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Plan to sow – today, tomorrow or the right time

by David Phelps

There is a sequence to follow when establishing productive pastures. The sequence is consistent year to year. However, location, climate and seasonal conditions can dramatically affect timing and results.

Manage the establishment phase in any given year with constant monitoring and with an eye to the current conditions. For example, after a prolonged dry period, or even a very dry summer avoid sowing at the first sign of rain. 

Time sowing around adequate moisture

The sowing window is broadly from late March to late May. Don’t sow on the first rain in autumn if the summer was dry or after a prolonged drought. Allow at least 30mm of rain.

Sowing into hard ground significantly reduces chances of a good germination. Aim to sow when there is a moist soil surface with moisture to 50 – 100mm.

Sowing depth and coverage is critical. Choose the right sowing method to achieve your pasture goals. See our Summer 2020 Forage Forum article on the importance of soil-to-seed contact.

Assess, select and plan early

It’s never too early to start planning for next year. Assess existing pasture, weeds and soil fertility 12 months prior to sowing.

Understanding your feed and timing requirements will help you select the correct species and varieties to suit your soil, paddock and purpose. For example consider Perennial Ryegrass for long term options and autumn feed from the second year onwards, and Annual Ryegrass or Italian Ryegrass for bulk quick feed, silage and hay.

Remove excess plant material

Use methods such as pre-sowing grazing, mulch or cultivation. If you can’t heavily graze then slash or mulch in early March to expose some soil.

Control weeds & pests

In the year prior to sowing, use appropriate herbicides or insecticides at label rates.

Spraying or spray-grazing broadleaf weeds in autumn and/or spring is an effective weed control measure.

Closer to sowing time, continue to assess weed and pest levels, including wet areas for slugs and snails.

10-14 days after sowing, look  for pests and weed seedlings. Re-examine weekly and treat early.

In mimimum or no-till, soil-to-seed contact is more challenging than with conventional sowing. Check equipment regularly for seed and fertiliser placement and to ensure press wheels are assisting soil-to-seed contact.


Broadcasting is suited to areas where other sowing techniques are impractical. This may include timbered country and extensive grazing systems, where pasturem seed is distributed by air or from a vehicle. Broadcasting is sometimes done in combination with fertiliser.

Soil-to-seed contact is often poor with broadcasting, leading to low seed germination. When broadcast with fertiliser, the seed-to-fertiliser placement is also poor. Consider fertiliser selection to avoid seed damage.

Regardless of the sowing method you use, always seek to use the freshest certified seed available and follow agronomist advice regarding seed inoculation and pest control.

For more expert insights Valley Seeds experienced agronomist team, contact your regional sales manager.

rows for pasture with half the image showing distinctly reduced growth

Nutrient requirements

Arrange a soil test in the 6 – 12 months prior to sowing and target fertiliser and lime applications to soil requirements.

Lime is faster-acting if incorporated but can be broadcast 2-12 months prior to sowing. N and K can be broadcast after sowing.

Applying P at sowing for more effective banding and efficient P utiliisation. Fertilisers that combine a mix of N, P, S can be applied at sowing. Limit N application at sowing to less than 30 kg/ha.

Want advice about sowing for productive pastures? Valley Seeds regional sales managers are available to help get your pasture on track for this season.

References: NSW DPI Primefact: Pasture and winter forage crop sowing guide – Hawkesbury-Nepean, Hunter and Manning Valleys was used to prepare this article. Find more information about managing pastures after drought and fire on the NSW DPI website and the Agriculture Victoria website.

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