Dairy operations in northern Victoria and southern New South Wales have traditionally been reliant on inexpensive, irrigated pastures to keep the cost of production low.
The research focus of the Flexible Forage Systems project is to determine the production, water use and management requirements of a range of forage systems that offer potential under variable water supplies.
Department of Environment and Primary Industries (DEPI) Scientist Alister Lawson said the work would assist dairy farmers make better and more informed decisions about their selection of forages.
"The declining availability of irrigation water in recent years has become a limiting factor for producers, so they are rethinking their mix of irrigated forages and considering dryland forages in order to optimise their use of irrigation water and rainfall," Dr Lawson said.
The project is now entering the second stage with two established field trials. One trial is assessing the impact of variable water supply to lucerne on its water use, production and persistence over a five year period.
The experimental treatments range from fully irrigated for each of the five years to a treatment in which the lucerne is only irrigated for the first and last year, with the three intermediate years having no irrigation water applied.
"We are in the process of determining the impact of a range of options farmers might implement if they don't have enough water to fully irrigate their lucerne every year."
"Despite a wet summer, early indications are there seems to be no negative impact upon the performance of irrigated lucerne as a result of earlier periods when it has not been irrigated."
A second trial is looking at the grazing management of tall fescue on dairy farms. Dr Lawson said earlier work suggested tall fescue was a very promising species in terms of its production and feed quality.However, many dairy farmers have been reluctant to use it on their farms.
"One reason for this is dairy farmers have often struggled with its grazing management requirements," he said.
"This trial with tall fescue is seeking to provide a robust set of grazing management guidelines which will allow dairy farmers to confidently incorporate tall fescue into the feedbase on their farms."
"One aspect of this work is to carry out a survey of current and past users of tall fescue. This survey aims to determine what the role tall fescue currently has on dairy farms and to define the characteristics of dairy farms on which tall fescue has been successful."
The research team is eager to speak to dairy farmers and hear about their experiences with tall fescue. If you are interested in participating please don't hesitate to contact Alister Lawson at DePI Tatura.
This project is supported by the Department of Environment and Primary Industries, Dairy Australia and Murray Dairy.
For further information please contact Alister Lawson, telephone (03) 5833 5222.