Level of confidence in temperate perennial grasses

1.     Farmer experiences
When established in the right salinity environment, farmer stories about the value of temperate perennial grasses for saltland management are strongly positive. An example is Andrew Southwell’s story from the upper Lachlan catchment in NSW:

In the end, it cost us almost $5000 to fix the initial nine hectares, mainly because of the amount of earthworks and the difficult fencing we had to do, but it gave us the confidence to go on with the other saline areas. We progressively fenced off and sowed our saltland with a ‘shotgun’ mix of tall wheatgrass, puccinellia, fescue, phalaris, ryegrass, cocksfoot, strawberry clover and white clover and we now have about 120 ha under our saltland system.

In the early 1990s I upgraded my grazing management skills and started to record what livestock all our paddocks carry, over the full year period and this gave us a big surprise – our saltland carries 11 DSE/ha/year on average, while the improved pastures on our non-saline land carry only 8 DSE/ha/year!

2.     Research
There is a very extensive body of knowledge about nearly all aspects of the agronomy, grazing management and animal husbandry associated with phalaris and tall fescue pastures. This makes them a low risk proposition if the salinity of the site is low. However, as the salinity and/or waterlogging increase applying results from non-saline sites becomes increasingly risky.

3.     Risks and challenges
Because these perennial grasses can only tolerate sites with low salinity the primary challenge is correctly identifying suitable sites for these species – expensive seed will be wasted if the site is too saline and waterlogged for them to establish and prosper.

Shotgun mixtures can be positive for the saline site as a whole, but can significantly complicate management because the different species can have different management requirements and grazing needs. In particular the temperate grasses are generally more palatable than more salt-tolerant species and therefore can be eradicated by preferential grazing.

4.     Future prospects
The perennial grasses with limited salinity tolerance are never going to be a nationally significant response to saltland – they are only tolerant of low levels of salinity and there is no research planned to select them for more saline environments.

However, in the higher rainfall areas of NSW and Victoria where there are many small saline patches, shotgun mixtures of more and less salinity tolerant grasses and legumes will continue to be favoured by farmers as the revegetation method of choice for saltland.

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