Wet winters and wild, windy conditions on King Island can be a challenge for beef production. Drainage issues and slow plant regrowth in the cold, along with some issues with grass tetany, led fifth generation farmer Nathan Conley to look into pasture redevelopment a few years ago.
Last year he sowed 31 hectares split over two paddocks with Base AR37, a perennial ryegrass more typically used in dairy production pastures. The results have been so impressive, he plans to sow Base AR37 into three more paddocks this March – and other local beef producers are taking note.
Nathan runs 650 breeders, including Angus, Poll Hereford and Murray Grey, on 1,000 hectares on the island off the north-western tip of Tasmania. It’s a feeding to finishing operation, with full summer calving production.
In his first year of using Base AR37, he noticed faster plant regrowth, increased weight gain and fat cover in the cattle, and he can turn more cattle off the same area.
“We’ve never had to supplementary feed before, as we do slightly understock for our area,” he says. “But we’ve added an extra 21 steers on the 31 hectares sown with Base AR37.”
Taking pest resistance to a new level
Base AR37 is late maturing, high yielding tetraploid perennial ryegrass with AR37 novel endophyte developed by PGG Wrightson Seeds. It’s resistant to many of Australia’s major pasture pests, including Argentine Stem Weevil larvae, Pasture Mealy Bug, Root Aphid and Black Beetle.
“We incorporate animal grazing trials into plant breeding, with a focus on increasing meat, milk and wool production. It’s a numbers game: we look at half a million plants a year to find the rare gene combinations we need for new cultivars,” says Programme Leader of Grasses, Michael Norriss.
Nathan’s local PGG Wrightson Seeds Sales Agronomist and the Elders Rural merchandiser on King Island advised him on the best pasture options for his soil and operations.
“Our soils are a sandy loam over clay,” explains Nathan. “With an earlier dry spell last year we did have some issues with Army Worm on this soil base. It highlighted the need to be more vigilant in monitoring and detecting for this pest, particularly after dry conditions. After spraying for this pest, the Base AR37 pasture bounced right back which was very pleasing. The Base AR37 refurbished paddocks generally have good soil fertility, however in other paddocks there is severe acid mat and a lot of root bind.”
He says he’s mainly running fattening cattle over these areas while he continues to redevelop the property’s other pastures.
In March 2015, Nathan directly drilled 13 ha with 20kg/ha of Base AR37, 0.5kg/ha of sub clover and 2kg/ha of white clover.
“We also sowed 18 ha with conventional tillage with 14kg/ha of Base AR37, 0.5kg/ha of sub clover, 0.5kg/ha of strawberry clover, and 2kg/ha of white clover,” explains Nathan. “We used 6 inch spacing on the direct drill and 4 inch spacing on full conventional tillage.”
Quick return on investment
Just 90 days after spraying the paddock for sowing Base AR37 he was able to graze.
“The biggest benefit has been the shorter resting, we’re now looking at seven to 21 days turnaround. And the plant health is phenomenal – it just flew out of the blocks in terms of winter growth rate,” says Nathan. And he noticed the speed of regrowth. “It’s already six inches high since the early rain this year, it’s booming.”
He’s been able to finish the cattle faster as well, taking advantage of a price peak in the market in early spring 2015. “We were about a month in front compared with the previous year, with a higher number of cattle ready to go.”
Fat cover and MSA grading has also slightly increased. “We’ve averaged an extra 400 to 500grams weight per day from the start of June to mid-September, compared with the paddocks without Base AR37.”
Base AR37 has clearly been a winning ingredient in Nathan’s pasture redevelopment. “The return far outweighs the initial cost,” he confirms.
“Base AR37 has excellent persistence in harsh environments, making it ideal for stock feed,” says National Sales and Marketing Manager, Cameron Henley. “We’ve seen many great stories of success in dairy production, and now we’re hearing about similar results in beef production too.”