Improving pastures

 

image of pasture with trees in background
essential ecosystem servicesthat nature provides. Ensuring continuous ground cover is particularly important to restoring landscape health.

 

In our last post we mentioned that livestock grazing accounts for use of 55% of Australia’s land area [1]. While overgrazing is a well-documented cause of landscape degradation, regenerative practices, such as planned grazing and intelligent use of livestock has been demonstrated to restore groundcover and landscape health (watch this presentation by Allan Savory). By adopting these practices, we therefore have the opportunity to ensure a thriving landscape across more than half of our country.

The innovative farmers in the Soils for Life case studies are already implementing regenerative practices on their managed landscapes with positive natural resource and production results.

Planned grazing

image of dense mob of cattle in long grass

Various forms of time-controlled planned grazing are being practiced on our case study properties, including Bokhara Plains, Tallawang, Lana(register now to attend the Demonstration Daythere 10 April), Gunningrah (read the guest blog posts by Charlie Maslin), and Dukes Plain (Demo Day scheduled for 3 July), amongst others.

Their results through applying these techniques include increasing groundcover and proliferation of preferred pasture species such as native perennial grasses. Establishing and maintaining perennial grasses assists in providing resilience to the landscape.

Our case studies have demonstrated that increased persistence of native perennial species in pasture provides for more continuous groundcover. This protects the soils from erosion and weed incursion, produces root biomass, builds soil organic matter to enhance water holding capacity and enhances resilience against drought. Preferred species can be encouraged through grazing techniques and by monitoring and responding to plant life cycles to maximise – or minimise – plant succession.

Supporting vegetation succession to more productive species of grass and shelter in turn promotes stronger mineral and water cycles and attracts a greater diversity of animals to then recycle nutrient back to plants.

Maintaining groundcover

Many of the Soils for Life case study participants cited the goal of "100% groundcover, 100% of the time".

image of emerging crop sown in pasture

On Winona, Colin Seis’ ‘pasture cropping’ technique aligns with perennial grass lifecycles, ensuring continuous groundcover and delivering multiple production lines from his land. Colin sows crops into dormant perennial pastures and has integrated his grazing enterprise to graze the crop stubble and regenerating pastures (and read what this has done for his soil carbon levels in an earlier post).


image of lush pasture

Deeper rooted plants can draw on deeper moisture and nutrient for plant production. This in turn increases water holding capacity and structure to receive moisture infiltration where there is greater groundcover. As illustrated by Martin Royds of Jillamatong, deep rooted plants can be sought out to facilitate this. Martin elected to encourage growth of chicory (Cichorium intybus) and plantain (Plantago major), after observing the deep tap roots of weeds that he was removing from his more shallow-rooted pastures. He also observes that by allowing pastures to grow longer through planned rotational grazing practices, the dew condensing on the tall perennial grasses each night now provides additional water that helps sustain soil moisture and healthy pasture growth.

image of kangaroo grasses going to seed

Another technique being applied to increase pasture quality and quantity is the establishment and protection of seed banks – or “seed orchards”, as Ben and Graham Forsyth of Three Rivers Station in the fragile West Australian rangelands call them. By protecting clumps of preferred grasses enabling them to complete their lifecycle, seed can spread and increase the population of the preferred species.

Join us in restoring our landscape – one paddock at a time. Make maximising groundcover a priority on your property today!

The Soils for Life Team

FOOTNOTE:
1 State of the Environment 2011 Committee, Australia: State of the Environment 2011, Independent report to the Australian Government Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Canberra: DSEWPaC, 2011, p 271