A Growing Interest in Native Grasses

Have you ever considered growing native grasses on your property?

There is a building interest in exactly that among growers in the Northern Agricultural Region. This was clear from the great turnout at our recent Native Grasses workshop in Perenjori . Participants travelled from near and far to attend the day, starting with a bus trip and field walk to three different sites!

The sites included a carbon tree farm, a roadside regeneration site, and a site that was established with fodder shrubs and South African perennial grasses over 13 years ago. Since then, native grasses have appeared in the system.

Each site provided opportunities for different discussions and questions. Some key observations included:

  • The massive effect that vegetation has on the temperature of the soils. Where vegetation is established, it buffers the extremes temperatures that bare ground experiences. In doing so it creates a micro-climate more conducive to greater plant germination.
  • Native grass seeds are present in the existing seed banks in our soil and will still germinate in the right conditions. However, not all species that once grew in the location will be present now and may need to be introduced.  
  • Land can be over-rested. i.e. it needs disturbance in some form to keep vegetation in a growing phase and stimulate native grasses to grow. Incorporating animals into the system is one way to introduce the required disturbance.

After a hot field walk, we spent the rest of the workshop listening to the speakers from the cool comfort of the air-conditioned pavilion!

In addition to his duties as a veterinary officer for DPRID, Roy Butler has observed and measured the effects of native grasses on his sheep for three decades. Roy’s key take-home messages are to pay attention and observe what is going on in your paddocks. Find out what is growing and observe what your livestock are eating.  Be sceptical of feed value charts – plants are always changing and the resultant protein/fibre/digestibility etc… of a plant will change throughout the year and depending on rainfall.

Todd Erickson followed with a fascinating presentation on seed dormancy and germination. King’s Park Science have been working on some incredible technology to improve the germination success of native grasses. Flaming treatments, seed coating and smoke treatments are some of the most beneficial techniques they have been working with. Soil conditions will also have a significant impact on germination rates.

Tim Wiley (Tierra Australia) has been involved with perennial vegetation systems for many years, all over WA. His understanding of the landscape and the interactions between vegetation, soils and hydrology are very insightful. Key take-home message from Tim – find ways to have more perennials in your systems because they can help to fix your soil fertility. Many areas that would be considered too poor for cropping could be perfect for establishing perennial fodder systems. Diversity is king, and native grasses can make up a key component of this diversity. If you can maintain a system with a minimum of 50% groundcover, you will stop wind erosion.

Local Perenjori farmer Rod Butler, rounded out the successful day with some of his learnings in the last few years concerning stock management.  Rod is convinced that encouraging and maintaining native grasses in your fodder systems requires a change of thinking about how grazing is managed. Short intense grazing periods with longer rest periods. One obvious benefit to this system is the reduced likelihood of the tastiest species being grazed out of the system. Rod follows holistic grazing management practices and utilises those on two of the sites visited earlier in the day (See here for more information on holistic management  https://savory.global/holistic-management/ )

If you are interested in establishing native grasses, or other groundcovers and fodder shrubs on your property, contact our Sustainable Agriculture Program Coordinator, Callum Love and ask him about our Growing Great Ground incentives. Eligibility requirements apply. Callum Love: [email protected]

For more information about native grasses or the workshop, please contact our RALF team: Lizzie King (0447 361 335) or Annabelle Garratt (0448 986 879).

This workshop was supported by NACC NRM through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.

Lizzie King & Annabelle Garratt – Regional Agriculture Landcare Facilitators

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2 comments

An excellent workshop and as we drove home we gathered native windmill grass seed!! Thank you

So glad you enjoyed it!

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