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Thursday, 6 November 2014

Nurture developing roots for pasture success

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With competition from pests and weeds, there is never a more important time to nurture pasture than during establishment.

Young pasture plants do not have a large root structure to search for nutrients and they are particularly vulnerable to competition from weeds and insect damage. A productive pasture is the most cost-effective source of feed on your farm, so it pays to put time and effort into nurturing it.

​Testing Testing

Do not underestimate the power of soil testing. Knowing the underlying soil nutrient status will inform how regrassing or cropping will take shape, allowing you to adequately prepare soils with starter or maintenance fertiliser. More comprehensive soil testing will help identify what is available and what will give you the best return on investment from your fertiliser program.

Paddock Preparation

Use a high-quality glyphosate and adjuvant combination in the spray-out, along with companion herbicides if there are weeds in the paddock that aren’t controlled by glyphosate alone.

If direct drilling, a double spray programme is advised to control weeds and reduce the potential insect population. Use glyphosate and a companion herbicide in the first spray-out and glyphosate with an insecticide in a second spray-out, to reduce the insect population prior to sowing.

Good paddock preparation is vital to getting a fast and even plant establishment. If cultivating, a fine, firm and weed-free seedbed is advised to improve the seed to soil contact and aid accurate and consistent sowing depth.

If direct drilling, remove as much trash (residue from the previous crop/pasture) as possible. It can impair drilling and is an ideal environment for damaging insects.  Remember to check for slugs. If the population is high, broadcast slug bait either with fertiliser before drilling or soon after.

Seed Selection

Choose an appropriate grass cultivar and other species to include in the pasture mix for your feed requirements and select the grass endophyte, naturally occurring fungi in the plant that protects against insect attack, best suited for the insects expected in the paddock. Use an effective seed treatment to provide protection during establishment. This will allow enough time for the endophyte to colonise the grasses and start providing protection. The drilling depth needs to be accurate to ensure seeds aren’t placed too deep or too shallow, which can affect how the new pasture establishes.

Fertiliser Foundation

Establishing plants do not have a large root structure to search for nutrients, so nutrients must be made available to them. The type and rate of starter fertiliser depends on each individual paddock and crop.

The first six to eight weeks are important for new pasture and weeds should be controlled before the first grazing as the plants are vulnerable to competition. Damage from insects at this stage is likely to have significant long-term effects on the paddock’s production. Weekly monitoring is advised to ensure any potential issues are identified early.

Address Nitrogen Needs

An application of nitrogen is recommended after the first grazing. Emerging roots are not yet big enough to search for nitrogen vital for growth, so a nitrogen fertiliser will help successful establishment of clovers, grasses and other species sown.