When the going gets tough....we might learn something

Looking at crops up close

Peter Ball, Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture.

Anyone who’s ever run a pasture trial, put in a demonstration plot or test paddock or seen one up close, will understand one inescapable fact. Perfect trial conditions live only in our dreams.  

There is no such thing as average, not enough luck for everything to go right, and too little relevance in either being the case.

Nature steers its own course, meaning that often it is in adversity that real learnings and real life value are delivered.

Value like how the problem grass browntop can cost time and planning, but when this is invested, can be effectively controlled.

Or how every door that leads to weeds needs to be closed at every opportunity. If space is offered, it will be filled.    

And how establishment vigour, and maximising the opportunity for this, can exclude weeds with competition, simplifying decisions and avoiding unwanted pressures on clovers or sown herbs like plantain.

These learnings come with the real life challenges of pasture establishment.  

A demonstration site funded by a 25th Anniversary Landcare Grant to the East Tamar Landcare group proves this in spades. At the site in the upper reaches of the Tamar, a pasture demonstration paddock has had its fair share of real life experience.  

field day

Failed springs, late breaks, cold winters, waterlogged springs, problem weeds and getting gear where it’s wanted when it’s wanted have all made for a fascinating pasture establishment journey.  

A recent field day at the site hosted by Tamar NRM, the East Tamar Landcare group and supported by TIA had plenty to discuss and see, even in plots only recently established late in 2016.  

Side by side 0.4 ha sowings of commercially available tall fescue, cocksfoot, perennial ryegrass, plantain and companion legumes of strawberry, red and white clovers are establishing to allow feed options to be assessed by those interested in comparing what’s on offer.

Whist early days provide only a snapshot of learning so far, the benefit of getting the pasture up and going is clear to see in the ryegrass plot.  

Good grass cover and adequate legumes has put a break on flatweed establishment.  

A water logged spring delayed sowing, putting pressure on the slower establishing fescue and cocksfoot, leaving space for weeds. That in turn complicates decisions that affect the establishing legumes. Do they tolerate a spray, or the weeds?   

Time will tell if the ryegrass keeps strong and fulfils its current promise, or whether its weeds are around the corner. Will the backbone of fescue and cocksfoot shine as persistence, and green feed when ryegrass sleeps?  

We shall see.  

What’s already seen is that a program of spray, forage crop and spray has effectively controlled the browntop for now.  

As well as the fact that weeds, differences between species, interactions with adverse conditions, differences in nutrition, the response of the existing pasture in the headlands, all present fantastic opportunities to learn.  

From challenges and trials, great pasture understanding can be formed.    

Perhaps the true value here lies in working together, TIA alongside groups of producers, seeking to realise the most value we can from our pasture resource.

This article was originally published in the Advocate newspaper on 8 June 2017.

Published on: 13 Jun 2017 12:09pm