Beaufort Flats group take on salinity, waterlogging

28 May, 2003 10:00 PM
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RUSSEL Thomson's infamously saline flats at Woodanilling have been pressed into duty again to provide information on how to increase production from waterlogged and saline areas.

The group of farmers calling themselves the Beaufort Flats Pasture Improvement Group each grapple with similarly salt-affected land and are using the 24 established one hectare plots to carry out grazing trials using traditional saline pasture species as well as a range of sub-tropicals.

The Thomsons' flats was the location for pasture trials by researcher Tess Casson in the mid 1990s and more recently was used as a demonstration trial site for raised bed farming.

When members gathered for a field day recently, it was a case of revisiting the past to relearn an old message.

A summary of grazing information showed a big difference in the carrying capacity of the plots depending on pasture composition.

The sheep ran on the 1ha plots for six weeks during February and March but at the end of the grazing period, there was still a good coverage of barley grass demonstrating its unpalatability.

BFPI president Gradyn Wilcox said the tall wheat grass had not been grazed since mid-August and had been written off by many farmers as a waste of time. But it had proven to be a good green pick for the sheep and had huge value as it made the country more suitable for balansa.

"If you are looking for a system for saline flats, you can't go past it," Gradyn said.

"It postpones waterlogging by up to two months and by then the annuals are away. I've been talking about it for years but I've never sown a paddock."

The tall wheat grass, now fully established and balanced at a sustainable density, also showed an advantage in lowering water table with observation well in the plot at 0.75 metres below the surface while wells in adjacent plots were about 0.25m higher.

Last spring the group also planted a variety of sub-tropicals as individual or mixed plantings and had help from CSBP to run a trial looking at the value of different rates of fertiliser in establishing sub-tropical pastures.

Comparing rates of 90kg/ha and 180kg/ha of Agras and muriate of potash against a control using no fertiliser, a difference in plant growth was not visible.

The group is planning to include saltbush into the trials this year and has enlisted help from the Sustainable Grazing from Saline Land project in determining grazing benefits of different salt pastures, measuring plant densities, salinity levels and the ability of different plants to establish and persist in areas of increasing salinity and waterlogging.

Species growing at the site are:

Callide Rhodes grass: Highly palatable and suitable for grazing or hay, suited to a wide range of soil types.

Katambora Rhodes grass: Has improved drought tolerance and persistency in lower fertility situations. It has a higher degree of stolon activity than Callide and can stand periodic waterlogging and good salt tolerance.

Bambatsi panic: Is a palatable drought tolerant grass with a deep fiberous root system and performs best on heavier loam soil.

Gatton panic: A broader, longer leaf and better palatability will also perform best on heavier well drained soil.

Signal grass: A coarse stoloniferous plant that forms a dense ground cover under fertile conditions.

Humidicola: A creeping grass more tolerant of waterlogging than signal. Tolerates acid soils and is preferred by stock to Signal but is frost tender.

Splenda Setaria: A longer season plant with good forage quality and palatability and adapted to a wide range of soils types. Splenda is relatively frost tolerant and can stand some waterlogging.

Siratro: A legume that looks promising at sites across the state. It is a twiner with a deep taproot that sets a lot of seed and has been persistent under the right grazing management. Highly palatable and widely grown in Queensland.

Chicory: Considered the Rolls Royce of feed and an alternative to lucerne on acid soils. It has as deep tap-root that gives drought tolerance once established.

Plantain: Tolerant of acid soils and drought. Like chicory, it has a deep tap root and broad leaves and is high in mineral content, making it highly suitable for hay and silage.

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