgrower Tom Pengilly 42 ON FARM
In the Shops - March 2017