Pasture trials for sustainable farming

Pasture trials for sustainable farming

Improved environmental sustainability, productivity and profitability are among the goals highlighted by the Mid North High Rainfall Zone group.

The not-for-profit organisation has about 80 members – mostly local farmers and farming consultants - spread from Giles Corner in the south, to Melrose in the north.

And while the group has been steadily making inroads in establishing itself with a number of valuable broadacre farming field trials, MNHRZ chair and local farmer Jarred Tilley said the group recognised there were some gaps in their research.

“When we sat back and looked at it, we decided we didn’t do enough for mixed farmers – we weren’t doing enough pasture trials,” he said. “We had done pasture trials in the past that were quite informative and renowned, but they were still getting quoted even though they were 10 years out of date.”

What the group also found was that there were some gaps in funding options for pastures trials.

So, when they discovered the Northern and Yorke Landscape Board Grassroots Grants program, they jumped at the opportunity to seek funding.

“We found that we could get cropping trials funding, but when we wanted to trial pastures within a crop trial that was a lot harder,” Jarred said. “While the trials do fit into the livestock category and it is animal nutrition, it wasn’t going to be an animal-based science, it was plant-based. So, pasture trials can find themselves in ‘no man’s land’, which is where the Grassroots Grant was perfect for us and filled a void.”

Pasture trials for sustainable farming

The MNHRZ group was successful in securing a Grassroots Grant in 2021-2022, which Jarred said enabled them to kickstart the trials, followed up with another in 2022-2023 to progress the program.

Jarred said pastures could be a sustainable way to bring plant diversity into a production system and build more resilient farming businesses.

Pasture trials were undertaken at Giles Corner and Farrell Flat, evaluating the dry production and nutrition value of different feeds individually and in a mix, and also evaluating retained moisture and Nitrogen for the following season. Collection of feed growth was made three times during the growing seasons to show the productive value of different feed mixes at different times.

“The pastures sown included sub clovers, annual clovers, cereals, ryegrasses, vetch legumes and brassicas,” Jarred said. “This accurate evaluation will help producers and consultants make educated decisions, and ultimately lead to improved animal health and production, and improved ground cover and sustainability in farming systems.

“The important part of the trials was, firstly, Farrell Flat is a lot colder than Giles Corner, so we wanted to compare the two sites for their pasture productivity at different times of the year.

“Secondly, we wanted to test the quality of the feed and test how that builds resilience into the farming system. Pastures can potentially improve nutrients in the soil and improve moisture retention.”

Jarred said the Grassroots Grants funding had enabled the MNHRZ to develop the pasture trials to a point where they had now “outgrown” the Grassroots Grants - but in a good way!

He said the trial could not have commenced without the support of the Northern and Yorke Landscape Board funding and encouraged others to consider the program to get their own initiatives off the ground.

“Importantly for a small group like ours, it was an easy grant process to be involved in,” Jarred said. “I think it’s a very good model of funding because it’s targeted and hits those areas of funding that might fly under the radar of other funding opportunities.

“It really is a credit to the model, and it is unique to have funding of that size that I think can really help a lot of community groups. “For us, it certainly helped get the ball rolling and filled a void in funding.

“We have probably now outgrown the Grassroots Grants with this particular pasture trial and have been able to tap into larger funding initiatives, and that’s a real credit to Grassroots Grants.

“Grassroots Grants funding enabled us to kick-start our trial and grow it the way we have.”