Author Archives: Cat Nicholls

New RIRDC research project to target seed quality and purity

Quality of seed is critical for farmers, breeders and seed companies alike. A new research project being funded by the RIRDC Pasture Seed Program aims to produce a simple, reliable and economic method for assuring seed quality and purity, and to potentially assist with seed certification of a number of important pasture and forage legume species in Australia and overseas.

The Molecular Markers for Cultivar ID and Seed Certification in Pasture Legumes partnership includes RIRDC, AgResearch and Gin Silico. The lead researcher, Kioumars Ghamkhar, has recently completed a three-year study, which yielded a fast, reliable and feasible cultivar identification technique in sub-clover at Gin Silico. That project discerned between 41 cultivars of sub-clover and was able to not only account for the cultivars but also the estimated purity in the seed mix.

Now, as the Director of the Margot Forde Germplasm Centre at AgResearch in New Zealand, Kioumars aims to extend this work to other important pasture species with the current project, allowing industry to be able to discern if “what’s on the tag is in the bag”, if they use the method being developed.

If successful, this project will speed up access to better quality seed to Australian farmers as well as international customers.

For more information contact Kioumars by email — [email protected]


New project to boost sub-clover disease resistance

A new Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) funded project could see significant increases in sub-clover production through better disease resistance in future cultivars of the popular annual pasture legume.

Soil-borne root rot pathogens can cause seedling losses of more than 90% in sub-clover pasture stands. This has a major impact on both seed-production stands and grazing paddocks, through weed competition, weaker root systems and reduced biomass and seed production.

Seed-production stands also are particularly vulnerable to yield losses by fungal foliar diseases. Breeding disease-resistant cultivars is the most economic means of combating disease. However, little is known about the genetics and diversity for resistance to the four most important diseases of sub-clover.

In a world first, the new project will identify new genes and quantitative trait loci (QTL) for resistances to the most important foliar and root rot diseases of sub-clover and deliver molecular markers closely linked to them for use in future breeding programs.

The initial stages of the project will see researchers phenotype the 97-member sub-clover core collection, which represents about 80% of the genetic diversity within the species, and 28 diverse sub-clover cultivars for reactions to the foliage diseases clover scorch (Kabatiella) (to both races 1 and 3 and for both seedling and adult plant resistance) and rust, (Uromyces) and to the root rot pathogens Pythium and Phytophthora.

The second stage of the project will involve identifying molecular markers closely associated with genes and QTL for resistance to each of these four diseases. The project outcomes will allow sub-clover breeding programs to simultaneously select genotypes with genes for multiple disease resistance and other desirable traits.

Dr Martin Barbetti, Professor in Plant Pathology and Mycology at The University of Western Australia (UWA) will lead the project. Co-researchers include Dr Phillip Nichols, a Senior Pasture Scientist with the Department of Agriculture and Food Western Australia (DAFWA); Professor William Erskine, Director of the Centre for Plant Genetics and Breeding at UWA; and Dr Parwinder Kaur from UWA.

Filling the winter feed gap as pasture growth declines

Frosty cattle _PII newsletter

With plummeting temperatures across much of southern Australia, pasture growth in many regions has all but come to a standstill.

Options to fill the winter feed gap in the short-term are limited. In the longer term producers can look to limit the gap by:

  • building a feed wedge, or surplus feed, leading into winter,
  • introducing other pasture species into the farming system.

In the short term the options are limited to supplementary feeding or improving winter growth rates of existing pastures by applying nitrogen fertiliser or gibberellic acid.

Nitrogen fertiliser

Urea is the most favoured nitrogen fertiliser option during winter, as it is less prone to losses (leaching and de-nitrification) during cold wet weather. However, slow pasture growth rates during winter, often in the order of 5–10 kgDM/ha/day), means the fertiliser will also be slow to release during this period (about 5kgDM/kgN).

Soil temperature, moisture, fertility and pasture species composition all impact on the pasture response to applied nitrogen. For example, a north-facing slope may be as much as 2°C warmer than a south-facing slope in winter. Applying nitrogen to the north-facing slopes during July and south-facing slopes during August as temperature start to increase can give a greater growth response than applying nitrogen to both areas at the same time.

