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Which ryegrass is right for my farm?

Video transcript

Anthony Leddin: 

When we look at ryegrasses there’s many different species within that group. There’s ones that are annual right through to ones that are perennial. They all have different attributes that we have to choose what we’re looking for out of a grass to make sure that we select the right one that we’re going to show in our paddock. Good day, I’m Anthony Leddin. I’m the plant breeder for Valley Seeds.

Anthony Leddin:

Ryegrass has three great attributes. Number one, it’s fast to establish. Number two, it has easy grazing management. Number three, it has really high-quality feed. Before we started experiencing a more variable climate, we just used one species in our pasture system, and that really did the job for us. But now with a lot more climate change and variability occurring, we’re finding out that these species aren’t persisting as well anymore, so we need to have a lot more variability in our pasture species on our farm to make sure that we can manage that variable climate. Each species will do its own little job on your farm so that they can grow at different times of the year and persist and be most productive for as long as possible.

As pastures become more and more important as a feed base on our farms, they get more complex. As you bring more different species into your pasture plan, pasture plants get more complicated, and you need to look for people that have the knowledge and the ability to give you information on how to manage those different species on your farms and how they interact with one another.

As a breeder, when I develop new varieties, what we try and do is spread their production out more evenly over the year. By doing that, that changes them from the older varieties that were around in the marketplace before, which are very tight in their production period. Having these new varieties, they come along with a management package where you have to make sure that you monitor the nutrition that you give these plants, you monitor the grazing management that they have, and you monitor how much moisture they have in the system, as well, so they’ve got enough moisture to persist and grow to their fullest potential.

An annual ryegrass is just what the name implies. It grows only just for one year, and in that one year, it produces most of its feed around the winter time. They’re the fastest out of all the ryegrasses to get established. They usually flower around the end of October, so they do most of their growing in that winter, early spring period. Then before the rains start running out in mid to late spring, they’ve done their job, and they’ve really done a great job for you on your farm. Annuals and Italians do most of their growing over that winter period. Now, if you have a really late autumn break and you’re starting to get into winter, you won’t see much winter feed out of an annual or Italian until you get into spring. Keep that in mind if you have a late planting of an annual or Italian ryegrass.

An Italian ryegrass is a little bit different to an annual ryegrass. They do most of their growing more later on in the season. You tend to find that the Italian ryegrasses usually head around the mid to the end of November. They are much more densely tillered and finer leaved than what you tend to find in an annual ryegrass. You see in those varieties that they’re more suited to making hay out of or silage than what an annual ryegrass be, because they have better quality forage for livestock.

If you had an early spring finish, which is what the predictions they are making with a lot of climate change, an annual ryegrass would be more suitable than an Italian ryegrass. The reason being is that the annuals will usually flower around the end of October. By that stage, they’ve done most of their growing and if things dry out after that, it’s okay. An Italian ryegrass, they flower around the end of November. In most environments, we’re running out of moisture by the end of November. But an Italian, if you do have a late end to the season, like we are this year, you can take advantage of that with an Italian ryegrass by continuing to grow and produce good quality forage.

A big difference between an annual and Italian ryegrass is that an Italian ryegrass can grow into their second year, whereas an annual ryegrass can’t. A hybrid ryegrass is actually a cross between an Italian and a perennial ryegrass. Where would I use a hybrid ryegrass? In situations where you’re looking to oversow old perennial pastures that are starting to have gaps come in them as plants start to die off. Hybrids are really good at filling those gaps and creating some winter feed and extending the life out of an older perennial pasture.

Sarah McMaster:

A perennial ryegrass is a species that can last around three to 10 years. Perennial ryegrass also has a finer leaf and is more densely tillered, so can withstand heavier grazing then the annual and Italian. Although the winter dry matter production is less than those species of ryegrass, it actually has the same spring dried amount of yield. There also is a really large range of heading dates, so you have large choice when it comes to finding a variety that suits your season length and rainfall.

Anthony Leddin:

Perennial ryegrass has been around for a long time. There’s been a lot of research done on the species, so that’s helped us develop a management package that helps us get the most out of perennial ryegrass from a yield point of view and helps us get perennial ryegrass to persist for as long as possible.

In all the species that we’ve talked about in ryegrass, the annuals right through to the perennials, within them you have two different groups. They’re known as diploids in tetraploids. What are diploids and tetraploids? Basically, diploids are plants that are smaller, and tetraploids are plants that are slightly larger. Now, if we were comparing the two in the field, diploids would look more finer leaved, would be more densely tillered, and they tolerate more harder grazing than you tend to find with tetraploids that are less densely tilted. They have larger leaves, but they have a higher what we call water soluble carbohydrate levels, so they have higher sugars in them. What does that mean? That means that those sugars can be taken advantage of from an animal grazing preference point of view. We find that animals will choose to graze tetraploids before they graze the diploids. Also, in making silage, tetraploids work really well in that scenario with the higher levels of sugar in them.

There’s different management that’s needed for diploids and tetraploids. Under dry conditions, diploids seem to be able to tolerate that better. They can tolerate harder grazing and also more lax grazing. You can allow diploids to grow a lot taller and they won’t lodge, whereas the tetraploids because they have a heavier leaf on them, if you graze them down too low, then it’s harder for a tetraploid to recover from that harder grazing. Also, if you let the tetraploids grow too tall, because of their heavier leaf, they tend to lodge and fall over more. That grass is wasted when you allow stocking. They’ll stamp on top of it while they’re grazing. It’s important that you take that into account from a management point of view.

Also, as they get more closer to the end of their lives, when they become more reproductive, things change with a diploid and tetraploid. Because tetraploids have a larger seed than what diploids do, they tend to lose their quality more rapidly at flowering or when they’re producing their seed heads. What happens is that the seed is heavier in a tetraploid seed head, so to be able to hold that seed head up more upright, the stem has to have more fiber in the stem to be able to hold it up. By doing that, you start to lose quality more rapidly in the tetraploids when they’re going reproductive, when compared to a diploid variety.

My main message for today is to make sure you have plenty of diversity on your farm. Don’t put all your eggs into one basket. If you just have one species or one variety all over your farm, you’re bound for failure. There is no silver bullet out there. There’s no perfect variety. Each variety has its own strengths and weaknesses, and you have to work with those strengths and you have to understand the weaknesses so that you don’t have problems with them in your pastures in the future. The last thing that you need to remember is that with climate change and the variable climates that we’re experiencing, we can grow more pasture grass. We just have to understand our grasses and species that we grow in our pastures more. That means that you have to show more importance towards them. Have that pasture plan. Make sure you create one with your agronomist and make sure that you refer to it at every stage. You can use it to your best of your abilities to grow the most pastures and to get the species on your farms to persist for as long as possible.

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