Gippsland Plains Pasture Trials

Project area

Gippsland Coastal plains between Woodside and Sale

Main enterprises: Sheep and beef production

Average annual rainfall – 600mm

Soil types mainly light sandy clay loams, low water holding capacity and prone to wind erosion.

Sixteen producers took part in the initial Drought Tolerant Pasture project.

Drought tolerant map

Project background and aim:

Yarram Yarram Landcare Network (YYLN)’s Drought Tolerant Perennial Pastures Project (DTPPP) began in 2008.

From 2005 to 2008, the district experienced drought conditions which resulted in substantial soil movement from wind erosion.

This highlighted the need to improve soil health, ground cover and moisture retention through better grazing management and drought tolerant pasture species.

The project ran from 2008 to 2012.  Sixteen producers in the Woodside/Stradbroke area established trials to demonstrate the use of drought tolerant perennial pasture species and better grazing management.

In 2015, funding from the West Gippsland CMA, allowed two years continued monitoring on six of the sites.

Summary of findings:

The 6 perennial pastures have persisted well to date and continue to provide productivity and environmental benefits for the producers compared to annual/rundown old pastures on their properties. The persistence monitoring has also given insights into which combination of perennials work well in this uniform rainfall environment, (very different to the rest of Victoria)

Details of the six paddocks monitored in 2016 and 2017 are shown in Table 1. Soil test results for Control and Trial paddocks in the project were summarised in previous reports.

Table 1. Location of paddocks and pasture species monitored during 2016 and 2017.

Location of paddocks

The six producers recorded stock movements in/out of their trial paddocks and control paddocks during 2016, so that grazing days and stocking rates could be calculated. They also recorded any hay/silage that was cut. To be able to compare the value of the production from each paddock a gross margin per hectare was calculated assuming a livestock gross margin of $30/DSE, a hay gross margin of $60/t and silage $80/t.

Results and discussion

Changes in the number of perennial species (plants/m2)present in each paddock from year of sowing to spring 2017 are shown below.

Standard sowing rates used allow for high seedling densities to establish in all paddocks. Hence, a much larger number of plants usually establish than what are required in the long term. Plants compete with each other for water and nutrient it is common for the number to drop after the first 1 -2 summers and then stabilise, if well managed. For all 6 paddocks, while the plants numbers have declined from year 1, numbers have stabilised and are still adequate to provide a good pasture base.

Farm 1

Pictured below is Elizabeth Balderstone in the Stamina lucerne/Uplands cocksfoot pasture which was treated with chicken litter. The control paddock, same species mix, is on the left. Both paddocks have had the stock out for a similar time. The paddock that had chicken litter continues to regrow faster after each grazing that the control.

Elizabeth Balderstone Farm 1
Farm 1 graph 2

Farm 2

A mixture of lucerne and winter active fescue was sown in September 2009. Good plant numbers established for both species. The spring cut out after sowing, with the result that half of the fescue plants didn’t survive the first summer although all the lucerne plants did. This paddock has been grazed and cut for silage and hay regularly. Lucerne plant numbers have been fairly stable over time but the fescue numbers declined after the drier spring in 2014.

Don Belcher
Farm 2 graph
Belcher fescue paddock

Pictured left is Don Belcher in the Stamina lucerne and the Flecha fescue paddock is pictured above.

Farm 3

A mixture of cocksfoot, phalaris and lucerne was sown in May 2010. While plants of all 3 species did establish, the Yarck cocksfoot (summer active) was the more dominant species and eventually outcompeted the other 2 perennials.

Farm 3 graph

Farm 4

A mixture of Whittet kikuyu and Porto cocksfoot was sown. This site has very light soils and was previous covered in bracken. The cocksfoot established faster than the kikuyu but eventually the kikuyu stared to spread out. The kikuyu is summer active/very winter dormant and develops runners (stolons). The plant counts for the kikuyu are not very accurate as some times assessments were done in later winter before the kikuyu has started to become active and was hard to find. It is also difficult to count individual plants due the presence of runners. In 2016, the bracken was starting to come back along the sandy bank in this paddock.

Ryan Foat
Foats paddocks

Pictured left is Ryan Foat and above is the photo of his trial and control paddocks.

Farms 5 and 6

Summer active fescue was sown, due to its ability to tolerate saline soils and waterlogging. The fescue has shown to very persistent in these difficult sites

Ann Coulson and Bryan Walpole in paddock
Farm 5 graph
Farm 6 graph

Stocking rates and production

A summary of the stocking rates, and other production, achieved from the Control and Trial paddocks during 2016, on the 6 farms, is summarised in Table 2.

Farms 2, 3. 4 and 6 all showed large increases in production and gross margin from their sown Trial pastures compared with their annual/rundown perennial Control pastures.  The improved pasture species and feed quality of the Trial paddocks also gave 2 of the producers the option to cut hay/silage.

On Farm 5, the Control paddock was not as saline as the Trial paddock, which was reflected in the higher stocking rate and gross margin for the Control paddock. However, the productivity and the ground cover has dramatically improved in the Trial paddock compared to how it was in 2008.

On Farm 1, the residual effect of the high rates of chicken litter applied from 2013 to 2015 on one of the paddocks was compared to maintenance rates of conventional fertiliser on the other paddock. The pasture base was the same.  The Trial paddock with chicken litter applied carried 50% more stock and had a 50% higher gross margin than the Control paddock. In 2017, the levels of soil phosphorus, potassium and sulphur were similar (and above the critical levels) for the 2 paddocks (Table 3). Nitrate nitrogen, copper and zinc were higher in the paddock that received chicken litter. The stocking rate responses would have been due to the extra nitrogen supply as both paddocks had adequate zinc and copper.

