DROUGHT is affecting many Australian farmers.
From Queensland all the way down to Gippsland, the lack of rain is being felt across many regions and industries, with some farm commodity prices entering record levels and quality feed supply becoming scarce.
Farmers in the North East of Victoria have been relatively protected from the severe drought conditions felt in other areas of Australia.
Winter and spring rain received to date in the area has been ideal to kick-start pasture growth, but despite this, feed is still limited in many paddocks throughout the region.
Valley Seeds is a wholesale pasture seed company, based at Yarck.
Last month, Dr Matt Mahoney, president of the Grasslands Society of Southern Australia, agronomy specialist and owner of Agridome Consultancy, was invited to be on the guest panel as part of the Valley Seeds Open Day.
Dr Mahoney spoke about how to maximise pasture growth; and how best to capitalise on the current seasonal conditions being experienced.
“Spring is upon us, and that means pasture growth will be increasing significantly as soil temperature begins to rise,” he said.
“Pasture growth will vary between regions depending on soil moisture levels; soil moisture will most likely be the limiting factor, while pasture species, soil fertility, insects, weeds and grazing management should be carefully considered to ensure these are not what is limiting pasture production.”
Dr Mahoney said that although climate models are predicting a dryer than average spring, there was still potential to grow decent amounts of pasture given the current soil moisture levels – and if another timely drop of rain is received.
“There may also be good opportunities to be had in terms of finishing off lambs, or taking on extra cattle at the right price if we grow quality pasture now,” he said.
While some parts of Australia are suffering with terrible drought conditions, Dr Mahoney said it was important to produce as much high quality farm grown dry matter as possible while the conditions allow – and utilising it shouldn’t be a problem.
“It’s important to address any weed and pest issues early, and feed pastures optimally with the guide of a soil test as this will enable growing the extra feed to meet livestock requirements, replenish silage or hay supplies, or to sell,” Dr Mahoney said.
“At the very least, we need to be avoiding growing weeds this spring.”
Jo Tanner, national sales and marketing manager for Valley Seeds, said it was about safeguarding hay crops to get maximum nutrient value.
“Farmers need to make sure they are going to cut the best quality hay they can; that means taking care of insects and fertilising; getting on top of everything now and not cutting too late in the vegetative stage,” she said.
“Parts of North East Victoria are holding up better than other parts of the state.”
Mrs Tanner said it was a matter of making sure paddocks produced as much as possible.
“There will be hay around, but farmers should be aiming for quality as well, and not just chasing quantity,” she said.
“There is little stored hay – there are a lot of cereals being cut, which is great for filling animals, but if you are wanting something that has more nutritive value, then you really need to look at growing that on farm clover rye blend.”
For those that are planning a fodder crop, Mrs Tanner recommended a deep rooted brassica as a quick growing summer feed option, or an Italian rye grass like Amass in high rainfall areas.
“Millet has previously been a staple, but this year it’s become quite expensive, so consider this and assess the options,” she said.
Despite the almost average season in the Yarck – Mansfield – Alpine areas, Mrs Tanner said it was still likely to be a long summer.
“Farmers need to weigh up what they’ve got, and what they’re prepared to do,” she said.
The best advice can always be found by seeking a local agronomist, seed company or other agricultural expert to help understand a full range of options.