"Karubah" Bethungra. NSW 2590
When we bought our farm six years ago, the whole place had been heavily cropped and overgrazed.
After two years of observation it became apparent which paddocks presented the most problems. We undertook a farm plan to improve those paddocks showing least productivity first. Some paddocks were suited to cropping, others suited to five to seven years perennial pasture.
One particular paddock presented the most problems for conventional sowing. It was extremely boggy and shaley, and grew only capeweed and ryegrass. A soil test revealed very low phosphorus levels of under 10 ppm and a pH of 5.2.
We tried a crop of oats in 1989, our second year, but this became waterlogged and the weeds could not be controlled, resulting in failure.
Due to extremely low stocking rates of 2 DSE/ha we had minimal returns from this paddock for three years.
Through discussions with our local District Agronomist, Geoff Pitson, we heard of the Prime Pasture Program. Geoff put us in contact with Mike Keys. After consulting with him we felt that direct drilling perennial pastures could be the answer to the problems this paddock presented.
The 12 ha paddock was chemically fallowed in October 1989, using 450 ml/ha Roundup and again in September 1990, using 1 L/ha Roundup. In June 1991, it was again sprayed
with 1 L/ha Roundup and 50 ml/ha LeMat. We used the higher recommended rates of Roundup
for complete weed kill to offset minimal soil disturbance. Application of 900 ml Lonsban 6 weeks post-sowing for a scarabs problem gave long-term RLEM control.
Mike Keys brought the Shearer culti-drill over and the paddock was sown on 30 June 1991. Points were changed and weighed to measure wear throughout the sowing. From these measurements, I learnt that tungsten tipped cast inverted T points were the best for the job.
During the two weeks following sowing we received 70 mm of rain.
It was with the emergence of the pasture and seeing the good germination rates under severe waterlogging that I could see the benefits of direct drilling.
The paddock, which is on a slope, was sown in two sections. One half was sown up and down the slope, the other half was sown in a conventional paddock manner, i.e. round and round. Where the pasture was sown up and down the slope, the water was able to drain down the furrows, which stopped waterlogging, so germination was much better than where we had gone round and round and water lay in the furrows drowning the emerged seedlings.
Accurate seed placement by direct drilling allows for a higher percentage of emergence. Where it was boggy and the seeder sank into the ground, emergence was poor.
If this paddock had been sown by conventional methods, e.g. a band seeder, the ground would have had to be worked very fine, and there would have been a very narrow window of sowing opportunity. Erosion would have been severe and post-sowing insect and weed control would not have been possible.
A total of 9 kg/ha of seed was used, consisting of a mixture of:
2 kg Aurora lucerne
1 kg Sirolan phalaris
1 kg Currie cocksfoot
2 kg Junee subterranean clover
2 kg Karridale clover
1 kg Balansa clover
I would not recommend this high rate of Balansa as it is an extremely prolific grower and will take over, outcompeting the slower perennial grasses.
80 kg/ha of Starterphos fertiliser was applied at sowing.
A breakdown of sowing costs per ha is:
Tractor and combine wear
and tear and fuel costs $22
Total cost per ha: $125
This may seem expensive as it was not offset against a cover crop, but given the type of paddock this was the only option. A ground cover of approximately 80% was achieved with production increases which have more than warranted this cost.
An area was put aside for variety trials with Geoff Pitson. Different species were direct drilled in long plots. This has enabled us to evaluate grazing preference and persistence of pasture species in this climate and soil type over a period of three years.
The Phalaris varieties sown were Uneta, Sirosa and Sirolan. All have had good persistence and equal grazing preference.
In the Cocksfoots, varieties were Wana, Porto and Currie. Persistence has varied. Wana has been poor while the persistence of Porto and Currie has been good. Porto has shown preferential grazing compared with the other two.
Varieties of Fescue were Triumph and Demeter. These had very poor establishment. Persistence was fair but they did not make it through the summer.
Varieties of Ryegrass were Kangaroo and Victorian. Again, these had poor persistence and grazing preference.
Five clovers were sown in order of maturity. These were Nungarin, Dalkeith, Trikkala, Junee and Karridale. They were sown with 2 kg/ha Uneta and 2 kg/ha Currie Cocksfoot.
The later maturing varieties smothered the grasses. Grass plant counts range from 14 plants/m row, tapering to 5-6 plants/m row, in this variety trial area.
