Planting dual-purpose crops can minimise farm risk and increase crop returns by up to $600/ha, according to Grains Research Development Corporation and CSIRO research.
By taking advantage of grazing opportunities in autumn and early spring, well-timed early sowing and grazing results in little impact on yield as long as biomass is maintained above critical levels.
Following several years of work with canola and wheat varieties, CSIRO’s Dr Susie Sprague advises careful timing when considering grazing crops because there is an important balance between losing yields and maintaining crop biomass.
‘‘People are a bit more comfortable with grazing wheat than canola, particularly with the timing of removing stock depending on growth stage,’’ she said.
‘‘Dual-purpose crops require a bit of a changed mentality around sowing timing in terms of looking at earlier sowing times and hitting flowering windows to manage the paddock right to maximise yield.
‘‘Research into grazing canola is still in early stages compared to wheat grazing, however the crop presents some useful gains in terms of feed and yield if managed correctly.
‘‘To get the best benefit out of grazing, it’s best to have a plan in place for how the season needs to play out, and if that doesn’t work, don’t graze it,’’ Dr Sprague said.
She said in addition to the seasonal conditions, livestock numbers also played a part in deciding to graze a paddock.
‘‘In terms of paddock selection, you would need to be thinking about how it sits in with your livestock in terms of time of grazing,’’ she said.
‘‘If you haven’t got enough animals then you might get uneven grazing of your crop and you may need to consider buying in stock or agisting for neighbours.’’
Dr Sprague said most commercial wheat and canola varieties could be successfully managed for dual-purpose use. But best results were from early-sown, mid to late maturing types, depending on the district, with high early vigour — and for canola, a high blackleg resistance rating.
Selecting a paddock with stored soil moisture should also be a consideration, allowing for a smoother early sowing process where crops can establish well following a rainfall event.
Dr Sprague said some growers were taking the practice further than just sowing earlier in March or April and getting useful grazing opportunities over summer by sowing in spring.
‘‘In the high rainfall systems the normal sowing time for them can have waterlogging issues, so being able to sow in spring alleviates the risk and gives them extra grazing at a time where feed can be hard to come by.’’