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FARM SERVICES | 8 September 2009

Perennials more productive with early sowing

In the coming weeks the focus will clearly be on sowing WA’s vast expanse of broadacre annual crops and pastures. It’s a time when timeliness is of the essence and growers are well aware that every day’s delay in sowing can punish production and profits at the end of the year.


Perhaps less well acknowledged is the impact sowing date has on perennial pasture establishment and productivity.


But it’s a lesson well learnt by Kevin and Elly Moir of Wilga in the southwest. With the help of perennial pastures they’re progressing their aim of boosting autumn and summer feed for their livestock.


For the Moir’s, planting perennial pastures started in 2002. In that year they sowed in May/June and the pastures developed extremely well.


“I put nearly half my farm into perennials last year,” Kevin said. “On the dryer areas I planted a mix of tall fescue, phalaris, cocksfoot, chicory, plantain and clover.


“They’re all perennials, except for clover. We also sowed a mix of lucerne, chicory and plantain in another three paddocks that were intended for high quality silage.


“Delays caused by a range of reasons including difficult weather conditions taught us that sowing date is critical down here to establish the perennial species.


“The difference between sowing earlier than later was probably 1000 tonnes of silage and about 300 rolls of hay in the first year, so it was substantial.


Landmark Agronomist and consultant, Sam Taylor, explains that getting it right with the sowing package is critical to enjoying the ongoing benefits perennial species have to offer.


He explains that Wilga, located between Donnybrook and Boyup Brook is an area that is susceptible to many frosts each season.


With cooling conditions at the end of autumn when the traditional season break arrives, annual pastures are often slow to establish and a feed shortage generally occurs prior to the onset of lambing.


“Using perennial pastures has allowed Kevin and Elly to increase the available feed supply at this critical time of the year,” he said.


“Having the plants already established at the break of the season, means that the perennial pasture is ready for grazing earlier than comparative annual pastures, with an increased amount of high quality dry matter.


“With the perennials growing at a faster rate, they are making better use of the available warmer conditions at the end of autumn, therefore helping to build up the feed supply going into winter, which is critical for the approaching lambing season.


“In Kevin and Elly’s case, the use of several species in the mix allowed pasture production to be increased across the variable soil types they have on their property.


“As an example, lucerne will not do well in the lower lying areas of their property where waterlogging can be intermittent.


“However, it does extremely well on their gravel hills where it can put its roots down to depth and utilise excess soil moisture.


“Five year old lucerne stands that Kevin has established have persisted extremely well.


“The broadleaf herbs chicory and plantain we have introduced have helped maintain pasture growth rates during the winter. With such a broad leaf they catch more sunlight, and are well adapted to areas that are not suited to lucerne.


“Kevin employs a system of rotational grazing and this is critical to the survival of perennial species.


“Perennial grasses are newer to the system and we are confident they will also increase production.


“The grass species we have introduced are well suited to the environment and hardy enough to survive. Once through the critical establishment phase they should add good value to the system,” Sam said.


He said late spring feed production is generally good in the southwest. However, the use of perennial species would allow more high quality fodder to be conserved because the vegetative phase of the perennials lasts longer than annual species.


Fodder conservation could also be conducted later than for annual pasture paddocks when weather conditions are generally more favourable.


Utilisation of annual pastures could then be increased because the high quality perennials become the focus of fodder conservation and annual pastures are rotationally grazed at this time.


Perennials also recover after cutting at a faster rate than annual species, potentially lengthening the season and reducing the reliance on supplementary feeding.


“I’ve seen large surpluses of conserved fodder available on Kevin’s farm in August (the following season), indicating this system allows him to have at least 12 months supply of feed up his sleeve,” Sam said.


“The process of replanning his farm fencing and increasing the number of paddocks is another major factor in the success of this system for Kevin.


“Smaller paddocks mean that short term stocking rate can be increased in perennial paddocks, and this then allows longer periods of recovery between grazing’s, a critical success factor for perennial pastures. “

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