Building pasture resilience
Developing pastures and systems that work with the environment will help your farm to reach its potential. Consider your unique situation and things like location, climate and stock class to determine your main perennial and companion species – for pasture that’s as resilient as possible.
For some, a complete pasture and management change may be needed, such as tall fescue and lucerne conversions in areas where old pastures have struggled.
Prioritise your paddocks
When considering building pasture resilience in your system, it pays to be systematic. Review your existing pastures to identify which ones are ready for a perennial renewal programme. This may involve going through a cropping phase to ensure paddock suitability, and building nutrients into the soil.
Determine what condition your paddocks are in and which ones will need re-sowing. Use a scale of 1–3 or a more complex scale up to 5 to condition score existing pastures. The point is to get clear on which pastures are still in a good state and which are not.
Even in years with adequate moisture, this exercise should be done regularly so when poor conditions do occur, whether through drought or very wet conditions, you can use your poor paddocks as sacrifice paddocks and look after your high performing ones.
Re-pasturing capital needs to be spent wisely on the paddocks in poorest condition that lie in typically higher producing areas. Those areas that grow the most feed are the ones to focus on.
Choose the right perennial mix for your farm
With so many options available when choosing perennial species and cultivars, this step can be confusing. Get good advice from RAGT and pick a range of cultivars that will suit your environment and needs.
One of the most important considerations for many farmers is cultivar persistence. Ensure you choose species that suit your environment. For too long there has been a focus on basic perennial ryegrass and white clover pastures that have often been overwhelmed by our environment and struggled to persist.
RAGT is dedicated to giving farmers across New Zealand a choice of perennial forage options, and experienced advice, that can be tailored to each unique situation.
We are proud of our world class breeding programmes across a wide range of perennial options, from new generation cocksfoot, tall fescue and perennial ryegrass breeding through to industry leading specialist development of subterranean clover.
It takes years of development to create a new perennial cultivar, but by investing the time, effort and resources required helps ensure confidence in a variety once it’s commercialised. RAGT plant breeding is based on the fundamentals of great genetics teamed with high production and quality. It’s these foundations which help ensure the material they produce for us performs to our high expectations. Throughout the process, selections are made with key focuses on not just yield but a range of factors which help ensure robustness and strength in the real world.
Understanding the types
We have a large nationwide screening programme that continues to test many breeding lines against all the locally bred commercial varieties. Trials have measured overall and seasonal dry matter production, heading dates, disease tolerance, animal palatability and forage quality (ME, sugars, NDF etc).
For a long time, Cocksfoot has been considered a persistent option that tolerates dry conditions and insects, however, many farmers have noted a lack of palatability with the old varieties. Plant breeders were historically focused on developing prostrate, low yielding types that demonstrated persistence but little else.
RAGT has developed a world recognised portfolio of ‘new generation’ cocksfoots that are significantly different to the cocksfoots of old. Greenly ll is one of the new generation types.
Tall fescue is sometimes overlooked as a permanent grass option in favour of perennial ryegrass. While perennial ryegrass is well suited to many regions and uses, tall fescue has some real benefits when used correctly. It can be used in most environments but its benefits often shine when used appropriately in areas where ryegrass may be struggling.
Ryegrass grows optimally around 20°C and it stops producing effectively after 24 – 25°C, whereas tall fescue continues to produce well into the 30°C range with its optimum growing temperature well above that of ryegrass. This heat resilience combined with its superior root structure allows it to perform in environments where ryegrass typically struggles. Two key benefits are its dense roots and the plant’s ability to tolerate many insects that can hamper ryegrass production and survival.