Monthly Archives: November 2014

Quick test for damaged lucerne seed

A simple test developed in the 1960s has been revived to help lucerne growers identify the extent of seed damage during harvest, so they can immediately adjust header operations.

The test was uncovered in a review of existing lucerne research by South Australia’s James De Barro, who led the five-year project Understanding and managing the causes of abnormal seedlings in lucerne for the RIRDC Pasture Seeds Program.

James, a former lucerne seed grower, said the test simply involved taking 100 seeds from the header bin during harvesting and soaking them in a ferric chloride solution. Any damaged seeds would turn black within 15 minutes.

The test identifies even hairline fractures in seed casings that indicate damage to the seed embryo, which can result in critical plant deformities such as broken leaves, or missing leaves and root systems.  Protecting the viability of the seed is crucial, he said.

Take care during harvest

James’ research found that harvesting practices were the main cause of seed damage. Spraying, fertilisers, plant genetics, windrowing and weather damage were all discounted as significantly contributing to the problem.

According to James, buyers usually discount seed when the damage rate exceeds 15%, sometimes cutting prices offered by as much as half.

“Some buyers have already reduced the rate of damaged seed they will accept from 15 to 10% before applying discounts,” he said.

“The lucerne seed industry has become much more competitive in recent years, so harvest damage is an issue growers need to keep on top of.”

“Fortunately, the RIRDC project has made it relatively easy to identify when it is a problem so growers can do something about it.”

Lucerne seed damage test kits are available, through Alpha Group Consulting, in Keith, South Australia.

Click here for more information


Industry-driven initiative promotes pasture potential

The national industry-driven Pasture Improvement Initiative (PII) is delivering evidenced-based decision support tools for stakeholders throughout the pasture supply chain.

In response to widespread pasture decline across Australia’s temperate grazing regions (see Figure 1), the Initiative is pulling together industry-developed decision-support tools, technical information and farmer experience into a single pasture-focussed website.

Pasture Improvement Initiative executive Officer David Hudson said numerous studies and anecdotal evidence clearly indicates a decline in pasture productivity across much of south-eastern Australia in recent decades.

Figure 1. Pastures in decline by state

Pasture decline


Source: Southern Australian feed-base pasture audit (2012) MLA

“Drought, overgrazing, failure to renovate or successfully establish new pastures, inappropriate species selection, and poor grazing management all contribute to the deterioration of our national pasture feedbase resource.  And it is often a combination of multiple stresses, including poor management, that leads to poor pasture productivity and persistence,” David explained.

A significant challenge, according to David, is the loss of pasture knowledge and skill along the supply chain to support producers’ decision-making processes when it comes to pasture improvement.

“The general knowledge base around pasture management has plummeted during the past two decades,” David said.

“In many cases, long-term widespread drought, depressed conditions for livestock products and the appeal of cropping in many regions have combined to see producers, their advisors and the supply chain fail to keep abreast of the latest pasture innovations, or the extensive basic pasture management knowledge developed during the past 30 years by various research organisations.”

However, as global market conditions and climatic pressures continue to evolve, David believes many producers are gaining a greater appreciation for the role of pastures, not only as a key component of the livestock feedbase but also as an essential ingredient to providing greater sustainability and balance in their complex farming systems.

Pasture improvement toolbox

According to David, there is significant potential to increase the productivity of Australia’s pasture base through the adoption of a range of tools in the pasture improvement toolbox (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Average and potential stocking rates for perennial ryegrass / clover pastures

potential stocking rates

Source: Southern Australian feed-base pasture audit (2012) MLA

“There is no single solution to lifting the productivity, persistence and profitability of our pastures as every paddock and farming system is different,” David said.

“The first step is to assess pastures on a paddock-by-paddock basis in terms of composition, dry matter production and quality in the context of the enterprise mix and business goals.”

“With an accurate picture of what is happening in the paddock producers can work with their advisors to develop an appropriate management package. This could include adjustments to stocking rates and grazing management, fertiliser management, weed, pest and disease control, or renovation with more productive species.”

“What we are doing through the Pasture improvement Initiative is to pull together a range of tools to support proactive producers and their advisors.

“Through a combination of evidenced-based technical information, tried and tested decision-support tools, regionally-targeted farmer case studies, face-to-face supply chain training opportunities we are drawing together the abundance of information from across Australia’s pasture supply chain to provide a one-stop pasture-focused source of regionally-relevant pasture management tools,” David said.

PII Chairman, Rob Newbold, believes we are on the cusp of an exciting era for pasture productivity and is excited about the role of the Pasture Improvement Initiative in helping producers maximise the potential of their pastures.

“Pastures have played second fiddle to livestock and crops for too long in terms of the extension of key management tools,” Rob said. “In reality, pastures underpin the long-term success of most livestock and mixed farming operations and we are keen to put them in the spotlight through the Initiative.

“In many cases decision-support tools for pasture are difficult to access and hidden behind the end products they support; such as milk, meat and grain.”

“Through a collaborative approach we are putting pasture centre stage and reinforcing key management practices that will see benefits across the whole farm system.”

Explore the PII case studies to see how producers in your state are successfully optimising their pasture production.

Check out the PII Toolbox to explore the range of pasture management tools and resources currently available

To access the full national pasture audit final report go to the MLA website