Rain perennial bonus

Kate MatthewsCountryman

The recent summer rains along the south coast and into the Great Southern brought a halt to harvesting for many farmers, but for livestock producers with perennials, it gave more options when it comes to feed.

The Walsh family in Cranbrook are just one example of where salt land pastures have become a vital ingredient in a mixed farming system.

Ian and son Michael are second and third generation family members supporting their use.

Ian’s father was one of the first in the district to plant puccinellia, a salt-tolerant grass from Turkey, in a bid to reclaim land in the 1960s.

By the 1980s, a third of the farm was suffering salinity and waterlogging.

On highly saline areas puccinellia was under sown, and in low to mid saline areas perennials, such as tall wheat grass, Rhodes grass and lucerne and annuals such as clover, have been planted.

Saltbush has acted as an agent to increase vegetation and in turn helped lower the water table and dry the summer soil profile.

In winter, it’s resulted in less waterlogging with plants having the optimum chance of establishment.

“Gradually it improved the whole area to a point where it was actually producing as much as what the annual pastures were in carrying capacity,” Mr Walsh said.

To identify the extent of the salinity and which areas are more saline than others so the right mix of perennials can be planted, the Walshes use electromagnetic mapping.

“Where the ground is less saline, we plant less salt tolerant perennials, and where it’s salty we sow more salt-tolerant species, thereby saving dollars by planting the right plant in the right place.”

And just like cropping, Mr Walsh said “you need to spend the money to get the rewards”.

“I believe we haven’t got a salt problem — we have an excess water problem.

“What we need to do is use that water to our advantage and having perennials can be an effective way to do it for our area.

“It’s a very good tool that uses the water and increases productivity at the same time.”

The other benefits of planting perennials for the Walshes is it helps keep their sandy duplex soils bound together and it’s a vital source of green feed and vitamin E for weaners.

“When we get summer rain, it means green feed, and when we get some of the earlier rains in early March and April, it actually shortens our summer,” Mr Walsh said.

“There is no such thing as a false break in perennials.”

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