Perennial Shrubs for Mixed Farming

Dr Jason Emms & Dr Rick Llewellyn speak to us about the opportunities that perennial shrubs and grasses provide farmers in low rainfall districts.

In South Australia, SARDI’s Jason Emms is leading the enrich project. Funded by the future farm industries co-operative research centre, he’s researching varieties of perennial shrubs and the benefits of incorporating them into farming systems. Perennial shrubs provide a range of benefits. They fall into three main categories: profitability sustainability and a lot of environmental benefits, so increased profit comes through less supplementary because of the perennial nature of the shrubs, you have feed the whole year around.

Assists in Planning and Feed Budgeting

It gives you a much more predictable feed supply which helps in planning and feed budgeting and there’s a range of environmental benefits related to increased soil cover: better water use leading to reduced salinity, risk and also creates increased habitat and increased biodiversity for things like birds.

Because they’re perennial plants, they provide soil cover for the whole year around and so reduced wind erosion and also water erosion. They’re very deep-rooted so you get increased water use. Shrubs also provide shade and shelter which is critical to animal performance. It’s particularly important for times like lambing and off shears and can significantly reduce the amount of lamb losses.

Defer Grazing on Regenerating Pastures

One of the other benefits of shrub-based systems is you can defer grazing of your annual regenerating pastures, so when they’re starting to germinate, you can have livestock on the shrubs, so you get better growth of the annual pastures and that has a direct translation into increased stocking rates, so shrub based systems because of their perennial nature, they provide feed the whole year around, so you’ve got green feed available for periods such as over summer and autumn which are usually feed gaps, so you can reduce the amount of supplementary feeding that you need to provide.

What we do know is the value of diversity so in our research we’ve seen that systems with a range of different species are leading to better annual performance in those based on single species. Shrub-based systems can fit very well into a mixed farm particularly because they give a profitable option on land which is uneconomic for cropping.

Bringing Productivity to Low Value Land

They can make quite unproductive or low value land productive and you can get value out of that land class. It can increase whole farm profit by around 10 to 20 percent. Rick Llewellyn from the CSIRO speaks to us about the future farm industry’s cooperative research centre funded evercrop project. This project is investigating the options that perennial shrubs and grasses provide to farmers.

The shrubs and the grasses are likely to have just a niche place on different farms so you’re not talking about anything that’s going to take over large hectares in this Mallee environment. The shrubs have potential as plantations on marginal ground, and it’s a matter of the carbon market I guess as to what extra that might provide in terms of the profitability.

What we’re doing is part of the CRC future farming industry Ever crop project is we’re trying summer growing grasses, really for the first time here in this environment in the S.A. Mallee. Once they’ve established this research as show that they’re a real productive option and a solid option for providing cover on otherwise erodible land.

Filling the Autumn Feed Gap

You’ve got the potential to fill an autumn feed gap, for example, and also the potential for feed during crises such as drought. And the thing with the shrubs is there is also some woody storage, but we’re looking at what the potential fit might be and where they might benefit farmers most, and what sort of farming system and what soil tops might they be a best fit for a mix farmer in this low rainfall region