Low cost winter pasture improvers

AG ADVICE - May 2021

Phil Cranney - Senior Land Services Officer, Pastures

There are many ways to improve your pasture this winter. The high cost option of re-sowing a pasture doesn’t always have to be the binary option for farmers. With pasture establishment costs running between $350-$450/Ha, depending on preparation and seed costs, it is now often matched by the opportunity cost of not using those hectares to derive an income while waiting for the pasture to establish.

If we take a paddock out of production in August 2020 with a knockdown herbicide to stop weeds from seeding and to retain soil moisture, then we are potentially looking at a 12 month non-graze period before we can graze the new pasture in August 2021. Assuming a $40/DSE profit at a stocking rate of 10DSE/Ha, then the opportunity cost of $400 is added to the pasture establishment cost of approximately $400/Ha, bring to whole re-sowing pasture proposition around the $800/Ha.

So before ripping up a paddock and re-sowing, please consider doing some objective measurements first to ascertain what percentages of desirable perennial grasses, legumes, annuals, and non-desirable weeds make up your pasture base of any particular paddock.

The ideal pasture has 60-70% productive perennial grass, 20-40% legumes, <10% annual grass weeds and <10% annual broadleaf weeds and no perennial weed species. Therefore, the further away your paddock is away from these desirable species benchmarks, then the less chance you have to manipulate your pasture back to full production without re-sowing. Therefore if your perennial grass pasture composition is still at 40-50%, you have many more financially viable options to manipulate rather than re-sow.

My top 8 pasture manipulation options for 2021 cool season pastures are as follows:

  1. Ensure sub-clover has access to adequate sunlight at germination – graze or slash.
  2. Improve the soil fertility – “don’t guess, do a test”.
  3. Control broadleaf weeds early and often (at rosette stage) – remove excess pasture residue to improve herbicide contact with the target weeds.
  4. Use winter clean methods to remove problem annual grass weeds, such as vulpia – appropriate use of Simazine to remove silver grass (vulpia) from a productive pasture.
  5. Weed wipers can be used to great effect after grazing to clean up un-grazed weeds such as thistles in productive pastures.
  6. Spray graze -  sub lethal dose of a hormone based herbicide 6-8 weeks after germination of cape weed and thistles, followed by high density grazing to remove the growth points.
  7. Spray-topping to reduce viable weed seed set – less reliable and difficult to get timing right
  8. High-intensity grazing to help synchronise non-desirable annual grass weed heading – this can help improve the spray graze and spray-topping methods efficacy.

The most under-utilised low-cost pasture improver, in my opinion, is the winter clean. There is no better year to sacrifice a small amount of winter feed if it leads to better control of un-productive less desirable winter grass weeds such as silver grass (vulpia).

Remember to always ask your local commercial agronomist for advice and to adhere to the label directions for herbicides.

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