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Beyond the Bale : June August 2009
June – August 2009 Beyond the BAle the hard-seeded pasture legume – in this case biserrula (Biserrula pelecinus), French serradella (Ornithopus sativus) or bladder clover (Trifolium spumosum) – which sits dormant for the first year as the crop grows. Following harvest of the cereal crop, in year two the pasture then grows, fixing nitrogen and providing a feed source for livestock. If good seed set then follows, a crop can be grown again in year three, with a pasture phase again in year four utilising the seed set in year two. Compared to the traditional crop- pasture phase of three to five years’ crop followed by three to five years pasture, Ms Hackney says the new system allows greater flexibility and growers can switch between cropping and livestock much faster. “Such strategies may enable farmers to flex more with changing commodity prices, and thus remain more economically viable,” she says. “Additionally, the use of hard-seeded pasture legumes in self-sustaining intensive crop pasture rotations may allow farmers to reduce their reliance on inorganic nitrogen, thereby reducing input costs and, again, improving economic sustainability.” Twin sowing uses unscarified seed sown with the crop and, because of the hardness of the seed, the first year is spent softening the casing rather than germinating. The seed set by the pasture in year two is virtually all hard, so it is essential to crop again in year three to allow the legume seed to soften and to utilise the nitrogen fixed by the legume plant in year two. “Beyond year three – depending on the annual legume used – the length of the crop phase can be altered, depending on whether the farmer wishes to run longer or shorter cropping phases. Such a system is highly complementary,” Ms Hackney says. The critical components in the system, as found in the first year of the trial, are ensuring the seed is not sown too deeply in year one and that the seed set of the pasture in year two is optimised. A long-life inoculant is also needed to ensure the correct rhizobium for nodulation of the legume is available in year two, and only granular inoculants have the required length of coverage. As with all pasture programs, Ms Hackney says, growers need to remember the golden rules – as routinely rattled off by her fellow DAFWA researcher Dr Angelo Loi: PASTUReS 9 l manage your pasture like a crop; l use no sulfonylurea (SU) herbicides the year before sowing it; l let the pasture set seed; and l graze it heavily over summer following seed set to get seed in contact with the soil. Dr Loi says incorporating a legume- based ley rotation provides many agronomic benefits in a mixed-farming system. However, grazing livestock has lost economic value relative to crop production in low and medium-rainfall areas. He suggests the twin sowing technique might be useful for topping up pastures with low legume content due to drought or prolonged cropping. The technique’s success, according to Dr Loi, depends on low seed cost, appropriate hard seed breakdown pattern, effective rhizobial inoculation and weed management. This research work was funded by Pastures Australia, an initiative funded by AWI, the GRDC, the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, Meat & Livestock Australia and Dairy Australia. More information: Belinda Hackney, firstname.lastname@example.org crop was grown in 2005, when the average was three tonnes a hectare. Last year it was just 1t/ha. “But land prices have gone up, and the answer used to be buy more land to make more money, but we can’t put ourselves in that position,” Philip says. “We need to make every hectare that we own pay.” For that reason alone, Philip put up his hand to work with the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) in developing new pasture and crop rotations using more drought-tolerant varieties, and last year sowed several two-hectare plots to assess their value. Philip sowed scarified seed serradella and biserrula side by side and the pressure was on with a late autumn break (they were sown at eight kilograms of seed per hectare in mid-June) and a dry spring. As a result there was little grazing potential and a grasshopper plague was drawn to the fresh pasture. However, the serradella still grew to 30 centimetres and after each rain event new shoots emerged. “It showed plenty of promise and performed better than the traditional pastures on the place,” he says, and with an ideal start he predicts both varieties would provide good feed to fatten lambs French serradella. PHoTo: NSW DPI The remains of the bisserula – which provided an impressive amount of ground cover – after a long hot summer. over winter and then be cut for silage or hay following late winter rain. “The beauty of the biserrula was that even with a little bit of rain, it would take off again.” This year the Davies will sow 15ha of scarified serradella and another 15ha of biserrula, with plans to harvest the pods to sow in a twin-sowing system with wheat in 2010. PHoTo: keLLIe PeNFoLD Another benefit to the newer varieties, Philip has discovered, is they cause few health problems in sheep compared with lucerne. “The next thing we want to assess is how much nitrogen these varieties leave in the ground, which could really help our cropping program by reducing fertiliser costs.” – Kellie PenFolD
April May 2009
September November 2009