How tropical pasture trial will boost carrying capacity

Tropical pasture trial begins around Manilla district


Cropping
Hart Rural Agencies senior agronomist Andrew Jack is behind a tropical pasture trial with producers like Manilla's Bronwyn and Stuart Lockrey.

Hart Rural Agencies senior agronomist Andrew Jack is behind a tropical pasture trial with producers like Manilla's Bronwyn and Stuart Lockrey.

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An agronomist has bold plans to help producers increase their stocking rates.

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LIVESTOCK carrying capacity in northern NSW could be boosted by up to eight times the current rates based on a new trial into tropical pasture management. 

Hart Rural Agencies senior agronomist Andrew Jack was surprised to learn producers around Manilla and Barraba were only carrying about 2.5 dry sheep equivalent (DSE) or one beast to 10 acres (four hectares) despite being in a 600 millimetre average rainfall area. 

But based on his studies of DPI research and with the assistance of tropical pastures, Mr Jack believes landholders should be able to run 20 DSE or two beast to the hectare. 

Determined to test his stocking claims, Mr Jack gained support from North West Local Land Services and Grassland Society to begin a two year trial, kicking off just a few weeks ago.

Agronomist Andrew Jack with Stuart and Bronwyn Lockrey, Towri, Manilla.

Agronomist Andrew Jack with Stuart and Bronwyn Lockrey, Towri, Manilla.

The response to trial plot applications was overwhelming with about 21 sites finalised on 10 properties from the Upper Horton and around the Manilla district. 

A soil test was taken from each site followed by monthly pasture cuts, aimed at determining species survival and nutritional and grazing management impacts. 

The trial plots include dryland and irrigated tropical pastures.

The trial plots include dryland and irrigated tropical pastures.

Just last year Mr Jack was able to show his clients in the area that they could make $1000 in a month per hectare by managing their pastures. 

“That was the value in livestock we could turn off with the extra kilograms gained within 30 days,” he said. 

“I advise my clients to treat pastures as a crop because that is what you are doing, you are producing grass to turn beef off.

“If we take a page out of the dairy industry and we look at how they graze and look after their pastures and we can transfer that across to tropical pastures, the world is your oyster after that.”

When managed correctly and “on fire”, Mr Jack believes tropical pastures are the equivalent of a forage sorghum crop. 

An irrigated paddock of tropical pastures at Dunmore.

An irrigated paddock of tropical pastures at Dunmore.

“Looking at the research that was done when tropicals were first introduced, the benchmark was 20 kilograms of dry matter per millimetre of rainfall for unimproved and 28kg of dry matter improved,” he said.

“Say for the summer period where we normally get 300mm of rain, that’s six or seven tonnes of dry matter feed so...that’s 10 to 14 DSE so already I’ve improved the carrying capacity.” 

Among the producers involved in the trial are beef producers Stuart and Bronwyn Lockrey, Towri, Manilla. 

Mr Jack initiated tropical pasture research after failing to find answers as to why growers didn't have the carrying capacity many papers recommended.

Mr Jack initiated tropical pasture research after failing to find answers as to why growers didn't have the carrying capacity many papers recommended.

In 2007 the pair decided to shift away from their traditional wheat crop and fat lamb business and turned to tropical pastures to fast track their beef cattle grazing prospects, particularly with cell grazing.

Now with about 240 hectares of improved pastures including premier digit, rhodes grass and panic, they’re looking for answers to their questions around pasture efficiency.

“I didn’t know what I was doing early on so we got an old scarifier and we threw the grass down in a paddock just down the road here and I liked the look of the plants,” Mr Lockrey said.

Producers from as far as Mudgee and Queensland have expressed interest in the trial and its results.

Producers from as far as Mudgee and Queensland have expressed interest in the trial and its results.

“I never saw it before, I never did anything about it but when I did trial it half heartedly and I liked the look of the plant I thought we’ve got to get into it.”

LLS Senior Land Services Officer for Mixed Farming, George Truman, said while dry seasons had impacted the district, the research would provide vital information around tailored fertiliser requirements and management practices. 

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