Darren McCormick Landmark - Normac
The Focus Farm has a total of 246 hectares with a milking area of 182 hectares. At present the pasture is comprised of annual, Italian and perennial ryegrass pastures. Less area will be sown this year than in 2012, however the planned grazing area will increase.
Accurate farm maps are used extensively for farm planning. Maps provide a spatial means of viewing current, past and planned pasture improvements. Additionally they can be used for fertilisers, spraying, grazing, fencing, budgeting, track work and much more. The uptake of technology has simplified the planning process and has additional benefits of compliance in regards to nutrient loss and herbicide withholding periods.
The farm is split (like many north east farms) into irrigated river flats, rising dryland and steeper dryland paddocks. Pasture selection is based on the ability of each area to sustain perennial ryegrass first, and if this is unlikely then species including Italian or annual ryegrasses are used based on moisture retention through the later part of spring and early summer. Simply, the right grasses are selected for the growing season of each area.
Fodder crops including millet, pasja, forage brassicas and chicory are used strategically to fill anticipated feed gaps and also as a part of a renovation phase.
A large proportion of the flats are ideal for persistent and productive perennial ryegrass. Over the seasons the most suitable paddocks have been renovated in the autumn after a summer break crop. The benefits of perennial ryegrass are several and include, improved irrigation efficiency, lower autumn sowing costs and to improve whole farm profitability.
Monthly support group meetings have provided regular measurements of pasture consumption and opportunities for alternative forages to fill feed gaps. Last summer it was noted that pasture growth and consumption was lower than expected prior to autumn dry off. Changes have since been made and are now beginning to help with summer growth rates.
Pasture Renovation Strategy - current
Autumn planning is done primarily to ensure there is as much home grown forage in the grazing rotation to match peak milking cows. The autumn peak is from April onwards and a target date set for this is Anzac Day. An earlier date would be better, however this date gives sufficient time for planning, preparation and establishment of new pastures without significant risk.
The aim is to have as much of the suitable area sown to improved perennial pasture. Typically areas that are to be sown to perennial ryegrass have a break crop of millet, enabling the area to be sprayed twice before renovation. This has been successful through the past three summers; however the remaining areas to be targeted require significant spray and drainage work to ensure they hold perennial grasses over coming seasons. Instead, these paddocks have been sprayed out (recently) and will be watered up, sprayed again and sown to a one year Italian ryegrass pasture. This will enable more time to manage drainage issues for next year.
Where perennial ryegrass pastures can not meet expected feed demand, fodder crops such as forage brassica and annual pastures are used with additional irrigation to boost late autumn feed.
After several wet summers, the current hot, dry conditions are a return to a normal north east summer.
We are now sweating on a timely autumn break and trying to make decisions about sowing. Whilst few north east farms have the luxury of plentiful water, the risk management remains unchanged for Mark and Narelle.
Low risk options will be taken first on the flats and watered up. Dryland paddocks will not need to be sown until Mark and Narelle are comfortable they are not taking unnecessary risk. Use of safer species such as oats will be the first sown on the dryland country. This strategy works, regardless of geography or irrigation capability.
Soils and fertilisers
Soil test results show the area is very fertile with Olsen P levels above 30 on the majority of paddocks. Soil pH is moderately low but does not have excessive aluminium saturation. Lime applications are done on areas that are to be sown to aluminium sensitive species.
Fertilisers are applied strategically through the year to help improve available feed at specific times of the year. Typically blends are applied through autumn with nitrogen and are followed by nitrogen and sulphur blends through winter. Spring often has a mixture of blends and straight nitrogen to boost for silage and quality regrowth. 2012 had an increased reliance on nitrogen due to high summer rainfall, leaching and loss to summer grass weeds.
In the previous calendar year the milking area of the farm averaged approximately 125 kilograms of nitrogen per hectare. As expected, 2012 averaged 215 kilograms of nitrogen per hectare. A higher stocking rate and tougher seasonal conditions through winter and early spring also contributed to this.
With continued soil testing we will know what maintenance applications will be required and can further adapt fertiliser applications to suit.
The fertiliser inputs are monitored and it has appeared that the recent strategy has left some areas with inadequate phosphorus applications. This year the farm will be top dressed with Super to amend this and even-up applications across all areas.
