All the action happens with pastures around autumn. So we really rely, as farmers, having a really good early autumn break. And an early autumn break sets us up in a situation where we can spray out weeds that germinate at an early period and then once you’ve got control of all those weeds and they’ve been killed you’re right to start sowing the pasture species. But that’s in a perfect scenario where you have an early autumn break and what we’ve been finding in the last 10 years or so due to variable climates is that autumn breaks are getting later and later. So that sets us up with a challenge that we need to create what I call a pasture plan, where we say, “Okay, let’s be more prepared about sowing our pastures by having a plan in front of us.” It’s just like having a calendar where on that calendar, you start putting dates of when you begin sowing dates of when you would finish sowing, what species you would sow at different times, and how much area you would start sowing of these species?
So it’s really important to have this plan because without a plan, the chances of having a successful pasture, sown in autumn without a very good autumn break starts to really decrease. So I really encourage farmers out there to look at having a pasture plan if they can. If the autumn rains come too late and the soil temperatures start to decrease, that can be a real problem with sowing perennial grasses especially because they germinate a lot slower. Then they have to compete against annual grass weeds. We know that annual grass weeds are a real problem. Things like barley grass and winter grass. And once you get them in your first year perennial grasses they’re incredibly difficult to remove. In fact, there’s no chemical options we have out there to remove them from our pastures.
It may be an option that if the soil temperatures become so cold and the break still hasn’t come, that you may delay sowing your pastures in autumn and move it to spring. In spring, we get a better chance, the soil temperatures are increasing. The perennial grasses will germinate faster, and you’ve got a better chance of getting them established without the competition from annual grass weeds which can be a real problem in autumn. So if I was a farmer and I was creating a pasture plan what I would do in that scenario is to start looking at the different species that I’m sowing and at what times I would sow them at. So I would make a list of the different species that I’m going to sow and I would put them in their order of how fast they germinate and usually the species that germinate the slowest, are the species that are going to hang around the longest, and they’re called perennial species.
We have to be very careful in sowing them and they’re very difficult or challenging to sow when there’s a poor Autumn break. But the advantage of having perennials in your system is that once they’re established and into their second year, because of their much deeper root system, they’re able to start growing much quicker than what an annual species will grow if it’s just sown in that year. So because they’re already established in their second year, their roots are right down to where the moisture is, and if there’s limited amounts of rain they can get growing and get started way before anything that’s annual has to be sown in that year and can start growing if the autumn break comes late.
So if you’re experiencing more and more poor autumn breaks it’s really important to choose a species that’s really fast emerging. So these would be your cereals like your rye, corn, wheat, barley, triticale, oats. So an advantage of these is I have a really large seed, so they can be sown deeper to chase the soil moisture and be away from the drying soil temperatures at that time of the year. And then if you’re followed up with good rains you can go in with your ryegrasses, but if you keep waiting around for the break that never comes, it’s probably best to sow your perennial pastures in Spring when the soil temperatures rise above 12 degrees.
So in creating your pasture plan, it’s important to identify the species that you need on their farm and the jobs that they can do on their farm. There’s no silver bullet when it comes to choosing a variety. I get asked by a lot of farmers, “What’s the best variety out there that I can sell on my farm?” And my answer to them is that there is no perfect one variety. Having more diversity on your farm is the best way to manage a variable climate. So by putting all your eggs into one basket with just sowing one variety, you might do well in one year and then the following year, that’s totally different, you could really come to a muck up there.
The important thing is to look at trying to have diversity on your farm. Each species does different jobs and they have good points and bad points. So it’s important to learn about their good points and take advantage of those good points. And to learn about their bad points and how do we manage those bad points on those species of varieties and make them perform to their best ability on your farm, working together to manage that variable climate that we’re all experiencing.
With unreliable breaks in 2018, a local farmer worked with our Regional Sales Manager, Sam Wright, to create a pasture plan. This will provide feed through Winter and Spring with the opportunity to produce silage and hay later on in the year. This plan included three paddocks, one sown to a Astound annual ryegrass, Finefeed annual ryegrass, and Amass Italian ryegrass. Ultimately the farmer received the best return per kilo for the January 19 weaner sales. Through good planning, quality feed was available to the weaned calves right up until the market.
In starting your pasture plan the important thing is to start selecting the right species that match your environment. So a key thing, if you’re creating a pasture plan is to get in as early as you can in developing it. And some farmers asked me “How early should I begin this pasture plan?” Well really, it’s about starting two years in advance before you start sowing a pasture. And the reason behind that is, is that we know that grass seeds can last in the soil for up to two years. And so we know that we can’t remove a lot of these grasses, annual grass weeds from our perennial grass pastures in their first year. So if we can control the weed seed bank and we have less weed seeds in the soil before we even start sowing our pastures, then we won’t have so many problems about trying to get our perennials especially established and having to compete with too many annual grass weeds that might be in the paddock at the same time.
That’s a really key factor to start early, to look at your weed seed bank that’s there. Make sure you can control any weeds from seeding in Spring. So that’s a really critical time if you can make sure that none of the weed varieties that you have on your farm produce seed, because once they drop that down, then that can be 10 years of problems, for example with a broad leaf weed if you have that on your farm. And the third one is choosing the species that are right to match your place. So an example of that is that if you’re in an environment where you know the rains finish up early in Spring, there’s no point in planting a really late heading variety because we know that late heading varieties produce about 60% of their annual dry matter yield around their heading date. And if the variety is run out of moisture by that stage, then it physically can’t do any more of that growing. So the real key factor there is to say, okay, match your heading date to your rainfall or the moisture that’s available on your property at the time.
Valley Seeds have trialed and tested varieties which we can help manage and implement in with a feed plan to get the best solutions for your feed gaps.