Varying pasture conditions
Prolonged drought put tremendous pressure on pastures throughout the State with resulting pasture condition varying depending on location and management.
In fact pasture management is a more important factor than pasture species when it comes to drought, according to NSW Department of Primary Industries Regional Director for the North West and New England Bob Freebairn.
“Even the most drought tolerant species, including native grasses, can be quickly destroyed by poor management decisions during a drought,” Mr Freebairn said.
“One of the best ways to gauge the impact of management decisions during drought is to observe how quickly paddocks respond with useful feed following good rainfall.
“Ground cover in North West pastures is the biggest concern as we head into summer and the storm season.”
NSW DPI district agronomists suggest this response has been variable. Tumut-based agronomist Brett Upjohn said perennial pastures in his district had survived better than most would have expected.
“In the higher altitudes perennial pastures are mostly phalaris-based and they have coped really well,” Mr Upjohn said.
“But in the lower areas pastures have not fared as well, and since the rain in June there has been an explosion of weeds.”
Mr Upjohn said higher levels of destocking as a result of good stock prices was one reason for pasture survival, as well as improved management resulting from specialised drought workshops and grazing and pasture management field days.
In the Temora district, the drought caused the death of some lucerne pastures but DPI agronomist Peter Matthews said this was influenced by grazing intensity.
“If graziers were able to adequately spell the paddock so the lucerne could recover prior to re-grazing then the situation wasn’t too bad,” Mr Matthews said.
Dubbo-based agronomist Kathi Hertel said a large proportion of pastures were grazed to the point that plants died before being able to set seed.
“Seed set is critical for annuals that need to regenerate each year and right now the seed banks are depleted in many paddocks,” Ms Hertel said.
“However many of the native grasses are quite resilient and given careful management they will be able to recover over the course of several years.”
Ms Hertel said there had been a noticeable increase in the number of farmers sowing straight pasture where they would normally have sown a cover crop of wheat, oats or barley.
“Unless farmers have a crystal ball that tells them it’s going to be a long wet spring I would suggest it’s now too late to sow clovers, medics and temperate grasses like phalaris and cocksfoot – it would be better to wait until autumn.”
Ms Hertel said there had been an explosion in numbers of earth mites in the Central West and it was important that farmers carry out control measures to prevent attacks on newly sown pastures and crops.
Weeds, in particular roly poly, are a significant problem in the Coonamble district where DPI agronomist Janet Wilkins said pastures had degenerated to bare soil in some areas as a result of the drought.
“The first thing to re-establish since the rain seems to be roly poly with some paddocks covered from fence to fence,” Ms Wilkins said.
“Native pasture paddocks will need to be spelled and weeds controlled.
“There are only some grass butts remaining in improved pasture paddocks, while lucerne densities have depleted significantly, requiring resowing.”
To limit the impact of drought on pastures, graziers need to develop a clear management plan.
NSW DPI can provide assistance in developing drought strategies.
This story appears in Agriculture Today.