Level of Confidence in tall wheatgrass

1.     Farmer experiences
Tall wheatgrass was introduced into Australia in the 1940s and there is now a significant network of strong advocates for its ability to turn unproductive saltland into productive pasture. The following comments are typical:
“I accept that I can no longer crop much of the valley flats, but I will not accept that I can no longer graze them." Tim Heffernan (Wickepin, WA) first saw tall wheatgrass in 1984 when visiting a farm in South Australia. "The farmer showed me his salt problem, but all I could see was a paddock covered in waist high green feed in the middle of summer!" Since then, Tim has gradually transformed 150 ha of marginal valley flats into forage areas for around $140 per hectare.

2.     Research
Because there has been a significant research input, the strengths (long term persistence once established, strong water use over summer, provision of out-of-season feed) and the weaknesses (cost of establishment, palatability, animal nutrition limitations and weed potential) of tall wheatgrass either as a single species or in a species mix are reasonably well tested and understood.

3.     Risks and challenges
The ready adaptability of tall wheatgrass to a range of Australian conditions has inevitably meant that it can pose a weed problem if not well managed. If allowed to run up to seed it can spread and colonise areas where it is unwanted, particularly along watercourses and roadsides.

The relatively slow establishment of tall wheatgrass often requires that it be allowed to set seed in the first year to thicken up, implying a further year’s wait for the pasture to come into full production.

Grazing management is the primary challenge for on-going management because the palatability of tall wheatgrass declines strongly if the tussocks are allowed to become rank.

4.     Future prospects
The overall prospect for tall wheatgrass as one of the primary/mainstay species in saltland pastures is assured. Tall wheatgrass based pastures will continue to be the grass species of choice in south-west Victoria and tall wheatgrass will contribute in other regions of relatively high rainfall and moderate salinity.

The development of a wider range of salt tolerant legumes would greatly expand the opportunities for tall wheatgrass.

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