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Berry busy 'making good decisions'

The second half of 2015 has been eventful and busy and destined to get busier with the Berry Rural Co-op holding its successful inaugural Pasture Competition and the Illawarra/Shoalhaven South East Local Land Services team delivering the Making Good Decisions project.

Pasture Competition

The weather this year has provided the Shoalhaven, Illawarra and South Highlands with a spectacular spring and that was confirmed when I was asked to judge Berry Rural Co-op's inaugural Pasture Competition. During my time in the region I have seen some amazing pastures and crops grown; the area certainly lends itself to producing high quality and quantities of feed, but in order to achieve this some knowledge and management is required.

Judging took place at the end of September. A few weeks before saw the south coast region suffer a major flooding event from an east coast low impacting negatively on agricultural and residential areas. Surprisingly the quality of the pastures we saw even after such a damaging event were very good. The rate at which pastures recovered following the flooding was very encouraging and as such made judging a tough assignment.

To launch the first year of the competition there were 35 entries from 18 farmers across the five categories. It was also encouraging to witness landholders trying and monitoring new products and management practice methods in order to achieve high quality feed to produce high quality and sort after end products.

Pastures were judged on two criteria. The first consisted of pasture composition, varieties and suitability, pasture quantity and quality, fertility management, appearance, vigour, density and evenness. The second criteria took into consideration the use of soil testing, weed issues, incidence of pest and diseases and the date of sowing.

The winning pasture in the 'suitable for milk production' category was impressive with a perennial base and a good mix of grasses (rye grass, prairie, kikuyu), legumes (white clover, red clover, lucerne) and a herb (chicory). Just under 3500kg dry matter per hectare (DM/ha) was on offer in a vegetative stage of growth, at a 2-3 leaf stage. Some other entries had more feed on offer but of lower quality. Weeds consisted of sparse thistles, but overall the pasture was clean. Nutrient additions to the pasture were well matched to soil test results. The pasture was vigorous, dense and relatively even and it had been grazed a number of times since sowing in late February.

The winning pasture in the 'suitable for beef production' category was a high quality pasture made up of annual and perennial rye grass, high levels of clover over a kikuyu base. Clover consisted of around 20% of total dry matter. Just over 5000kg DM/ha was on offer. Stage of growth of the rye grass was at 3.5 leaves with signs of canopy closure. The pasture is mulched after each grazing. Weeds included small amounts of dock and fireweed. The pasture was sown years ago with an amazing amount of persistence from the perennial and annual ryegrasses. This pasture is allowed to set seed every year to ensure persistence.

The champion pasture for 2015 was the winner of the 'forage crop' category. The decider for this pasture was its quality. The crop consisted of Aston (a tetraploid Italian ryegrass) and Saia oats, with no legume component. 5500 kg DM/ha was on offer in a vegetative stage of growth. There was very little senescing of lower leaves or yellowing of stem. Some other entries had more feed on offer but of lower quality. Nutrient additions to the pasture were well matched to soil test results. The pasture was vigorous, dense and even. It had been grazed twice since sowing in April. The pasture was largely weed free.

Congratulations go to all entrants given the climatic conditions experienced leading up to spring. It was encouraging to hear the number of producers who soil test and use the results to make decisions in the formation of a fertiliser management plan.

Making Good Decisions program

There are many tools available in assisting landholders to make good economic and sustainable management decisions but it is the understanding of how to use these tools and then implementing a plan to utilise the results given that will make the difference to the business. Consequently, this year South East Local Land Services, in partnership with Catchment Action NSW, is providing Illawarra and Shoalhaven landholders the opportunity to participate in the Making Good Decisions program. This program includes opportunities and training for landholders in agronomy, animal health and a beef enterprise health check-up.

Landholders across a wide range of soil types have the opportunity to participate in a soil testing and interpretation program whereby landholders are being offered a two for one deal e.g. a landholder buys one or two soil tests and South East Local Land Services will cover the costs for the second and fourth test. A soil test interpretation report and a two day workshop will be provided to help make sense of the numbers giving landholders a chance to explore options that will improve or maintain the soil condition. These workshops will be held early in 2016. There is a maximum of four tests offered per farm.

The animal health component is being finalised with our district veterinarian. This program will look at blood micronutrient levels for a group of animals to determine if deficiencies exist in the region. The beef enterprise health check-up will be based on 'a cost of production' program looking closely at livestock enterprises to determine the primary and secondary profit drivers for our region.