Apply urea immediately after removing stock from a paddock. Delaying the application of nitrogen fertiliser reduces the potential pasture response by about 1% per day after stock have been removed.

Moisture stress (either too dry or too wet) will also impact on the pasture response to nitrogen, so review the mid to long seasonal rainfall forecasts as part of the decision-making process.

Annual grasses respond most efficiently to nitrogen fertiliser, followed by short-rotation grasses, then perennial grasses. Match pasture availability with animal requirements when prioritising which pasture species to fertilise.

If other nutrients (e.g. phosphorus, potassium) are limiting growth the response to nitrogen could also be reduced.

Gibberellic acid

Gibberellic acid is a naturally-occurring plant hormone that stimulates growth through cell expansion. In grasses, this results in stem and leaf elongation.

Gibberellic acid is produced in higher quantities during warmer months, and at low levels during colder months. Applying gibberellic acid during colder winter months stimulates the plant and can improve the quantity of feed on offer (FOO).

The rapid growth may cause the plants to ‘yellow off’ in colour for the first couple of weeks after application, however, the quality of the feed on offer is not affected.

Results can be obtained using rates of 2.5 to 20g of gibberellic acid/100L water. Apply gibberellic acid in a minimum volume of 100L/ha. Phalaris is highly responsive to gibberellic acid. Rates of 2.5 to 10g/100L are appropriate for phalaris-dominant pastures. If applying to perennial ryegrass-dominated pastures, annual ryegrass or cocksfoot, 10–20g/100L is appropriate.

Multiple applications can be used on a paddock in conjunction with a rotational grazing program. Growth stimulation is usually seen within seven days of application and ceases around 3–4 weeks after application.

Cease applying gibberellic acid from mid-August, when soil temperatures are rising. Natural levels become sufficient in the plant and untreated areas will perform at similar levels to treated areas. Applications during late winter (post mid-August) or early spring may in fact lead to a suppression of spring growth.

Soil nutrient levels need to be adequate to support the additional growth applications of gibberellic acid may induce.

The key to maximising returns from applying either nitrogen fertiliser or gibberellic acid is to match pature availability with livestock needs. Ensure any additional feed is fully utilised.

The EverGraze Nitrogen and Gibberellic Acid Calculator can be used to make your own estimations of likely responses and cost effectiveness to applying nitrogen and/or gibberellic acid. The calculator incorporates the cost of application, the quality (digestibility) of the feed, expected responses to applications and utilisation of feed to calculate cost on a cents per megajoule (c/MJ) comparison. This can be used to consider the costs of supplementary feeding. This information has been adapted from the EverGraze website

Newly-sown pastures: manage your investment wisely

With many autumn pastures either planted or ready to be planted, Blair McCormick, Product Development Manager Agricom provides a timely reminder that regular monitoring is essential, not only to check pasture establishment, but also to keep track of any insect pests and potential weed or nutrient deficiencies as the pasture gets underway.


The most expensive pasture is the one that fails to establish properly. Some key points to consider when establishing and managing a new pasture include:

Fertiliser inputs

  • Bear in mind appropriate inputs. What upcoming fertiliser requirements will be needed after grazing and what fertiliser will be required to help the pasture species reach its production potential. Budgeting for future fertiliser applications in subsequent years and livestock aquisitions (to make use of the extra feed grown) is also worth carrying out. Taking on agistment stock can be a better option than capital expenditure on extra stock when prices are high.

Pest control

  • Insects can decimate newly-sown pastures. Look for insect pests regularly after sowing. Thorough checking every 2–3 days is recommended for the first 3–4 weeks.
  • In direct-drilled pastures, under moist conditions, slugs can be a problem. Slugs can be detected by placing wet paper under bags or boards at several sites throughout the paddock. A registered insecticide is available for use at or after sowing if slugs pose a significant threat. In some instances multiple applications can be required, depending on the insect population.
  • Both red legged earth mites (RLEM) and blue oat mites (BOM) hatch after the autumn break, especially when maximum day temperatures are below 20°C. These pests start producing eggs 6–8 weeks later. RLEM can significantly damage to new pastures in the first three months after sowing.