Weed and pest control
This summer has changed the way in which we prepare for renovation on the dryland paddocks. Instead of having to spray out summer grasses, we are concentrating on reducing trash ready for sowing. In many ways this is good preparation for sowing, but it will also help to reduce the potential impact of black beetles.
The strategy for the coming season is as follows:
- Rain in February will germinate weeds so take the opportunity to remove them. Young annual plants need low-moderate rates of glyphosate only. This should also help with moisture retention and may well help this year's pastures establish quickly.
- Reduce trash. In the event that black beetles are a problem, lower levels of dead plant matter will make them more vulnerable to insecticide treatments.
- Irrigated and wetter areas of the farm are more likely to have perennial grass and broadleaf weeds and will need higher application rates for effective treatment. In this instance, adjust the rate to target the hardest to kill weeds. It is worth spending more for improved glyphosate formulations.
- Do not try to treat plants that are under moisture stress. If you can, wait until plants are actively growing prior to spraying.
- In establishing pastures (especially with under sown clover) it is vital that you act early. This enables you to use lower application rates and target vulnerable plants. Selective herbicides are less selective at higher rates. Pick your target and act early.
- Be mindful that red-legged earth mites may be back. Later sown pastures are always vulnerable in the establishment phase. Insecticide application is often timed with broadleaf weed sprays.
You may be aware there are several new endophytes claiming to help plants resist black beetle attack. This is true for established plants; however, regardless of endophyte status seedling plants remain highly vulnerable.
As mentioned above, removing excess plant material on the soil surface will help get insecticide treatments to the beetles. Be vigilant, check paddocks regularly and where using pre-sowing sprays the addition of a suitable insecticide will help. Later sowing (April) has often shown lower impact from black beetles.
The use of synthetic pyrethroids has increased in recent years; often because they provide a cheaper alternative. It is worth considering a change in active ingredient if you have been using the same chemical for some time as resistance to these synthetic chemicals is more prevalent.
Whilst it is very difficult to control them completely, the use of insecticides through the sowing and establishment phase has helped to minimise their effect. This year most sown pastures were sprayed to help minimise failures.
Seasonal Outlook - what has changed
The dry summer means a return to 'normal' conditions and puts us back into the typical autumn waiting game. There are a few aspects to the coming autumn period that are likely to be different to the past few seasons. In terms of risk management and planning the work done by Project 3030 may be of help.
- Early sowing is risky, especially for ryegrasses. If you punt early then use tougher plants such as oats that can withstand a dry period. Put them in deep, cover and roll.
- Oats may be more successful than during the recent wet years. They are not perfect, but are tough and are likely to give you plenty of feed leading into winter.
- Chances of failure are highest in March (especially with ryegrass). Receiving enough rainfall to germinate the plant without sufficient follow up rain often causes failure.
- The highest chance of failure was sowing after rain in March. Plants sown prior to rain were far more likely to survive than those sown one or two days after rain. Be careful, enough moisture to germinate seeds without follow up rain is dangerous.
- When sowing dry, always protect the seed. Drill, cover and roll to give good seed soil contact. We have all seen paddocks sown where tyre tracks have the only surviving plants in tough periods.
- Sow paddocks with south or easterly aspects first and those with north or westerly aspects later as they get far more afternoon sun and will dry off much quicker.
- Broadleaf weeds will be more prevalent in autumn. Simple, low rate sprays done on time will be cost effective and successful.
Sowing and making a plan
Typical sowing plans for this season are relatively simple in terms of first selecting the correct grasses for each paddock. Then work out what else you are prepared to put with them to help improve late autumn feed. Timing and selection is the key to getting it right this year.
The following may be a good way of managing risk and getting the paddocks sown:
- Earliest sowing – oats only. It is preferable to sow into a cultivated seed bed and drill deep (40 – 50 millimetres) so that a shower of rain will not germinate the plant.
- Sow either oats and ryegrass (~40 kilograms and 20 kilograms respectively), or Rape and ryegrass.
- In late March the risk of failure is reduced. Sow ryegrass alone or with Rape.
- Finish sowing ryegrass paddocks.
- If it is still dry do not be afraid to put some oats in with them to improve first grazing yield.
Remember – People who plan well make their own luck.