Beef producers put grass to test

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Eighty hectares of tall fescue irrigated by a centre pivot has become a crucial part of Steve and Sue Brain’s beef production business, according to Meat and Livestock Australia.

The Brains run up to 1100 late winter calving cows, turning off 500kg steers at 14 to 16 months of age from their 950ha property “Boona”, at Mumbannar in Victoria.

Average annual rainfall in the area is 700mm.

Despite the tall fescue being a decade old, the mix of resolute and vulcan II along with white clover has remained highly productive and persistent.

They also have a second centre pivot, with 40ha sown to impact perennial ryegrass and another 40ha to bealey perennial ryegrass with white clover.

This allows a good comparison between the species.

“We have been really pleased with the tall fescue, it just seems to be getting better whereas the bealey ryegrass in particular has started to thin out and more broadleaf weeds like dandelion and plantain are appearing,” Steve said.

“Ryegrass is really high maintenance and you need to be right on top of it, but the tall fescue is more robust.”

Steve puts the productivity and persistence of the tall fescue down to three major factors: water, grazing management and plant nutrition.

Irrigation starts in November, depending on the season, and commonly six ML/ha of water is used over summer, drawing on groundwater from a depth of about 20 metres.

“The centre pivots run intermittently until autumn, unless we get significant summer rain,” Steve said.

“It takes about two days to do a full circle, which applies about 12mm of water per irrigation.

“Any more than this and it tends to run off.

“We are trying to water to field capacity and we find the greater root system of the fescue leads to less ponding of water and better infiltration than the perennial ryegrass.”

The centre pivot irrigator moves clockwise and the cattle rotation moves anti clockwise.

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