Conclusions

Producers in this area had been hit hard by the prolonged drought conditions which occurred prior to the project, with their confidence, incomes, pastures and soils all suffering.  This project has boosted morale amongst the participants and renewed their confidence and enthusiasm to invest in perennial pasture establishment.

The 6 perennial pastures that are the focus of this report have persisted well to date and continue to provide productivity and environmental benefits for the producers compared to annual/rundown old pastures on their properties. The persistence monitoring has also given a lot of insights into which combination of perennials work well in mixes in this uniform rainfall environment, which is very different to the rest of Victoria.

The project has equipped the producers with better knowledge of suitable species/varieties for their area, sowing techniques and soil testing/fertiliser requirements.  Producers have improved their level of skill in species identification, establishment and assessment. Producers have also adopted improved practices such as greater use of soil testing to make better fertiliser decisions, some changed from cultivation to direct drilling, and improved grazing management.

Some mixtures of perennials have shown to be more suitable than others. The more summer dormant Upland cocksfoot appears to be more compatible with Lucerne, than the cocksfoots with summer activity such Porto and Yarck (data for these other project farms not shown). In this uniform rainfall environment, summer rain can often occur and the summer active cocksfoot can be too vigorous for other perennials to compete. This was also demonstrated at Farm 3, where over time Yarck cocksfoot out-competed the lucerne and phalaris. Winter-active (& summer dormant) Flecha fescue has shown to be compatible with lucerne (Farm 2), and has not out-competed it.

Method

Sixteen producers/families were involved with the original project which ran from 2008 to 2012.  Properties were located around Woodside, Darriman, Seaspray and Stradbroke in east Gippsland. Participants were active members of several Landcare groups.

Each producer sowed 3 paddocks over the 3 years on their properties. On each farm, producers selected a “Control” paddock, that represented an unimproved or rundown perennial pasture, to compare the productivity with the newly sown (trial) paddocks.

Two additional paddocks were sown in 2013 on one property at Darriman as part of a Soil Carbon project. One of these paddocks received 5 t/ha of chicken litter per year for 3 years (2013-2015), with the first application occurring after the pasture was sown in 2013. This paddock had no fertiliser in 2016 and 2017.The Control paddock received annual applications of granular fertiliser from 2013 to 2017. The paddocks were originally all the one paddock but were subdivided after sowing. The paddocks were soil tested in 2017 to look at the residual impact of the high rates of chicken litter applied.

The pastures were monitored in the year of establishment (plants/m2) and each year after that in late winter/early spring to assess the persistence of the sown perennials (plants/m2 and basal cover) and pasture species composition (% of dry matter).  All pastures sown during the project were assessed up until 2015.  In 2015, six paddocks were selected from across the project area to continue monitoring for a further 2 years. The paddocks were selected to represent a range of different species used and soil conditions.

The West Gippsland CMA would like to thank participating farmers, YYLN for their support of the Drought Tolerant Pastures Group and Lisa Warn (Ag Consulting) who has been providing advice, support, monitoring and evaluation of pastures since 2008.

The Healthy Soils Sustainable Farms project is supported by the West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Programme.

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2 thoughts on “Gippsland Plains Pasture Trials

  1. Hello Tony,
    Thanks for the report. I have a few observations to make:
    1. Re table 2 is the “stocking rate” actually the average paddock carrying capacity over a 365 annual cycle. Stocking rate can be significantly different to carrying capacity. On our farm our paddock stocking rates vary from around 40 dse/ha to 120 dse/ha depending on stock type, pasture growth during rest, and grazing pressure desired. But our annual paddock carrying capacities vary between 8 and 22 dse/ha reflecting species composition and annual rainfall. Is it possible for Farm 1 to show the control and trial paddocks annual carrying capacity per 100mm rainfall over the duration of the trial. The impact of annual rainfall would be interesting to know.
    2: For farm 1 is it possible to provide some annual nutrient budget data for the control and trial paddocks. Poultry manure has highly variable nutrient composition but you may have some analysis which describes how many kg/ha of major organic nutrients and carbon were applied each year. I understand the control paddock also received nutrients each year based on conventional applications of inorganic fertilisers. Knowing what these inputs were would be useful to gain some insight into how the nutrients inputs per hectare per year compare, or whether the poultry manure through its additional organic matter was providing an additional benefit which lifted pasture production per hectare?
    3: What was the grazing regime on farm 1. How many days per year was the control and trial paddocks grazed each year, how long were rests from grazing and what stocking rate were the paddocks grazed at?

    1. Hi Patrick,
      Farm 1 took part in a separate project from 2010 to 2013 that was funded by the Australian Government Carbon Action on the Ground.
      I have the report and will either send you a copy or I will post online. It has more comprehensive data on the chicken manure application.
      The findings were that the additional N content was the major factor lifting production and the soil carbon content difference was negligible, however there does seem to be a residual effect 3 years on.
      Questions 1 and 3 could possibly be answered by the farmer or Lisa Warn, the Agronomist. I will ask them to have a look at your questions, but we only paid for some very simple monitoring of grazing days in the paddocks and species composition and %. So it is possible that those questions will remain unanswered.

      We have another demo site where we are trying to evaluate carrying capacity per 100mm rainfall. stay tuned.
      cheers Tony