About 15 years ago a group of researchers challenged themselves to come up with a new grazing system that would:
- Make marginal land productive;
- Fill feed gaps;
- Reduce risk;
- Increase profit; and
- Reduce inputs for animal health.
The result was a potential game-changer for farm productivity, profits and sustainable agriculture. The Enrich project is a system of mixed Australian perennial forage shrubs with inter-row pasture. To find out more, we spoke with one of the lead researchers, formerly with the CSIRO, Dr Dean Revell.
Why did you target native forage shrubs?
Our focus was to look at Australian native shrubs that were already adapted to our difficult and variable climate. The key is the unique contribution that perennial shrubs can make that is missing from an annual based system. That’s not to say that we replace what we have, but rather to add to what we have already.
So they bring in a source of nitrogen and a source of minerals that is lacking in late summer and autumn, and indeed feed supply generally in early winter when other options are not so strong. And it’s the complementarity between our existing forage options and the new perennial shrubs that together provide a functional whole. Collectively, they provide a year round feed supply with minimal risk to minimise the downsides when seasons go against you, but also an opportunity to capitalise when seasons go with you.
It was important to have a system that doesn’t restrict you from the good times when they do occur, and there’s two components to that. One is the shrubs themselves will respond to a good season like any plant will, and their productivity will treble easily if you have a favourable set of conditions. But also , they’re just a component of the whole system, you haven’t put all your eggs into the one basket. So you are really about managing variability by having different components in the feed-base that collectively has reduced your risk and maximised your chances in almost any given set of conditions, with the exception of the really extreme events.
What are the benefits of the system?
So there’s really been two major benefits that we’ve been able to identify. The first is the reduction in supplementary hand feeding.
At a time of year when there would normally be a lot of money spent on supplementary feed and a lot of time spent hand-feeding livestock, we’ve been able to show quite respectable and often impressive weight gains that would be starting to resemble what you would be expecting in spring. So that opens up all sorts of opportunities around how you manage animals and how many you can run on your place. There’s no value in having a goal for building your livestock enterprise if you then hit a feed-gap, because that ultimately sets the limits on what is possible. So if we can start filling that gap and achieve weight gain cost effectively, then opportunities are open.
We see the shrubs as a living source of supplementary feed that brings with it a suite of other benefits: A reduction in wind, integrated pest management, soil management, ground water management, all of those other components as well. They are the standing supplement that mean you are not feeding as much supplementary grain, and in some cases none at all.
But of approximately equal value and often of greater value is the financial return of deferred grazing on other parts of the farm. When you’re able to graze in autumn through the break of season on these perennial based systems, you’re not grazing annual based systems that need that early start, and they are considerably more productive for the rest of the year, and as a whole farm, you’re much better off.
For more information call SWCC on (08) 9724 2400.