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Brown paddock recovery & Repairing drought-damaged pastures

Brown paddock recovery plan – growing grass after the dry

March 7 - Livestock management may have been farmers’ number one priority during recent dry weeks – and rightly so – but now it’s time to think about pastures too.

“We realise you need to look after livestock, however pasture is what’s going to fuel your recovery after rain, and it will be your main feed for the next 12 months,” says senior agronomist Graham Kerr

“Continued dry conditions in the last three weeks have dramatically changed the pasture situation on many farms, and pasture renewal programmes need to change likewise.”

The best practice in this type of year is to assess all pastures on the farm, and divide paddocks into three categories. This information can then be turned into proactive pasture renewal and pasture management plans.

Kerr says the first step is a farm walk to evaluate paddock condition. This is sometimes best done with a local reseller or consultant.

Most important are the category one paddocks, those farmers believe will survive the dry.

Category two is for those which might survive, and category three is for those paddocks which are obviously past the point of no return and so must be re-sown.

Category one paddocks are the key to drought recovery, because after it rains they are the quickest to start growing grass again.

That means farmers can feed stock, and start setting up pasture covers for spring lambing and calving earlier.

“Your job with these paddocks now is to give them every chance to recover and persist. If you look after them now, they will look after you later on,” Kerr says.

Two golden rules apply – don’t graze category one paddocks to bare ground at the moment, and after it does rain, don’t rush to graze them.

Kerr says there’s a very good reason for not baring pastures out: Ryegrass plants store the energy they need for survival and growth above the ground (not below it).

“Even if the pasture is brown, having 3-4 cm of length on it is a lot better for the plant than having 1 cm. That extra length holds the reserves that will power the plants back up and get them growing again when there is enough moisture available.”

When the rain comes, don’t graze too soon when there is just a ‘pick’ of green grass, as putting animals on early can in fact kill it.

Kerr says farmers need to wait until ryegrass tillers have three leaves before they graze any new growth post-rain. (See diagram)

Once rain comes
don't graze until ryegrass tillers each have 2.5 leaves, so
plant reserves are replenished for re-growth.
Once rain comes don't graze until ryegrass tillers each have 2.5 leaves, so plant reserves are replenished for re-growth.

What about the other paddocks – those which are possible survivors (category two), and those that won’t recover (category three)?

“Keep a watch on the possible survivors,” Kerr advises.

“You may not know whether they’ll survive until it rains, so wait until then to make a decision on what to do with them. However, you need to keep in mind the longer it stays dry, the less likely these paddocks will be to survive.”

Category three paddocks may have come out of summer crop, or have opened up; have less than 50% ryegrass cover remaining; contain a high percentage of weeds, or have been damaged by insects. These need to be re-sown so that total farm productivity recovers as soon as possible.

Whether farmers opt for undersowing, a winter crop, new pasture or a mix of all three, if they’re relying on a contractor they must start talking to them now.

“Get in touch with them as soon as possible. The area of seed drilled will be well up in many regions, so you need to keep them in the loop and let them know what your plans are well in advance.”

Finally, if farmers haven’t ordered seed, they should do so immediately, to make sure they get the cultivars they want, and the seed is ready when needed.


How to repair drought-damaged pastures

By Graham Kerr, technical development manager, Agriseeds

March 7 - Prolonged dry conditions have taken a toll on many pastures this year.

Some will survive, and start growing again once it rains, but some won’t.

Conditions have changed in the last three weeks, and a good renewal plan is now essential for pastures which will not survive the current drought, to get your farm back up to full productivity as quickly as possible.

Having a plan puts you on the front foot coming out of the dry, and gets your recovery off to a good start.

Once you’ve identified the pastures which need to be re-sown, key decisions include:

1. Which pasture species should I sow?
2. Is winter cereal an option?
3. Should I undersow, or plan to cultivate?

Several different plant species are available for renewal, each with their own benefits. A good pasture renewal plan will typically use two to three species.

Annual ryegrass establishes very quickly, for example, producing large volumes of feed in a relatively short time to help you post-dry. Use annuals for paddocks which you plan to crop this coming spring (as they only persist until the start of November).

Italian ryegrass is a great 12-18 month option, with the same fast growth as annual ryegrass, but better persistence.

Hybrid ryegrass also establishes rapidly, and cultivars with endophyte will provide a two to three year pasture. New cultivars like Shogun NEA can produce more yield over 12 months than an Italian, and give the flexibility of another year or two of grazing.

Perennial ryegrass is still the backbone of our farming systems, with the best persistence and long term dry matter (DM) production.

For some paddocks, which are due to be sown into spring crop later in the year, a cereal forage crop (e.g. oats, triticale) planted now may be suitable to provide a bulk of winter feed.

Sowing method is also an important choice. Cultivation is typically the best way to establish new pasture, but takes significantly longer than other methods. If you’re sowing perennial ryegrass, however, this is the best option. Cultivation is also advised where black beetle are present (>15-20/m²).

Undersowing, or direct drilling seed into thin pastures without any herbicide application, is very useful in this sort of autumn, where you have a number of paddocks which will not persist.

Undersowing is simple and fast, so it can be used over large areas, and with the right type of drill you can sow seed now, without having to wait for rain.
To get the best out of any undersowing, remember:

• Pastures must be thin, with bare ground, so seedlings have space to establish. Undersowing into dense pastures usually has little success.
• Fast establishing species work best (e.g. Italian or hybrid ryegrass)
• Use treated seed, as insects are likely to be present without cultivation.
• Check for slugs, and bait if necessary. Slugs may not be a problem if it has been very dry, but it pays to check. Put some sacks or boards out overnight and check underneath the next day.

If you are relying on a contractor, get in touch with them as soon as possible. The area of seed drilled will be well up in many regions, so you need to keep them in the loop and let them know your plans well in advance.

Finally, if you haven’t ordered seed, do so immediately, to make sure you get the cultivars you want, and the seed is ready when you need it.

For more advice on renewing pastures damaged by drought this year, talk to your local seed retailer, farm advisor or Agriseeds.


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