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Pasture Establishment

What is the Best Way to Sow my Pasture?

There have been some significant improvements in sowing technology over the past few years. DBS Machines, Renovator Machines, Press Wheels and Liquid Injection systems have all come onto the scene and have the potential to significantly increase your chances of successful pasture seed establishment.  There are however some basic principles which still apply in regard to pasture renovation:

Soil Fertility • Weed Control • Paddock Preparation • Sowing • Legume Inoculation • Insect Control • Grazing Management

Soil Fertility & Nutrition

The South East Area of South Australia is a totally unique area due to its vastly different soil types and seasonal conditions. The soils can range from acid, sandy soils with high aluminium content, through to heavy black alkaline soils that are prone to water logging. Before you choose to take on a renovation project, a soil test should be taken to correct any deficiencies or excesses prior to sowing. Lime or Gypsum and a host of trace elements may be necessary and it is best to know exactly what you are dealing with. A soil test will give you an accurate gauge of the state of your soil and will get you off to the best start.

Paddock Prep & Sowing

Paddock Preparation   
Paddock preparation is still the most important aspect of a successful pasture renovation program. You will greatly increase your chances of success by sowing into a well prepared, weed free seed bed. The amount of weed seeds in the soil can vary from 2000 – 60000 seeds per/sq metre so significantly reducing the burden in the ground is definitely in your best interests.

There are some excellent seeding machines on the market which give excellent results, but you still need to follow some basic rules. Ensure you don’t sow the seeds too deep or shallow or you will risk a very poor establishment by way of uneven germination. Ideally your new pasture should be sown between 1cm – 2cm. Rolling the paddock or using press wheels will ensure good seed soil contact, ensuring a more rapid and even germination. Rolling a paddock prior to seeding can be a good method of ensuring a firm seed bed and this can also aid in maintaining a constant sowing depth.

Weed Control

Successful pasture renovators will be thinking about which paddocks they tackle in the year prior to sowing a permanent pasture. This process will give you the jump on problem weeds and annual grass species which can threaten the success of your new pasture. Ideally, if you can start working on reducing the bank of weed seeds in the soil in the year prior, your chances of successful pasture establishment will be greatly increased. Some of the following strategies can been used –

Annual Hay/Silage Crops – will grow aggressively through the winter and spring months to give annual weeds competition. By cutting hay/silage you stop the annual grasses and weeds from setting seed and drastically reduce the weed seed bank in the ground.

Spray Topping – has been used very successfully and is a cost effective method. Roundup, Gramoxone and Sprayseed are popular for this task but you should consult your local agronomist for rates and the latest information regarding spray topping techniques.

Spring/Summer Fodder Crops – are gaining in popularity because they produce large volumes of inexpensive feed and with the increased incidence of summer rain, growers are seeing some excellent value for money. For fodder crops the paddock preparation is done in spring. In autumn after a final grazing, spray and direct drill the permanent pasture.

Spray Grazing – are gaining in popularity because they produce large volumes of inexpensive feed and with the increased incidence of summer rain, growers are seeing some excellent value for money. For fodder crops the paddock preparation is done in spring. In autumn after a final grazing, spray and direct drill the permanent pasture.

Cash Cropping – sowing a cash crop of Wheat/Oats/Barley/Canola or Lupins can also be an easy and effective way to prepare a paddock.

A combination of one or more of the above methods can greatly increase your chances of successful establishment as well as giving you the flexibility of not taking a paddock completely out of production for long periods.

Control, Inoculate, Manage

Insect Control, Inoculation & Grazing Management

Legume Inoculation

Inoculation is the introduction of specific microorganisms to the soil. Typically, the microorganisms are a specific strain of bacteria (Rhizobium) that enable the legume plant to fix nitrogen in the soil in a form that can be accessed by legumes and other plants. The specific Rhizobium is often not present in the soil in sufficient numbers to be effective in nodulating the roots of the specific legume. By using the correct strain, specific to the legume, inoculation ensures an adequate supply of nitrogen to the seedling after the soil nitrogen reserves are exhausted. Naracoorte Seeds uses a peat based inoculant application system and independent tests conducted by ALIRU (Australian Legume Inoculants Research Unit) have found our rhizobium levels to be amongst the highest within the Seed Industry.

Insect Control

Insects such as Red Legged Earth Mite can decimate a new pasture if not monitored and controlled carefully. Earth Mite will always attack from the outer edge making their way into the paddock, so regularly checking fence lines and getting on your hands and knees to look for evidence is the best advice. Timerite is a very successful method of monitoring for the pest and is well worth further investigation. Check http://www.timerite.com.au for more information.

Always Remember

“The cost of seed is generally a fairly small proportion of the total cost of re-sowing a pasture, when you take into account costs such as fuel, fertiliser, etc. It is very important not to jeopardise this very important project by skimping on sowing rates. If you start off with a poor pasture, you will always have a poor pasture. If the cost of the project is of major concern to you then you should look at doing a smaller area well, rather than a larger area poorly. “   Sourced from Stephen Pasture Seeds (SPS)

Grazing Management

Grazing your new pasture for the first time is an important exercise: graze too early and you risk pulling the plant out of the ground, graze too late and the clovers may not be able to compete. A simple pluck test is a good way to ensure your plant is firmly rooted and will not pull out of the ground on first grazing. A light grazing will encourage the plants to tiller and allow the clovers to compete.

Any form of rotational grazing is preferable to set stocking. Most improved pastures will struggle to persist with the constant pressure of set stocking. If you can tailor a rotational grazing system on your property you will find the plants will recover faster, produce more feed of better quality and persist for longer.