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Autumn pasture renewal brings lasting returns

Early autumn is a great time to invest in pasture renewal that will increase long–term farm profitability and production.

 Even the best managed pastures suffer deterioration. Paddocks might still look green, but after about eight years it’s likely that at least half the plant population will be weed grasses, which reduces productivity. Disease, pugging, drainage issues and insects are also contributing factors.

Well planned crop rotation can increase dry matter per hectare by around three to six tonnes, according to the Pasture Renewal Charitable Trust (PRCT).

A recent study commissioned by PRCT reveals sheep, beef and dairy farm–gate returns can increase by up to 27 percent if farmers adopt more comprehensive pasture renewal policies.

New pasture is more palatable to livestock, establishes quickly, produces more dry matter and does a better job of resisting pest and diseases. The resulting higher feed values manifest in live weight gains, improved stocking rates and increased milk production.

The first step in any pasture renewal programme is to identify the reasons for poor performance. Soil fertility, drainage, pugging, overgrazing and weeds need to be resolved before new plant species are introduced. Dairy New Zealand has a useful Pasture Condition Score Tool that can help with paddock assessment.

Best practice suggests that farmers need to replace 10 percent of their farm each year to maintain productivity. Multi–crop establishment plans and overlapping crops can be used for farms with high stocking rates, reducing the impact of low feed periods.

Early sowing of new pasture is important, with March and early April being the optimum sowing months depending on location and species. While the upper North Island can generally get away with sowing perennial ryegrass pastures until mid–April, more rapidly declining soil temperatures further south means perennial pastures should be sown by late March. Pugging potential increases in late autumn and establishment is slower due to the cooler temperatures.

We advise going the extra mile with seed bed preparation. Sowing a new permanent pasture is an investment and any shortcuts will impact on sward establishment. A firm and fine seedbed is essential before drilling to ensure good soil to seed contact and correct moisture levels for germination.

Pasture persistence is an ever–present challenge, and selecting the right cultivars can reap dividends. Germinal’s High Sugar Grasses and white clovers are bred to provide greater tolerance to environmental stressors such as low temperatures and drought conditions.

With correct establishment techniques and sowing rates, our Aber clovers will achieve the 30 to 35 percent target of total sward dry matter across a wide range of grazing conditions and pasture management systems. AberLasting, for example, can maintain leaf water content for a week longer than traditional white clover when completely without water. It can also withstand overnight temperatures of minus 20 degrees Celsius, which would wipe out 70 percent of other white clover varieties.

Ultimately, poor performing paddocks can impact your bottom line. Don’t be deterred by the upfront cost of renewal; focus instead on the benefits of improved pasture productivity. Reseeding will improve dry matter production and grass quality, boosting home–grown feed production.

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