The role pastures play in our mixed farming systems of the southern Riverina should not be underestimated.
Apart from the obvious production benefits to livestock enterprises, other benefits include nitrogen fixation, maintaining groundcover, improving soil structure, and fertility and disease control. What are some of the keys of successful pasture establishment?
Establishing new pastures can cost $200 per hectare, so it’s important to get a good result. Plan in advance of sowing, considering factors such as soil limitations, and weed and pest control.
2. Soil fertility
A soil test will identify issues that need correcting. Be aware of soil acidity, nutrient status and potential imbalances or toxicities.
3. Choose the right variety
Choose pasture species based on soil type, rainfall requirements, maturity, and disease and waterlogging tolerance. A mix of legumes and grasses will provide high-quality pastures for livestock. Also consider if the pasture species are short or long-term, or annual or perennial.
Always use high-quality, certified seed. Seed cost is a relatively small component of the overall budget, and certified seed will ensure high germination rates and minimise impurities – especially weed seeds.
Seed treatment is also an important consideration.
4. Correct seeding rate
Lowering seeding rates will result in lower production, while providing greater opportunity for weeds to germinate. Always take note of the recommended seeding rate. If conditions are less than ideal, consider increasing the rate.
5. Sow with good soil moisture
Favourable conditions are desirable for at least a couple of weeks after sowing. When sowing dryland, aim to sow with a good profile of moisture. Sowing dry is not recommended, and sowing into late autumn-winter will reduce pasture establishment, growth and production.
When growing irrigated pastures, you can dry sow and water-up, or pre-irrigate and sow into moisture. Whichever method you choose, the second watering needs to follow soon after the initial irrigation.
6. Soil temperature
The consistently high temperatures of the last few weeks have delayed the start-up of irrigating winter pastures – with good reason. Apart from obvious issues around increased water requirements, high soil temperatures will inhibit germination of many annual pasture species. The ideal soil temperature (at sowing depth) for ryegrass, for example, is 15-25C. The most practical indicator is to use average daily air temperature over a period of 7-10 days.
7. Seedbed preparation
Everyone has their own ideas of what works best. Whichever method, remember to sow seed shallow. Sowing too deep will significantly reduce germination and establishment, while dropping seed on the surface can often lead to ‘harvesting’ by ants. Aim to sow to a depth of 1-2cm, cover lightly with soil, and get good seed-soil contact.
Once your newly established pasture is on its way, keep an eye out for weed germinations and any pests – in particular red-legged earth mites and aphids. Get on top of these early to minimise costs and impacts.
9. Grazing management
Successful pastures, once established, are dependent on suitable grazing management in their first year:
Do not graze too early – plants must resist being ‘pulled out’. Graze lightly to encourage tillering and good root development.
Ensure good seedset by minimising grazing during the flowering and seed production period.
Landholders wanting further advice should contact advisors or resellers, or a member of the agricultural extension team at Murray Local Land Services.