Finding sustainable solutions for fragile soils

29 Jul, 1999 02:12 AM
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LIVESTOCK used as warm-blooded selective herbicides can reduce cropping costs, according to Professor David Lindsay, head of Animal Science at the University of WA (UWA). Professor Lindsay Albany told an audience of 100 in Albany recently that scientists were gaining an understanding of animals' dietary preferences, which could reduce graingrowers' and graziers' costs. "(We could) reduce the level of chemical use and be more environmentally friendly," he said. The meeting, organised by the Albany Centre of UWA, was one in UWA's Sustainable Solutions series under the title "Sustainable Solutions for a Growing World". "It's a case of plants helping animals and animals helping plants," Professor Lindsay said. "There is a growing enthusiasm for this concept. "At UWA, we are looking at new roles for animals in agriculture. The wool industry is on a bit of a downer. Wool sheep were once the elite, but now there's a big role for using animals in a different way, as herbicide resistance is shown to be increasing in plants other than just ryegrass." According to Professor Lindsay, UWA's agronomists are looking for a legume suitable for summer grazing. It will enhance soil nitrogen levels and lower weed incidence. He said the weed battle was a complex one < plants versus other plants versus sheep, with all of them interacting with each other. "We have to sort out the components of this warfare," Professor Lindsay said. "Some plants have big seeds and grow fast. These choke competition. Other plants give off toxic substances. "There is resistance to insects, there is human intervention. "Does the sheep have a place, a part to play? "Yes, it can be as effective as a herbicide." According to Professor Lindsay, goats have strong preferences when grazing. Studies are being undertaken at the Bakers Hill Research Station to identify the animal's preferences. At UWA, a trial replicated nine times includes 11 legume types and one ryegrass, and is rating sheep acceptability. It is showing how selective sheep are when grazing. Over the specified time period, ryegrass had a 54 per cent acceptability, but conquest ryegrass rated at 100pc. Crimson clover rated very highly in September and October, while lathyrus was low in September but very high in October and December. Dalkeith subclover rated highly in September but only "fair" later on, while snail medic rated poorly. "These findings raise the question as to whether sheep change their preferences with experience?" Professor Lindsay said. "Do plants change their acceptability through the growing season? "The outcome could be environmentally-friendly weed control. We could achieve better-fed sheep over summer, better soil fertility and better crops, as our understanding grows. "And we'll have agronomists talking to each other." ÿ

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