INHERENT RESILIENCE IN BIODIVERSE PERENNIAL PASTURES

Tallawang.
Read Craig’s own experience of how the resilience in his pastures as a result of his regenerative farming practices enabled him to effectively manage the climate extremes experienced at the beginning of 2013.

On 19 February, Nicky and I had the pleasure of attending a workshop with the self confessed lunatic farmer Joel Salatin [of Polyface Farms in the USA]. It was a refreshing insight into his views on a wide range of matters that are pretty pertinent to what we are trying to achieve at Tallawang.

One of the more insightful remarks was to consider all non-growing periods as dormant times and not try to give them different names according to the season or amount of rainfall you have received – very much in the keep it simple mode. This really applies to perennial systems as a failed “crop” of annuals is a failed crop.

Those who have read our case study on the Soils for Life site will be familiar with the focus that we have on perennial grasses and rainfall.

This past six to eight months months has been challenging period as the winter rains provided a kickstart for the grasses but no follow up rain left them in a dormant state for much of spring and the first month or so of summer. Our rolling rainfall didn’t drop below average until November when it fell off a cliff picked up again in December but searing heat and wind terminated all but the hardiest of annuals. From a livestock point of view it was time to consider destocking if no significant rain fell in January.

Stock numbers on Tallawang are adjusted according to fodder availability

To paint the picture, the only green bits on Tallawang were the vege patch (constant watering from the Chief Vege Person) and the well hydrated creek flats that were copping a punishing as we were trying to hold condition on cattle for sale.

The week leading up to Australia Day was cruel – one night down to 37 degrees. Then Cyclone Oswald arrived – bringing 199 mm of rain followed up by a further 25mm. A significant flood and much re-fencing. However, the key result was an explosion of grass.

Grasses that had been dozing since October like the Tall Oat grass, Kangaroo Grass and Qld Blue woke from their heat- and dry-induced snooze, Bothriachloa Biloba and Silky brown top (later starters) shot up and we now have a sward of highly productive and diverse pastures. First off the block were annual grasses like Liverseed, paspalum and Barnyard grass and a range of forbs, however, within three weeks of the rain the perennial grasses and native legumes had grown fast enough to start adding lots of compensatory kilos on to the cows to make up for the weight stability or reduction that had been sustained during November and December.Our response to this fast growing sward of pasture has been to accelerate our rotation between paddocks from once every day and a half, where we were trying to give the pasture as much rest as we could to moving twice a day morning and night.

We have purchased additional stock to match our capacity and keep the grass in a state of constant growth.

What is the message? We have built significant resilience into our landscape and this can only come about with a very diverse range of grasses, herbs, legumes and forbs and well hydrated landscape. This resilience enabled fabulous recovery of the landscape putting us in the position to be able to buy in stock whilst many in our district were waiting for the grass to grow. The broader the range of perennials the better ground cover and the earlier you have saleable cattle. And this is all done with no purchased inputs.

Degraded pastures on Tallawang when Craig bought the property (left) have been regenerated to biodiverse and resilient perennial pastures through his grazing management practices (right).

Read the Tallawang case study to learn how Craig and and his partner, Nicky, built this resilience in their landscape.

Questions for Craig? Any thoughts? Click on ‘Comments’ below and let us know.

The Soils for Life Team

MAKING THE MOST OF VEGETATION

maximising ground cover, some of our case studies have demonstrated strong production and economic benefits from making the most of revegetation on their properties.

WHAT TREES CAN DO FOR YOU…

Trees can improve agricultural production by providing shade and shelter that protects stock and crops from wind and extremes of heat and cold. Vegetation contributes to an effective water cycle. Together with extensive, slow biodegrading litters, diverse woodland communities reduce surface wind speeds and extreme temperatures that would otherwise encourage significant evaporation losses.

Studies on a wide range of sites have shown that shelterbelts can improve crop productivity, typically by 5% to 20% [1]. Trees established as shelterbelts and woodlots can be managed to produce timber and other tree products, thus increasing diversification of farm income [2]. Experiences of our case study participants have further demonstrated the benefits of tree regeneration and/or revegetation.

Increase profits…

On Dukes Plain near Theodore in Queensland, Shane Joyce is measuring the financial benefit of increased vegetation in his pastures. Shane has found that paddocks with regenerated stands of brigalow (Acacia harpophylla) support higher production (a gross margin of $112.74 ha/year) compared with those that had been cleared (gross margin of $83.96 ha/year).

Shane’s own observation and monitoring on Dukes Plain identified the importance of shelterbelts and tree canopy levels in relation to production, as well as for regeneration of natural resources.

Shane observed a balance between sunlight reaching the grass understorey for photosynthesis and the benefits to that understorey of having shade during hot periods when photosynthesis would otherwise shut down. He noted that shelterbelts also provide protection from wind shear on both moisture loss and animal performance in cold, as well as a barrier to frost impact on leaf production. As trees have deeper roots, they also intercept nutrient from depth, recycling to topsoil and subsequently grass production via fallen leaf and residues.

The Joyces observed that approximately a 40% canopy provided optimum pasture production for them. This is not a fixed ratio and will change from area to area relative to seasonal values of temperature, wind and rainfall frequency. The optimum level will vary from farm to farm – and is an area that can be investigated to maximise individual outcomes.

Increase productive land…

As discussed in an earlier post, on Talaheni, John and Robyn Ive are using revegetation to capture rainfall higher in their property to lower the water table and subsequently reduce salinity problems. As a result, saline seeps have been all but eliminated across their property, making much more productive land available.

The Ives have used innovative techniques, employing strategic grazing to exploit variable seasonal conditions, and using livestock to disturb hard ground surface to facilitate germination. Combined with additional manual planting, the Ives estimate they have established more than 200,000 trees on their property. The result of their actions are clearly visible along their boundary line in the image below.

image of hill with trees on one side and not on the other

Just some of the benefits that can be obtained by regenerating vegetation and making it work for you!

The Soils for Life Team

FOOTNOTE:
1 Cleugh, H., 2003, Trees for Shelter: a Guide to Using Windbreaks on Australian Farms, RIRDC Publication 02/059, Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, Canberra.
2 Fritsch, S. and Hudson, B., 2008, Whole Farm Financial and Environmental Returns Under Farm Forestry: Six case studies, RIRDC Publication 08/146, Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, Canberra.

Soils for Life,