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Beyond the Bale : September 2012
phalaris for marginal land fasT faCTs l A new phalaris cultivar Advanced AT tolerates soils as acid as ph4.2 with higher aluminium levels. l AWI funded the CSIrO plant breeding program for Advanced AT; commercialisation has been undertaken by heritage Seeds. l Sheep grazier Dugald Mclachlan says it’s a phenomenal perennial grass well suited to the acidic, sandy soils on his property south of Penola in South Australia. Marketers often say that successful products need a champion. If that applies to pasture grasses, then phalaris certainly has one in the form of South Australia's Dugald McLachlan from Nangwarry Station south of Penola. "Because it grows like a weed we really should be making the most of what is essentially given to us for free. In my view it’s the most underutilised pasture in the country," he says. Phalaris has long been a mainstay on the property with its very acidic (below pH4.0) sand-over-clay duplex soils. Some stands planted back in the 1930s are still productive. "They’re not great but I still have other paddocks more in need of improvement." While his commitment to phalaris is long-standing, it's been further strengthened by his experience with the new cultivar Advanced AT which he has been ’bulking up’ for Heritage Seeds (formerly Seedmark) over the past two years. "We've been mainly growing it for seed but have used a bit ourselves and it’s just a phenomenal grass. We won't be using anything else in future!" he declares. Mr McLachlan concedes that establishing phalaris can be difficult and this is a barrier for many farmers. "But Advanced AT has better seedling vigour than other varieties we've used and successful establishment really comes down to management anyway. "You have to get your soil nutrition right – trace elements and so on – and get on top of weeds. Seed depth shouldn't be any more than 10mm, almost on top. "And the last thing I would use in low pH country is an acid-based fertiliser. You're better to plant it with nothing," he says. Acidic soils aren't the only challenge at Nangwarry. Mr McLachlan says the sandy soils are very light and stock simply pull grasses out of the ground unless they are deep-rooted. "Phalaris doesn't have that problem. The roots get right down into the subsoil which is why it also handles dry summers very well. And even with our higher rainfall it doesn't suffer from wet feet. It's just such a versatile grass. "People say it gets too rank but that's all about grazing management. Phalaris forces you to step up to the plate and get your grazing management right, which is what we should be doing anyway. "There's also the issue of staggers. But prudent fertiliser use and good grazing management will also keep that under control," he says. Advanced AT was bred by the CSIRO’s Dr Richard Culvenor during an AWI-funded program. He said it had been bred for stronger seedling vigour and was the most aluminium tolerant phalaris yet developed. "It certainly has an establishment advantage in strongly acid soils, especially in dry conditions. We were able to show that at pH levels below 4.2 it is the best variety." Commercialisation of Advanced AT has been undertaken by Heritage Seeds. Product development manager Richard Prusa says good quantities of seed have been available this year and complete availability should be achieved in 2013. "Advanced AT is a tall and ‘showy’ phalaris that produces an abundance of feed early on. You can get good grazing from it a bit quicker than with the others," he said. "It's perhaps not quite as tough as some of the older varieties but that's easily managed with careful attention to grazing. "Because of its tolerance to acid soils and higher aluminium levels, we see an opportunity to use Advanced AT to rehabilitate poorer, underutilised soils." More information: Tim Pepper, heritage Seeds 0417 500 911 sheep grazier Dugald mcLachlan with advanced aT phalaris on his property in south australia. 36 36 36 on-farm September 2012 Beyond the Bale “iT’s JusT a phenomenaL grass. we won'T Be using anYThing eLse in fuTure!” DUGALD McLACHLAN