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Beyond the Bale : Apr - May 08
Ewes and lambs on high-rainfall pastures in an EverGraze trial. perennials would increase the ground cover and utilise summer rain for production. "In Western Australia, and other areas, salinity is a concern and perennials have the capacity to reduce the amount of water entering water tables, while also providing good quality feed when it's needed." EverGraze is working through a two-tiered program, with detailed research taking part on regional 'proof sites' and groups of farmers road-testing the research ideas on a farm scale at 'supporting sites'. Six research teams at proof sites in Victoria, NSW and WA are testing these new perennial-based farming systems, measuring soil, water, pasture and livestock inputs and outputs, enabling accurate modelling of the impact catchment outcomes and farm profits. Proof sites have been established at Albany in WA, Hamilton in Victoria, Albury-Wodonga on the NSW- Victorian border, and Wagga Wagga, Orange and Tamworth in NSW Three sites focus on sown exotic perennial species and three sites are working with existing native perennial pastures. Supporting sites run by farmers are in WA, Victoria, NS"W; South Australia and Tasmania. An example of the work by EverGraze is taking place in the Murrumbidgee catchment ofNSW Grazing in the Murrumbidgee catchment has been traditionally based on a mix of annual, improved and native perennial pastures. These pastures have allowed water to pass the root zone and enter the water table, which has contributed to dryland salinity and the salinisation of the water table and rivers, causing problems downstream. Introducing summer-active perennial pastures onto farms has the potential to not only lift on-farm production and profitability, but also to reduce groundwater recharge and improve ground cover, minimising erosion. Four trials looking at the role of perennial plants in reducing recharge and increasing productivity are under way at the Wagga Wagga proof sites run by Charles Sturt University (CSU). Site leader Dr Michael Friend says the sites cover whole production systems as well as focusing on specific pasture species, animal responses and hydrology. The Wagga Wagga proof site is investigating a Merino meat production system with: high weaning percentages and high lamb growth rates based on phalaris, lucerne, chicory and tall fescue; the use of shrubs to increase lamb survival; the effect of shrubs of soil hydrology; and the use of summer-active perennials to increase ovulation rates in ewes prior to joining in autumn. The ovulation research compared the ovulation rates of oestrous synchronised ewes grazing dry phalaris, phalaris with a lupin supplement, or lucerne or chicory for nine days prior to ovulation and found a 10 to 20 per cent increase in ewes grazing summer-active perennials, depending on the season and availability of green feed (Table 1). The research has captured the interest of district farmers, who have traditionally struggled to obtain good conception rates when mating ewes on dry autumn pastures. Using funding from the National Action Plan for Salinity, the Murrumbidgee Catchment Management Authority (MCMA) is helping local farmer groups run supporting sites, which take the CSU results and trial them on a farm scale. Some farmers have tried flushing unsynchronised ewes on lucerne pastures this autumn and hope to see increased pregnancy rates by scanning in winter. Funds from the National Landcare Program (NLP) have allowed the MCMA to set up a number of sites where producers will sow lucerne or chicory and then measure, under commercial conditions, the impact of the summer-active pastures on ewe conception rates. Ewes will be allocated to either a summer pasture or dry pasture treatment on each farm and scanned to determine pregnancy rates. Janelle Jenkins from the MCMA says the organisation recognised that having programs that linked improved farm productivity and profitability to improved catchment health was a win-win situation. "The farmers involved are very supportive when they realise where the CMA is coming from in terms of the reduced recharge and improved biodiversity;' she says. EverGraze is a Future Farm Industries Cooperative Profitable pastures lead to profitable towns Chris Mirams can see untapped potential in a lot of pastures in high-rainfall areas. As chair of the EverGraze national advisory committee and AWl's current Australian Rural Leadership Program participant, the manager of 'Woomargama Station' in southern NSW is constantly looking at how improved pasture management and innovative farm systems can help improve farm performance, the environment and rural communities. "Pastures are the driving force of grazing properties and, ultimately, rural communities in grazing areas;' Chris says. "It's important to have profitable farms supporting rural towns and services and EverGraze is a part of that jigsaw. "We're all looking at better ways of managing our resources - whether it's improved and native pastures, or livestock and management skills - to make more money, but it's also important to manage the environment so that we leave the farm in a better state:' Chris is mindful of the potential for productivity to be pushed too hard so that it becomes antagonistic to the environment. So while high stocking rates are the single most important driver of enterprise profit, overstocking can be one of the biggest causes of land degradation. He says the purpose of EverGraze is to develop systems where both farm profitability and natural resource management can improve together. The 2700-hectare 'Woomargama Station', 10 kilometres south of Holbrook in southern NSVV, embodies the EverGraze approach. The property runs 10,000 Merinos and 1000 beef cattle on a range of pastures and land class. The property has undergone a major pasture improvement program and a change in grazing management to make the most of the 750 millimetres of annual rainfall. There is now a range of pasture types, and livestock management is geared to matching pasture growth and maximising pasture use. Lambing and calving occur in spring to match peak livestock demand with peak pasture production. 5 PASTU RES BEYOND THE BALE Research Centre (FFI CRC), MLA and AWl research and delivery partnership. 0 More information: Geoff Saul, national EverGraze coordinator, 0419 328 590, www.evergraze.com.au Table I Ovulations rates of synchronised ewes at the Wagga Wagga proof site Chicory pasture 1.45 1.38 Lucerne pasture 1.60 1.25 Phalaris pasture plus 500g lupins a day 1.35 1.32 Phalaris pasture alone 1.45 1.13 Chair ofthe EverGraze national advisory committee and AWl's current Australian Rural Leadership Program participant, Chris Mirams. Small areas of specialty pastures including lucerne and Banquet ryegrass have been established on suitable soils for silage production and to grow out weaner sheep and weaned calves. Phalaris is the backbone of the system and has been sown wherever possible. "Phalaris and clover cover 40 per cent of the property, but carry about 70 per cent of the stock;' Chris says. Due to topography, half of the property has been left with native pastures containing Microleana and Danthonia.The management of these areas has recently changed to improve their productivity and feed quality, as well as to control weeds. In the past, these pastures were set stocked, but have now been subdivided and fertilised, and are rotationally grazed, to maximise their perennial component and productivity. They are now an extremely important part of the whole grazing system. "There are tens of thousands of acres of pasture with an untapped potential;' Chris says. "By using alternative innovative management systems we can improve productivty and benefit the environment:' - FIONA CONROY
Feb - Mar 08
Jun - Jul 08 Supplement