Selecting the right perennial species for your farm
Sowing perennial pasture is a significant investment that will take 3-8 years for a return on investment, so it is important to establish a productive pasture that will persist and provide feed at the right time of year. If you look at seed catalogues and talk to agronomists, or even worse – ask Doctor Google(!), there are a myriad of different species and varieties that you could plant, so how do you make the right choice?
Before deciding to plant a perennial pasture, it is important to ensure that you have addressed pasture pests, weed control, soil fertility and thought about your grazing management. Many perennial grasses can be slow to establish and do not compete well with weeds, so minimising seed burden in the soil by grazing/paddock management or cropping for at least one year before sowing your perennial pasture is vital to ensure success. Similarly, many perennial species require good soil fertility, so a soil test and investment in fertiliser should be a mandatory part of planning your new pasture. Don’t forget that trace minerals such as boron and molybdenum are important for thriving clovers.
Once you come to pick your pasture mix, you should consider the following factors to ensure that you select the right plant for the right place and right purpose:
- Which species/varieties have you had success with previously?
- Which species grow beside the roads close to the paddock you want to sow?
- Have you observed pasture species on a neighbours farm that seems to do well?
- What type of soil do you have? Has the paddock got issues with salinity or waterlogging, or high aluminium? Has it got a hardpan?
- When is it important for this paddock to produce feed in the big picture of your farming system?
- What class/type of stock are you likely to graze in this area?
- What is the aspect and topography (degree of slope) of the paddock?
- Do you have irrigation available, or does the pasture have to survive our variable climate?
As a general rule for this area, cocksfoot and lucerne will do well on the lighter soils (Note: lucerne will not tolerate low pH in conjunction with aluminium in the soil). Phalaris prefers the heavier soils, but there are plenty of other choices that you could consider, such as fescue, prairie grass or ryegrass, as well as different clovers. Many local agronomists can give you sound advice on the pasture species that grow well on your farm, but when it comes to varieties, you may want to also look at some independent local data where available. Unfortunately, this is not available for all species, but one good source is the Pasture Trial Network website: https://tools.mla.com.au/ptn. This has data on local trials for perennial ryegrass, fescue, phalaris, subclover and lucernes. For cocksfoot and annual ryegrass, you may want to look at Cressy in Tasmania, which is an area that can be similarly impacted by East coast lows (or lack thereof). The PTN website gives data on the performance of many different varieties at different times of the year, allowing you to match performance to requirements. Another good source is the Evergraze website that has a considerable amount of information on perennials. This web page has some handy information: https://www.evergraze.com.au/library-content/feedbase-pasture-species-options/ . Additional information on different ryegrasses for Gippsland can be found at https://www.dairyaustralia.com.au/FVI
Different species can also be observed growing at the GAgG Research Farm on the Bengworden Road. The MLA producer demonstration site has a wide range of species and varieties, and the oversowing project has more. At the time of writing, there are many species performing well. You will find information on the blog at https://gippslandag.com.au/mla-perennial-pds/ . However, remember that these are just demonstrations, not trial data as generated by the PTN.