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Perennial Shrubs for Low Rainfall Farming

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Video Transcript

I’m Ian Ellery, a wheat and sheep grower in the upper north of South Australia. We have a property that consists of about 6000 hectares, 2000 hectares goes into cropping each year. We’ve found ourselves finding a lot of our cropping country becoming unviable due to the unseasonable rainfalls that we’re getting, and we’re trying to return some of that cropping country back to more potential for grazing.

Low and Inconsistent Annual Rainfall

Our property is in a 320 ml annual rainfall, but like I was saying, it’s a little bit invariable when we get it at the times of year. We are running mainly merinos, well, all merinos this stage, with about a thousand ewe replacement flock, and with around about a twenty-one micron wool cut. Some of our lesser viable cropping country, that we’re trying to return to better grazing potential.

Establishing a Perennial Shrub System

We are trying to establish it with a perennial shrub system, and we’ve selected a variety of shrubs from an enrich site that we had here on our property for the last four or five years, and from that we’ve chosen five varieties that have got the characteristics that we need on our particular soils. We’re trying to improve our pastures by not only establishing our annual grasses and our annual perennial grasses.

We also need some of the perennial shrubs back to give us some of that bulk into their diet. The advantage of the perennial grasses and your perennial shrubs is that you’ll get the benefit of unseasonable rainfalls. We’ve found amongst the perennials that the from the grazing of them that still need to have a reasonably well established understory.

Structuring Shrubs and Grasses for Best Effect

So we’ve spread out our plants over five metre rows, and about two metres apart in the rows, to also leave enough space that we can plant down some under stories of different fodders to assist with the diet. Some of the under stories that we’re trialing at the moment in amongst the rows of perennials is we’ve got some cereals, some rye, medics, vetch.

We’ve also planted down some native grasses some of the windmill grasses and wallaby grasses from our local area. The beauty of those will also be if we get unseasonable rainfalls some of those winter and summer grasses will still get the benefit of any rainfall for that time of year. The success of this system in the future will have to be very carefully monitored so that the costs of establishment aren’t too restrictive.

Selection of areas of ground, the soil types, is also a very important issue to look at. The size of these sites will be an issue with how you establish them for fencing costs. If they’re too large they might not be able to be grazed effectively, and also will need a watering points. I think this project lends itself to anyone that’s got country that is unarable whether it’s from scolding or from reefy country that they could do it in parcels of land. I don’t envisage it being a broad-acre program on my property because I still want to focus on cropping in the mix. Any more than 10%, would be, I’d be surprised if we’d expand beyond that point

Ian Ellery discusses transforming from a wheat based system to a perennial shrub based system on his family farm at Morchard in the Upper North of South Australia.

A lot of their cropping country is becoming unviable due to increasingly variable rainfall patterns and they are looking to return this to grazing by establishing perennial shrub species and native grasses. The cost of establishment is going to be the largest barrier to developing the system into the future.

This project is supported by Upper North Farming Systems, through funding from the Australian Government’s Caring for our Country, Eyre Peninsula NRM Board and Rural Solutions SA.

View the following videos in this series on use of perennial plant species and cell grazing in the low rainfall climate of the Upper North of South Australia:
Establishing perennial shrub pasture
Cell grazing explained
Cell grazing — benefits and challenges
Biodiversity in low rainfall grazing systems of South Australia

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