Weed control

  • Competition from annual grasses early on in the life of a pasture is one of the major causes of poor establishment. Monitor the pasture after germination and control broadleaf weeds and/or annual grass weeds where necessary. Note: Clover pastures need at least three leaves before applying a broadleaf herbicide. Check the recommended dosage on the label or talk to your local agronomist for further information.

Grazing management

  • Make sure grasses are 10–15cm tall and well anchored with sufficient soil moisture before stock start to graze a newly-sown pasture.
  • When grasses are 10–15 cm tall and actively growing, a quick grazing will enhance tillering and root development. Graze quickly down to 2.5cm, then rest — perennial grasses persist more when rested so rotational grazing is recommended.

Successful pasture establishment is about ongoing monitoring and management — but the return on your investment will be worth it. The most cost-effective feed is home-grown feed, so growing as much quality feed as quickly as you can not only benefits your animals, but also your bottom line.

For more information on pasture establishment and management:

Perennial pasture establishment (DEPI)

Eight steps to perennial pasture establishment (NSW DPI)


Pasture seed product database cuts to the chase

The latest edition of the Australian Seed Federation (ASF) Pasture Seed Product database is now available on the ASF website.

According to ASF CEO Bill Fuller, the database offers livestock producers, their advisors and the pasture supply chain a comprehensive, easy-to-access tool when it comes to selecting the right pasture, for the right place and purpose this season.

“Pasture is the most efficient, effective and economic source of feed for all grazing-based livestock enterprises,” Bill said.

“Growing more pasture at the right times of the year can create opportunities to increase stocking rates, joining weights, growth rates and reduce reliance on supplementary feeding.”

“The focus for leading livestock producers is to efficiently establish and manage pastures sustainably for optimal livestock performance.”

The quantity and quality of pasture available for grazing or fodder conservation underpins strategic decisions such as time of joining, time of lambing/calving, flock/herd structure, stocking rates and delivery of livestock into target markets.

There is increasing recognition by livestock producers, their advisors and supply chain participants of the need to establish a quality feedbase either to support livestock production or to act as a break within crop rotations.

According to Bill Fuller, the number of pasture species and pasture seed products commercially available to pasture seed suppliers and livestock producers in Australia has increased significantly during recent years.

Reasons for this include:

  • the availability of an increasing range of ‘new’ pasture and forage species with nutritional and biomass production profiles, which complement traditional pasture species;
  • the introduction and integration of innovations, such as disease and pest tolerance, pasture endophytes, marker assisted cultivar selection and hybridisation;
  • increased breeding activity in the development and supply of traditional proprietary pasture seed products, especially as a result of the transition from public sector breeding to private sector breeding programs; and
  • an increasing trend to introducing new pasture species and pasture seed products derived from countries with similar agro-ecological pasture growing conditions to that in Australia.

Sorting through the options

“As a result of these trends livestock producers, their advisors and pasture seed suppliers are seeking information relating not only to an individual pasture seed product’s adaptation and performance, but also to the intellectual property, marketing and varietal status of the various pasture seed products available on the market,” Bill said.

In recognition of the increasing demand to provide this information, the ASF Plant Breeders and Marketers Group identified the opportunity to collate and present information from its members in a structured and easily accessible pasture seed product database.

The Australian Seed Federation Pasture Seed Product database lists pasture seed products by species and identifies the intellectual property, marketing and varietal status of the various pasture seed products nominated by their Australian marketer.

The ASF Pasture Seed Product database covers the full range of pasture seed products available from pasture seed suppliers, which are adapted to the agro-ecologically diverse pasture and livestock markets of Australia.

The pasture seed products listed in the database include annual and perennial pasture grasses, legumes, forage and fodder crops and some herbs used within pastures. Search the database on the ASF website

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