Yields not affected by livestock

Countryman

WA trials have confirmed that if livestock are removed at the right time, little or no grain yield losses occur when traditional cereal and canola varieties are grazed in winter.

The trials were conducted as part of the Grain & Graze 2 program, which has received $12 million from the Grains Research and Development Corporation and the Federal Government’s Caring for our Country initiative.

Agricultural consultant Philip Barrett-Lennard, of AgVivo, who coordinates the Grain & Graze 2 program in WA, said yields were not reduced when crops at Geraldton and Esperance were grazed by sheep or cattle in June and early July 2010.

“These yield results support positive anecdotal evidence from the small number of WA growers who already graze livestock on their grain crops,” he said.

Mr Barrett-Lennard presented information on the pros and cons of grazing crops during a recent series of Grain & Graze 2 workshops at Kojonup, Cuballing, Jerdacuttup and Esperance.

He said WA’s seasonal conditions often limited the opportunities for growers to seed dual-purpose varieties bred specifically for grazing, but normal crop varieties could also be successfully grazed.

“Dual purpose varieties flower later than traditional varieties, offering a wider window of opportunity for grazing, but they need to be sown early — in March or early April,” he said. “WA growers often don’t receive sufficient early rainfall to allow them to grow these dual-purpose crops.”

Mr Barrett-Lennard said traditional crop varieties sown up to the end of May could be grazed without grain yield losses, but the cut-off date for grazing varied between regions.

“Crops in higher rainfall areas with a longer growing season, such as Kojonup, can be grazed safely probably until as late as early August,” he said. “In districts with a short growing season, such as Merredin, sheep and cattle would need to be removed in early to mid-July.”

Mr Barrett-Lennard said crop grazing allowed growers to increase their stocking rates, grow a bigger area of crop and improve livestock productivity.

“Although crop grazing is believed to have significant whole-farm benefits for WA growers, its economic consequences are not yet known,” he said. “As part of the Grain & Graze program, economists are being commissioned to investigate the whole-farm economic consequences of grazing crops in WA.”

Mr Barrett-Lennard said one negative consequence was that intensive grazing of crops with a high grass weed burden exacerbated the weed problem in those paddocks. “When the crop is grazed it is less competitive against grass weeds,” he said.

Mr Barrett-Lennard said a series of crop grazing field walks would be organised during winter through the Grain & Graze 2 program.

Grain & Graze 2 aims to improve the profitability of farmers with mixed farming enterprises.

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