There are about 1000 native grass species that have evolved in Australia over millions of years; and they have adapted to the harsh and varying environment and low fertility soils.
Having evolved, they can play an important part in maintaining ecosystem health and improving farmland resilience.
Dr Paul Gibson-Roy, Manager of Ecological Restoration at Kalbar Resources and former Lead Scientist of Greening Australia, shared his grassland knowledge and experience at Corowa District Landcare's 'Restoring Grasslands' event at Wirraminna Environmental Education Centre in Burrumbuttock on 28 June 2019.
Dr Gibson-Roy spoke about the benefits of integrating native grasses in agricultural grazing systems where they can complement traditional pasture species to improve farm sustainability.
"Many native grasses are perennial and palatable with nutritive characteristics similar to introduced pasture species," he said.
"They can handle adverse climate conditions such as droughts, heavy rains and frosts, and tolerate low fertility, acid soils.
"Many have dense tillers and roots that hold the soil, preserve soil moisture and prevent soil erosion and nutrient runoff."
Many native grasses are perennial and palatable with nutritive characteristics similar to introduced pasture species
However, establishing native grasses can sometimes be complicated.
Affordable, and commercial quantities of quality native seed can be difficult to source due to the small size of the native seed market and many people and groups are establishing native seed production areas where plants are grown as crops to produce seed for use in restoration.
Seeding native grasses can be difficult using traditional agricultural seeders that do not cope well with many of the structures (awns, hairs etc.) associated with native seeds.
New machinery and techniques have been developed that enable the seeding of native grasses (and wildflowers) onto farms for grazing, to roadsides for low biomass cover and into public reserves and urban landscapes for biodiversity conservation and amenity.
Others have developed new machinery and techniques that enable the seeding of native grasses (and wildflowers) onto farms for grazing, to roadsides for low biomass cover and into public reserves and urban landscapes for biodiversity conservation and amenity.
To deal with high weed loads and nutrient rich soils prior to sowing, which favor the growth of weeds, Dr Gibson-Roy has found topsoil removal by scalping to be incredibly effective.
"By reducing nutrients and weed seed banks, natives have a better chance of establishing and surviving," he said.
"I recommend the removal of standing biomass prior to scalping and after scalping, seed should be sown onto a cultivated surface to ensure good seed/soil contact."
Once established native biomass can be managed by grazing, slashing, baling or burning.
"Reducing biomass is important to stimulate fresh growth in grasses or in areas that include native wildflowers, to help these species to persist," Dr Gibson-Roy told his audience.
"Rotational or deferred grazing can be used effectively to decrease introduced annual species and increase native perennials."
Reducing biomass is important to stimulate fresh growth in grasses or in areas that include native wildflowers, to help these species to persist.
"Rotational or deferred grazing can be used effectively to decrease introduced annual species and increase native perennials," he said.
Corowa District Landcare's project officer Courtney Young said that the event 'was a great success with over 50 people attending from around the region, including farmers, council representatives and conservationists. Paul's knowledge is extensive and his enthusiasm for grasslands is infectious.'
- 'Restoring Grasslands' is part of Corowa District Landcare's (CDL) perennial native grass seed project.
- With funding from the Australian Government's National Landcare Program, CDL is working with Wirraminna Environmental Education Centre to establish a local native grass seed production area and revegetation site in Burrumbuttock.
- This will serve as a demonstration site for the community to learn about grassland and woodland ecosystems and how they can use perennial native grasses to restore degraded landscapes and build farmland resilience.