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Measuring Greener Pastures

26 February 2013

A bird’s eye view of what pastures are growing in southern Australia will provide insights into future research for the livestock industry.

Southern Australia’s first pasture audit in 17 years has found pasture varieties and their condition have changed dramatically in the past two decades.

Analyst Graham Donald, who also worked on southern Australia’s first pasture audit in 1994, observed the effect of prolonged drought and the tightening economic situation for many producers has had an impact on pastures.

“The audit showed 30% of southern Australia’s pastures are in decline and there has also been a substantial change in pasture composition which reflects the huge shift in the way farmers do business,” Graham said.

He explained one of the biggest changes was an increase in the variety of pasture cultivars and the large-scale adoption of fodder or dual-purpose crops, reflecting a drive for increased enterprise flexibility as producers hedge their bets against climatic challenges.

State Trends

The audit, funded by MLA, found the area planted to lucerne in NSW, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and south Western Australia had risen considerably while Tasmania also had increased plantings of cocksfoot. South Australia had more fescue and burr medic and in Western Australia, there were more plantings of serradella.

Conversely balansa clover plantings had substantially reduced.

“This could mean it was oversold in the ‘90s or just didn’t have the persistence producers wanted,” Graham said. “The recent perturbed climate events following a period of extended drought may affect the sustainability and persistence of some pastures.”

A Map Illustrating Subclover Distribution Across Australia

Above: A relatively new pasture in Australian livestock production, serradella now grows on 1.5% of West Australia’s grazing area.
Source CSIRO.

Research Direction

MLA Manager, Environmental and Natural Resource Management, Cameron Allan said the results of the audit will provide input to the $27 million Feedbase Investment Plan and also ensure a maximum return on producer levies by helping to identify the best R&D opportunities.

“A defendable case is required for investment decisions and historically, pasture-related information generally available is now insufficient – it lacks detail,” he said. “This audit has gathered opinions from local experts about the mix of pastures in their locality.

“Many pieces of data are combined to build a case including ABAREs statistics, volume of seed sold and local evidence but it still leaves us with an incomplete understanding of the feedbase that supports our livestock industries.”

Cameron said this unique snapshot of pasture composition and condition had enormous potential.

“We hope to create a living database where this information can be more regularly updated and provide valuable support and sound justification for investment decisions made by the public and private sectors,” he said.

“It could also be used to update producer tools such as the website www. pasturepicker.com.au”

Cameron said the next step is to work with public agencies and the private sector to see how this information can best be used to support industry.

February 2013

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