Western District

Western District branch

Branch President: Craig Altmann - email craig.altmann@agfseeds.com.au

Click on the image below to view the 2020 Branch Update video

 

 

Converting Blue Gums to Pasture Day

On the 18th of July 2017, the Western District branch committee held a “Blue gums to pasture” day in Cavendish as a follow up to a similar event held by the Society in 2014. The event was supported by the Glenelg Hopkins CMA through funding from the Australian Government’s national Landcare program.

Over recent years, our understanding of how to renovate land after blue gum harvesting has significantly improved. The overall aim of the day was to provide a platform for attendees to gain a good understanding of several renovation techniques and some insight into the main costs and considerations.

Attendance was overwhelming with around 200 people filling the Cavendish Hall for presentations followed by a four wheel drive (4WD) tour and machinery display.
Keynote speaker, Ed Dunn from PF Olsen, highlighted the evolution of their forestry plantation management company in response to the changing landscape of the blue gum industry. PF Olsen has established an Agriculture division which is focused on reclaiming large pockets of blue gum plantation land for its customers in Western Australia. Extensive modelling is undertaken by the group to determine the feasibility of the conversion. Ed noted that a long term outlook has been important for their clients when considering a conversion out of blue gums.

What have been some of the issues?

A highlight of the day was presentations from farmers who have undertaken reclamation of plantation land back to pasture or cropping. Locals Mark Bunge (Coojar), David Robertson (Bulart) and Karl Price (Cavendish) spoke about their experiences. Despite adopting different conversion approaches, all spoke of the importance of understanding timber harvesting methods, soil testing to assess soil nutrient needs plus researching and evaluating the economics of conversion. Balancing the costs and benefits of retaining or removing stumps was also highlighted as an important consideration and a key difference between their approaches.
As most would understand, dealing with the tree stumps post-harvest has been one of the larger costs for those who remove them immediately. Grinding is an expensive option but can lead to improved tractability and ease of management thereafter.

Mark Bunge spoke of his experiences of inter row sowing of crops and pasture after spraying out and burning blue gum coppices. Mark has had great success with this method, although the issue of stump removal still remains. Mark is expecting that with time, the stumps will break down to make the removal as simple as a pass or two of a strategic cultivation.

Understanding and restoring “post-blue gum” soil conditions was the focus of presentations from local Agronomist Bruce Lewis and Glenelg Hopkins CMA Sally Cunningham who both outlined the need to properly plan out any conversion. This is best done by mapping out soil types and fertility patterns and to consider the impacts of movement and change to the soil profile.

Bruce Lewis of Agdiagnostics explained some of the key soil constraints identified in post plantations and also some first-hand experiences from recent years. A common characteristic of post blue gum soil is a low pH resulting in high Aluminium availability which in some cases exceeded 50 percent of total cation exchange capacity.

Liming early in the renovation phase has been paramount along with large applications of phosphorus, sulphur and potassium. Soil testing throughout the renovation phase is one of the most important steps in ensuring all fertiliser inputs become a good investment.

Local producer and long-time Grassland Society supporter, David Robertson, spoke of the considerations he had made prior to the purchase and renovation of a local blue gum plantation. David outlined the value of the proximity of land and the comparison of costs between renovating an already cleared, run-down property and the cost of starting with stumps. With both options, he highlighted that it is imperative to account for inputs such as time, fertiliser and pasture seed.

Presentations from the day are available to GSSA members here.

Pop Up Pasture Walk 

On Wednesday the 7th of June the Western District Branch of GSSA (Grassland Society of Southern Australia) held a Pop up Pasture Walk. The day was a great success, with about 40 people in attendance, including; local farmers, agronomists and industry representatives.

The group visited three local properties managed by Mark Fraser, Gordon Last and the Mirtschin family, where the opportunity to have a look at establishing perennial pasture and the importance of annual pasture was excellent.

Highlights and hot topics included:

  • Slug control
  • Pest insect control
  • Sowing annuals and cereals early for greater feed production
  • Establishment of Phalaris
  • The role of clover in the system
  • Use of urea for increased winter feed
  • Smaller paddocks for increased stocking rate and lamb survivability
  • Comparing perennial ryegrass species, phalaris & fescue
  • Lamb production on ‘improved pastures’ versus poor pastures
  • The role of brassicas and the new variety “Raphno” brassica

The Western District GSSA Branch Committee would like to sincerely thank the growers that hosted the group and helped made the day a success. The Committee members involved in organising the day have received nothing but positive feedback from participants, with suggestions made to run a similar day in early spring.