Level of confidence in sub-tropical grasses

1.     Farmer experiences
Documented farmer stories are rare, but there have been some very positive experiences, such as Geoff O’Neil at Bellata in north western NSW. The SGSL trial used a mixture of Katambora Rhodes grass, Bambatsi panic, Gatton panic, lucerne, Burgundy bean, plus snail and barrel medics.

It’s a large open site with a heavy grey clay. These areas are like self mulching concrete and we have always struggled to get enough growth off the site.” Despite some hurdles with establishment, now that the tropical grass pasture was thriving Geoff could see the advantages in high production and the benefits of improved soil health and moisture retention. “We hope this area is going to mean all round feed at a much higher productivity. Our cuts and our first grazing have shown it will be something like 3 or 4 times more productive than the original pasture. The success of this pasture has us now assessing the rest of the farm and what’s been our traditional thinking there.”

2.     Research
There are no saltland research projects we are aware of that have used sub-tropical grasses.

3.     Risks and challenges
Because these sub-tropical grasses can only tolerate soils of low salinity, the primary challenge is correctly identifying suitable sites for these species – this may be around the edges of more saline areas, or in the more leached but waterlogged soils of coastal areas.

With its creeping habit, kikuyu over time tends to dominate mixed swards and if often sown without other grasses because of this. Rhodes grass is more suited to mixed grass swards.

4.     Future prospects
The sub-tropical grasses with limited salinity tolerance have only a small role to play in the national response to saltland – they have a limited temperature range, rely on summer rainfall, can only tolerant low to moderate levels of salinity. There are overseas programs breeding more salt tolerant varieties of Rhodes grass for the Middle East market and these need to be evaluated in saltland situations in Australia.

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