Persistence and grazing preference of the clovers have been good.
An aerial seeding trial was done alongside these species trials. Plant germination and persistence have not been nearly as good as the direct drilled pastures.
It is worth noting that in extremely wet conditions, like last year, this trial paddock can now be driven all over in a 4WD, which has obvious benefits in feeding stock, mustering, etc.
After seeing the results on the trial paddock, which were excellent, we were convinced that the cost was warranted. We decided to convert our International spring tyne combine to heavy duty spring tynes with Caldow boots at a cost of approximately $105 per tyne. This was the most cost effective way to enable us to direct drill pastures and crops.
Observations of direct drilling methods and plant variety trials were then used in the farm plan strategy. For example, a paddock which does not lend itself to cropping would be sown down with a phalaris dominant pasture mix. A paddock that we would intend to crop in five to seven years would be sown down with a cocksfoot dominant mix.
After the results of the trial paddock were so successful and we could see the potential increase in production, we decided to prepare another 25 ha paddock.
We spray fallowed in October 1991 with 1 L/ha Roundup. This paddock had a heavy infestation of Silvergrass and Paterson's curse. The paddock was chemically fallowed the following May with 700 ml/ha Roundup, 400 ml/ha Ester 800 and 50 ml/ha LeMat.
It was sown on 12 June 1992 with a seed mix of:
2 kg Currie Cocksfoot
2 kg Zodiac murex Medic
2 kg Junee clover
2 kg Woogenellup
2 kg Nova lucerne
2 kg Sirolan phalaris
0.5 kg Balansa clover
The seed was mixed with organic fertiliser which was applied at a rate of 100 kg/ha. As this was a slow release fertiliser, we topdressed with 150 kg/ha single super the first week of August.
We sprayed with Endosulfan 500 ml/ha after sowing. Sowing was done at 7 km/hour at a depth of 1.5 - 2 cm. This speed gave us about 5% of seed showing through the tilth. Sowing at too fast a speed did not allow enough coverage of the seed and the points did not penetrate properly. The paddock should be as free of trash as possible before sowing, therefore heavy grazing after spray topping and after the autumn break is essential.
We had an excellent establishment of pasture in this paddock also. The trial paddock went from a carrying capacity of 2 DSE/ha to 12.5 DSE/ha when grazed on a rotational basis with periods
of heavy stocking during shearing and crutching. The second paddock had previously been capable of 6.3 DSE/ha, but now, two years
after sowing, it has a capacity of about 13.2 DSE/ha.
Putting this in dollars and cents for 1993 -
6.3 DSE cutting 5 kg of wool
@ 433 cents/kg = $136
13.2 DSE cutting 5 kg of wool
@ 433 cents/kg = $285
an increase of $149
These figures are very basic and only take into account increased stocking rates and not increased wool production per sheep, but it is obvious that within two years you are making a profit on the establishment costs of the pasture.
The other benefits are that you have cattle feed two to three weeks earlier than with annual pastures and you can get an advantage from summer rains.
We are persisting with direct drilling on non-cropping soils as it leaves the timing window wide open. This enables us to take advantage of the moisture; weed growth is not activated through soil disturbance; and erosion is minimised.
In the paddock which we intend to sow down next year we are going to trial a small section of undersowing, by direct drilling, 15 kg/ha of Triticale in with the mix. If this works it will help to offset some of the costs.
The Prime Pasture sign on the trial paddock fence, which borders the road, has attracted plenty of local interest in addition to organised bus tours. With two field days organised by the local Agricultural Bureau, which were well attended, plus the Prime Pasture bus trip and 20-30 "caller-inners", these trials have received plenty of publicity.
I have also had about half a dozen people looking at the Combine conversion.
Working in conjunction with Prime Pasture has put us in touch with agronomists throughout the country, specialising in pastures and sowing techniques, which has been of great interest and benefit to us.
I would like to thank the sponsors of the Prime Pasture program for helping to keep the Program running. Incitec, Monsanto, Wright Stevenson and Primary Sales have been generous in their sponsorship and I believe it really has been a WIN WIN situation for everyone.
In conclusion, I would like to thank all those involved in the Prime Pasture program, particularly Mike Keys and Geoff Pitson. It has been a great project in which to be involved. Good pastures do pay. We and our paddocks have benefited enormously.