|  Our Valuable Native Grasslands, Better Pastures Naturally
Proceedings of the Second National Conference of the Native Grasses Association
NSW Agriculture, Kempsey (formally Scone)
TIPA (Native grass association), Tamworth (formally Scone)
The Upper Hunter Valley is a beef producing area, based predominantly on native and naturalised pasture species. Common practice in the area is to sub and super (spread sub clover and spread super phosphate) existing pasture. Some area is sown down to introduced species such as phalaris, cocksfoot and lucerne. With the high cost of establishing these pastures, interest has increased in lower input systems and in getting more out of existing pasture.
To gain a better understanding of native pasture issues, 100 surveys were sent to dryland landholders in the upper Hunter Valley, in February 2000. The survey was targeted rather than random, with recipients including farmers who had participated in Prograze groups, Beef Improvement Association and in native grass field days.
Thirty surveys were returned and the following results are based as a percentage of these.
The average amount of native / naturalised pasture on these farms was 65%. Rotational grazing was the commonest form of grazing management for both natural and introduced pastures. Grazing management of introduced pastures tended to be more intensive than natural pasture. Most natural pastures are actively managed, but set stocking was more prevalent than for introduced pastures.
Wiregrass (Aristida ramosa), redgrass (Bothriochloa macra) and wallaby grass (Danthonia sp) were the major species on more than 50% of properties. Widespread co-dominant species such as redgrass and wallaby grass are more likely to be recognised than minor components such as glycine and early spring grass (Eriochloa pseudoacrotricha) (Figure 1). Wiregrass, a very common undesirable grass for grazing in the Hunter was recognised by all but one farmer. The response shown in Figure 1 may also be higher than the general recognition levels as this survey was targeted to farmers who had been involved in programs where native grasses have had coverage.
Figure 1: Can you recognise the following pasture species?
Farmers were asked what grazing value they placed on a range of species. The responses have been divided into what the majority (excluding don't know) called low (Figure 2), moderate (Figure 3) and high grazing value (Figure 4). There was a higher recognition of the quality of "undesirable" grazing species than "desirable" ones. There was a high level of "don't knows" to all species but this was greatest in valuable species such as glycine, early spring grass and wheatgrass (Elymus scaber). Even high profile native species, weeping grass (Microlaena stipoides) and wallaby grass had high levels of "don't know" responses.
Figure 2, 3, 4 : What grazing value do you place on native pasture species?
There were a wide range of reasons why landholders value native pastures. Drought hardiness (69%), drought reserve (55%) and low input (55%) were their most valued features. Most landholders valued biodiversity (48%) with utilisation, maintaining it through better grazing management. Only 14% set aside area specifically for native pasture conservation. Weed control and feed quality of native pastures were both rated by 28% of respondents.
Farmers indicated that they needed more knowledge or skills to better manage native pasture. These included, management to reduce undesirable and increase desirable species (6 farmers), all aspects of identification, value and management (5), recognition skills (5), growing and seeding patterns (3), Extensive management and maintenance information (2) and production benefits due to fertiliser application (2).
This targeted survey shows that there is a recognised lack of knowledge about the plants that make up the greatest part of the upper Hunter pastures by the people that manage and utilise them. The higher recognition of "undesirable" species may reflect the past emphasis on natives being of low value. There is a desire for more information and skills to combat this long neglected area and a recognition of the worth of native pastures. This is not restricted to the Upper Hunter. At the NSW Grassland Society conference in Armidale, 2000, feedback sheets showed that native pasture management was the top of the list for future topics.
Hunter Catchment Management Trust supplied the initial grant for work by the Scone office of NSW Agriculture for Native Pasture awareness. Carol and Harry Rose ran ten Native Pasture Recognition workshops in the upper Hunter. Carol still runs workshops as does Darryl Cluff, STIPA, Coolah.