LLS tips for farmers to maximise winter grass growth

Healthy pastures: Getting the most out of winter pastures. Photo: Skitterphoto
Healthy pastures: Getting the most out of winter pastures. Photo: Skitterphoto

Healthy soil produces more resilient pasture plants, as well as being the first pastures to respond to improving conditions, according to Local Land Services (LLS).

Soil nutrition applies to pastures with both native and introduced pastures and research shows that plants supported by good soil nutrition are more resilient to grazing, says LLS.

These pastures will continue to grow herbage into winter, as well as during dry periods and are the first and fastest to respond to improving conditions.

In a media release, "many land managers are considering how to meet their animals feed requirements, especially in another tight season.

"Purchasing fodder and grain or growing forage crops such as winter cereals or brassica are ways to address feed gaps. However, we often get asked, what can I do to get more from my existing pasture during winter?"

Additional plant growth may be achieved by applying nitrogen and gibberellic acid, says LLS.

Gibberellic acid is a naturally occurring plant hormone that was identified back in the early to mid-1900s. It can stimulate plant growth through the elongation (stretching) of leaves and stems.

"Early research using gibberellic acid on pastures questioned the economic value of its use. However, the product was used at extremely high rates (250 gram/hectare (g/ha)) compared to today's recommended application rates (2.5 - 20g/ha). Research into the product and its effects continues to this day, particularly by our Kiwi neighbours who have been conducting numerous trials looking at the combined effects of gibberellic acid and nitrogen fertilisers.

"Gibberellic acid application has been shown across numerous trials to significantly increase herbage mass (the weight of pasture) and is most effective when used in combination with a nitrogen fertiliser. This additional pasture growth is achieved by the plant drawing on its nutritional reserves and increasing the size and density of its tillers (the stem produced by grass plants).

"This is best achieved using an established pasture (older than a year), typically ryegrass or phalaris, and one with solid soil nutrition to help support the extra plant growth. There also needs to be sufficient soil moisture - so assess conditions on ground before you invest.

"When feed is especially tight some of our annual grasses such as barley grass and volunteer ryegrass, which in some situations we may treat as weeds, can also provide high quality feed for livestock when they are in a vegetative growth phase. It's best to utilise these grasses while they are short and green."

A soil test can quickly identify which key nutrients may be limiting growth in your pastures. For more information about livestock feed requirements visit the NSW Department of Primary Industries Drought Hub or speak to an advisor or LLS staff.