4 September, 2020
Grains get beefed up
INTEGRATING LIVESTOCK into a continuous grain cropping operation can establish a more robust and resilient farming enterprise by creating new revenue streams, improving the utilisation of natural water resources on-farm and producing a healthier soil ecosystem.
That’s according to Nuffield Scholar and New South Wales farmer, Stuart McDonald.
With support from the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), Mr McDonald investigated global practices incorporating livestock into established continuous cropping systems in France, Ukraine, the UK, the United States and New Zealand.
Mr McDonald saw firsthand the benefits to New Zealand growers who had integrated winter grazing.
“When low winter temperatures shut down native feed production, many farmers had a fodder crop worked into their rotation systems to supplement feeding,” Mr McDonald said.
“This ensured stock were always supplied with a high-quality finishing feed.”
“Rotational crop diversity also provides greater versatility in planning times and harvest,” Mr McDonald said.
“And livestock have the unique ability to turn plant cellulose into high value protein, so they could generate income from a resource with lower monetary value.”
“When livestock are integrated with soil health in mind, there is also an opportunity to build a system that allows soil to function as a vital living ecosystem sustaining plants, animals and people, and that generates extra returns,” Mr McDonald said.
Mr McDonald said adding fertility to the soil through livestock could occur in various ways.
“In Litcham, England, I met with grower Nick Doig, who witnessed significant health benefits by running pigs on a paddock for two years,” Mr McDonald said.
“The pig activity on the soil was extensive and successfully enhanced the fertility of the following crop.
“This method of extended grazing periods could now be rotated through the farm to boost soil health and productivity across the whole cropping system,” Mr McDonald said.
But Mr McDonald said grazing could be a damaging tool when not applied in a sympathetic way to the goals of the system.
“Attention must be paid to both animal and plant performance, with high intensity grazing driving the greatest potential for positive performance across the board,” Mr McDonald said.
“To achieve greater production efficiency in an integrated system, more long-term research is needed.”
Applications for the 2021 Nuffield Scholarship program are now open, providing a unique opportunity for proactive young farmers to contribute to Australia’s advancing agricultural sector.