10 - Herbage mass and pasture growth
The effects of different whole-farm management systems were explored in a farmlet trial on the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales, Australia, between July 2000 and December 2006. The three systems examined were first, a moderate input farmlet with flexible grazing on eight paddocks considered ‘typical’ of the region (farmlet B), a second, also with flexible grazing on eight paddocks but with a high level of pasture renovation and increased soil fertility (farmlet A) and a third with the same moderate level of inputs as farmlet B but which practised intensive rotational grazing on 37 paddocks (farmlet C).
The changes in herbage mass, herbage quality and pasture growth followed a seasonal pattern typical of the Northern Tablelands with generally higher levels recorded over spring–summer and lower levels in autumn–winter but with substantial differences between years due to the variable climate experienced. Over the first 18 months of the trial there were no significant differences between farmlets in total herbage mass. Although the climate was generally drier than average, the differences between farmlets in pasture herbage mass and quality became more evident over the duration of the experiment. After the farmlet treatments started to take effect, the levels of total and dead herbage mass became significantly lower on farmlet A compared with farmlets B and C. In contrast, the levels of green herbage were similar for all farmlets.
Throughout most of the study period, pastures on farmlet A with its higher levels of pasture renovation and soil fertility, had significantly higher DM digestibility for both green and dead herbage components compared with pastures on either of the moderate input systems (B and C). Thus, when green herbage mass and quality were combined, farmlet A tended to have higher levels of green digestible herbage than either of the other farmlets, which had similar levels, suggesting that pasture renovation and soil fertility had more effect on the supply of quality pasture than did grazing management. This difference was observed in spite of the higher stocking rate supported by farmlet A after treatments took effect.
Levels of legume herbage mass, while generally low due to the dry conditions, were significantly higher on farmlet A compared with the other two farmlets. While ground cover on farmlet A was found to be less than the other farmlets, this was largely associated with the higher level of pasture renovation. Generally, all three farmlets had ground cover levels well above 70% for the duration of the experiment, thus being above levels considered critical for prevention of erosion.
A multivariate analysis showed that the main explanatory factors significantly linked (P < 0.01) with the supply of high quality herbage were, in decreasing order of importance, those related to season and weather, pasture renovation, grazing management and soil fertility. Measurements of net pasture growth conducted using a limited number of grazing exclosure cages on three paddocks per farmlet revealed clear seasonal trends but no significant (P > 0.05) differences between farmlets. However, post hoc estimates of potential pasture growth rate using remotely sensed MODIS satellite images of normalised difference vegetation index captured weekly from each farmlet revealed a significant (P < 0.001) relationship with the seasonal pattern observed in the measurements of pasture growth rate.
Pasture herbage mass, quality and growth in response to three whole-farmlet management systems
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