Updated: August 2021
Pasture dieback is a condition that kills sown and native summer growing pastures. It starts as small patches and can spread to affect large areas. The grasses die allowing broadleaf weeds to colonise. Often groundcover in these areas is low. Pasture dieback is not limited by landscape or soil type. Livestock avoid grazing affected areas making them unproductive (Figure 1).
Pasture dieback was first identified in Central Queensland. It has now spread across Queensland in coastal and inland regions from the Atherton Tablelands to New South Wales. Pasture dieback was confirmed on the North Coast of NSW in autumn 2020.
Symptoms are most evident when pastures are actively growing during spring, summer and autumn, especially following significant rainfall. Symptoms of pasture dieback include:
Many of the dieback symptoms can be caused by a range of other factors. These include but are not limited to: mineral deficiency, moisture stress, cold temperatures, herbicide damage, water logging and nematodes. It is important to eliminate these before assuming dieback. However a combination of symptoms, including a rapid increase of the affected area following significant rainfall are good indicators of pasture dieback. More information on symptoms can be found in the pasture dieback identification guide.
Pasture dieback affects summer growing grasses. All of the commonly sown summer growing grasses are susceptible as well as a number of native and naturalised grasses. It has not been reported in temperate grasses, with the exception of a single case of an annual ryegrass forage crop.
Species known to be affected include:
There are potentially more grass species that are susceptible.
Research to date indicates that pasture dieback is not caused by a single agent, but likely a complex interaction of multiple agents and factors. Research to identify the causal agents is continuing.
Two insects are currently also under investigation for their role in the condition: pasture mealybug (Heliococcus sp. nr summervillei) and white ground pearl (Margarodes australis). The association of both insects with pasture dieback is currently being studied.
Pasture mealybug has been found at pasture dieback sites in NSW. More information on pasture mealybug can be found here.
A number of techniques have been tested to control pasture dieback but to date, no successful methods have been identified that consistently restore long-term pasture productivity. Burning and cultivation have been found to provide short-term relief of symptoms only. Research is ongoing.
Pasture mealybug is a pest of pasture grasses irrespective of its role in pasture dieback. APVMA have released an emergency permit (PER88482) for the use of the systemic insecticide spirotetramat (registered as Movento®) for the control of pasture mealybug in mixed pastures. This insecticide is best used for small incursions only. Before using the insecticide ensure that pasture mealybug is present. It is important to read and adhere to the APVMA permit and Movento® label. A list of other chemicals potentially suitable for the control of pasture mealybug in pastures in NSW only can be found here.
The death of pastures due to pasture dieback can lead to feed shortages, low ground cover and colonisation by weeds. Sowing alternative forages into these affected areas will provide valuable feed, as well as maintain ground cover to prevent erosion and provide competition for weeds.
Broad-leaf plants are not affected by pasture dieback. Legumes, herbs and brassicas are options that can be sown into dieback affected areas. Talk to your local advisor about which species and varieties are best suited to your situation.
At this stage we do not recommend re-sowing perennial grasses into dieback affected areas. All of the summer growing perennial grass species commonly sown in NSW are susceptible to pasture dieback while the susceptibility of temperate species is not known.
Suggested sowing options and the susceptibility to pasture dieback are listed in the table below.
|Forage type||Susceptibility to pasture dieback||Notes and further information|
|Winter annual legumes (e.g. clovers, medics, vetch, serradella, biserrula)||Nil|
|Summer forage legumes (e.g. cowpeas, lablab, soybeans)||Nil|
|Perennial legumes (e.g. lucerne, white clover, red clover, desmanthus, creeping vigna, forage peanuts)||Nil|
|Herbs (e.g. chicory, plantain)||Nil|
|Brassicas (e.g. forage rape, leafy turnip, bulb turnip)||Nil||Forage brassicas|
|Winter cereals (e.g. forage or dual purpose types. Oats, wheat, barley, triticale, rye)||Unknown|
To date no reported cases of pasture dieback in winter cereals.
|Winter annual grasses (e.g. annual ryegrass)||Unknown||There has been one reported case of annual ryegrass affected by pasture dieback. If sowing ryegrass use an inexpensive variety. Seed treatment may provide extra protection.|
Summer forages (e.g. millet, forage sorghum)
There have been mixed reports in Queensland. Seed treatment may provide extra protection.
|Temperate perennial grasses (e.g. perennial ryegrass, fescue, cocksfoot, phalaris)||Unknown||Not recommended to sow. High establishment cost when susceptibility is unknown.|
|Tropical perennial grasses (e.g. kikuyu, paspalum, setaria, Rhodes grass, panic grasses, digit grass)||Very high||Not recommend to sow. All species commonly sown in NSW are affected by dieback.|
Pasture dieback can occur in both arable and non-arable landscapes. In areas which are too steep for machinery access or populated by trees, alternative strategies will be required. In some situations broadcasting seed may be an option. In areas where access is limited, regular grazing of the pasture could minimise spread of the condition into unaffected paddocks. In Queensland, some pastures have regenerated from the soil seedbank without intervention. Research is required in these situations to identify suitable solutions.
Put in place best practice biosecurity actions to prevent entry, establishment and spread of pasture dieback on your property:
Movement of pasture dieback affected grass hay is a potential means of spread. Source hay from reputable suppliers, especially summer grass hay e.g. Rhodes grass. Monitor areas where hay is stored and fed.
Help us identify where pasture dieback is by reporting. If you suspect symptoms of pasture dieback please:
November 2020: North Coast Local Land Services 'A drought in otherwise perfect conditions'.
June 2020: NSW DPI 'Responding to the on-farm challenges of pasture dieback'. Links to the presentation recordings can be found below:
Buck, S. & Johnstone, C. (2019) Pasture dieback. Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Queensland. https://futurebeef.com.au/knowledgecentre/pasture-dieback/