Devise a 10-year plan for pasture upgrades, fencing, laneways, yards and water upgrades was the first thing we did over nine years ago when we purchased our property.
While we have had to alter plans as all sorts of unpredicted issues occur, including droughts, shortage of desirable pasture seeds and unexpected weed problems, we have now just over 35 percent of the farm established to tropical grass pastures.
The balance is dual purpose winter crops (20 percent) and improved native pastures.
A plan is a sound way to assess upgrading and despite need for constant adjustment, it is a good way for progress.
Just deciding “today” to sow a new pasture and “tomorrow” to sow it is a receipt for problems like weeds taking over before the pasture gets away.
Difficulty if impossibility of acquiring the best pasture species can also be a problem without forward planning. If a pasture is going to be long term correct specie and varieties and starting weed free is essential.
Planning also needs to take into consideration cashflow and farm profitability.
For example having too big an area tied up with new perennial pasture that commonly can’t be grazed for some time, to allow for strong establishment, especially if the establishment year is a dry one, can adversely impact on cashflow and current profit.
In our case we use dual purpose winter crop combined with summer fallow management that aims to totally prevent both winter and summer weeds from seeding as part of preparation for perennial grass pastures.
It is not very economical to grow more winter crop, from a grazing business perspective (our soils less suited to grain only cropping being lighter textured), than what can be feasibly required for livestock winter grazing needs.
While it may sound a long time, one needs at least two and preferably three years of total weed seeding prevention before establishing long term perennial pastures.
Winter weeds like cape weed, Paterson’s curse and thistles can almost be eliminated if totally prevented from seeding for three years.
Summer weeds like annual and perennial grasses, and broadleaf weeds can also be close to eliminated in three years.
Frank McRae (AustWest Seeds and previously NSW Department of Primary Industries), as reported in a recent NSW Grassland newsletter, also stressed to producers and agronomists at a field day on ‘Berrembed Station’, Grong Grong, the importance of effective weed control before sowing.
All pasture seedlings are weak competitors he said and with limited herbicide options for weed control in seedling pastures, the best strategy to avoid weed burdens is to start with clean paddocks.
He also warned of the risks of residual herbicides and the need to check herbicide labels.
Winter weeds can normally be well addressed prior to pasture sowing by in-crop herbicides as part of weed management.
Summer weeds are usually best controlled in summer fallow. Timely control is critical, even if that means one or two more fallow applications to ensure weeds are killed young and before stressing.
In our case unexpected problems have included summer grasses establishing in very early sown winter dual purpose crops.
One needs to assess winter feed needs verses grass weeds seeding and the need to go back to recommencing our weed clean up program.
Dry summers has also meant a shortage of our best tropical grass for our lighter soils, Premier digit grass. Rather than sow second or third best we have delayed our sowing program another year and re-cropped for a further year and delayed bring in a new paddock for preparation before sowing down to perennials.