Perennial Shrubs for Problem Soils and their Management

Neil Ackland from Eyre Peninsula NRM discuses an initiative with a group of farmers on the Eastern Eyre Peninsula of South Australia to find a productive and sustainable solution to problem soils and their management in a dry climate.

Perennial fodder shrub trials were established on Scott William’s farm at Elbow Hill during the drought of 2008 /09 with some impressive results. The ability to maintain sheep condition and achieve effective ground cover has prompted interest in establishing commercial areas of perennial fodder shrubs. The biggest barrier is the establishment costs.

This is another video supported by the Social Media in Agriculture project funded by Australian Government’s Caring for our Country initiative.

Through the NRM board where we decided to work with a group of farmers up on Eastern Eyre Peninsula to try and establish some fodder shrubs. Back and 2006 and 2007 we were having some dry years and these Magnesia patches were starting to show up and were being eroded the wind was blowing them, the sheep were camping on them.

An Idea to Get Productivity from Nonproductive Soils


So it was a bit of an idea just to try and get some productivity out of nonproductive ground. We put them in in a dry time of the year and never had any follow up rains to get them established. So, yeah, the plants did suffer a fair bit.

There’s Couple of varieties that didn’t succeed the first six months. They survived quite well for the conditions. had about 80 odd % survival rate. We’ve got something on the ground that beforehand was just a blowhole. when it was established in a drought so, that was the whole idea, was trying to stop soil erosion. At this stage it’s still under your trial site so we haven’t actually put it into a full scale experiment. We’re still experimenting in direct seeding and to make more of a broadacre situation.

Looking at the productivity that’s coming out of this trial now, there is the potential for it to be put into a broadacre situation and try and get a bit of cover on a lot bigger areas of our farm that are causing problems. Some saltbush are a bit more palatable than other so they are a bit selective as to which ones they want to eat.

Sheep Grazing Trials with Perennial Shrubs


We did do a bit of an experiment on a mob sheep in there, and it worked out they didn’t actually increase any weight at this stage. But they’ve maintained weight, that’s a good thing in times of drought that they just keep their condition instead of deteriorating. We haven’t done much monitoring of the shape side of it at this stage so we don’t really know the full potential of it as a grazing commodity. inter-row sowing. We’ve tried sowing with the rye grass and clovers and even some native grasses – wallaby grass things like that to just try to get some ground cover on these dry Magnesia eroded areas. Some of that is establishing itself.

We’ve been doing grazing trials each year ever since about 2008 around autumn time. During those in trials we actually measured all the shrubs beforehand with biomass and then we put the sheep in at a very high stocking rate so that they went in at around about eighty to a hundred DSE per hectare. The salt bush sites they need to be stocked at very high stocking rates, otherwise you get selected grazing. Just kept monitoring them right through the period until they had actually grazed, pretty much the shrubs back to sticks.

Monitoring which which ones they like best and it’s certainly, they quite often ate all the inter row out and before they started on the shrubs and then worked their way through different shrubs. The sheep actually seemed to graze all the others except the salt bush unto last, but leave him in there long enough they seem to get used to the salt bush and eat them.

By the time they’d got through to the last plot well they seemed to be eating a more balanced diet. They take a long time to get accustomed to salt bush. Sort of depends on the salt bush too, there’s different varieties of salt bush that they eat more readily than others. We actually chose four varieties out of this initial plot that we did and sowed about a four hectare area.


Last year we set up a grazing trial. They maintained their weight, they didn’t actually gain any weight. We probably pushed them harder than we would normally, a farmer would out in his paddock so at least under those conditions they maintain. I reckon that was fairly encouraging.

Establishment Costs a Challenge


Getting this adopted out in across the landscape it’s going to be fairly challenging because of the cost involved. These shrubs won’t be planted right across the landscape using certain areas in the farming situation where cropping is not profitable. It might be due to climate variability change, or just structure Magnesia or other soil constraints.