Pasture mix turns failed cropping into productive grazing country

From bare dirt to waist-high feed, it’s fair to say Bengalla Station manager Adrian McInnerney is very happy with the results of his pasture establishment program.


Adrian manages the 2,500-hectare southern Queensland border property for Coulton Farming, 40 kilometres east of Goondiwindi, which over the years has seen a range of cropping systems, including cotton and grains. However, Adrian believes the lighter soils on the property aren’t well suited to cropping, resulting in a program to return the whole property back to improved pasture. 


The main challenge has been to manage the lighter soils, which get little to no water infiltration, by establishing ground cover to get crucial rain to soak in rather than run off. 


“We started in 2018 by doing some research on what varieties were suited to these soils and our climate, and looking at the varieties used here by previous owners,” Adrian says.


“We particularly looked at what varieties were recommended and which ones had overcome dry years and overgrazing.”


After doing their research, Adrian settled on a Barenbrug pasture blend of 50% Megamax®059, which is a new Gatton panic grass (Panicum maximum), 30% Katambora Rhodes grass and 20% Premier Digit grass, a highly productive, robust tufted perennial.


“We're treating it like a cropping situation where we clean the paddocks up by growing oats first, so we can control native grasses and broadleaf weeds,” Adrian says. 

“The oats also give us additional winter forage while creating that ground cover for when we plant the grass in spring.”


A no-till approach has been used to seed the pasture mix at Bengalla Station, using a twin-disc planter to place the seed just underneath the surface of the soil. 


“When you plant grass seed in these lighter soils, they can dry out too quickly because you only need to chip it just under the soil. So, you need either three or four wet days or a bit of ground cover to germinate that seed,” he reports.


“You can't be doing it in the middle of summer, so we’ve found that either spring or late summer into early autumn is the ideal time to plant, when the conditions are just a little bit softer.


“Establishment has been absolutely tremendous, and once the pasture is a suitable stage, I graze at a higher stock density to get that grass knocked down.”


Adrian aims to knock around 30 per cent of the pasture down to create good ground cover and protect the light soils, before locking the paddock up and letting it go to seed.


They run big mobs of cattle at Bengalla Station and rotate them quickly, however with a holistic approach to grazing, the actual rotation plan depends on paddock and mob size. The key challenge, he says, is actually keeping stock on top of the high growth rate of the established pasture, particularly the Megamax.


“It's very rewarding when you get it right, and this blend has demonstrated quick growth, it wants to grow all year round,” Adrian reports. 


“Frost does knock the pasture around, but even now in early winter with shorter days and cooler soil temperature, this blend is still green and wants to grow, so it's allowing us to significantly increase our stocking capacity.”


While the challenges of low soil fertility, weeds, and below-average rainfall are significant, the results on Bengalla Station have surprised Adrian. The key to success has been the strong establishment and productivity of the Megamax®059, Katambora Rhodes and Premier Digit blend.


“It's pretty incredible to see the transformation of this country where it's just been bare dirt and blowing dust, and seeing it now where there's full ground cover and feed up to your waist,” he says.


“We've had, more or less, the same amount of rain this year as we've had for the previous two years combined, and we've still been able to establish about 350 hectares in below-average rain and in lighter soils. So, it’s far exceeded our expectations, it's been phenomenal.”


The team at Bengalla Station has now got to a point where they've controlled the broadleaf weeds in established pastures, with another 500 hectares to be planted over the next two years.


“Moving forward we’ll be working closely with Chris Collyer from Barenbrug to undersow some medics into the pastures for feed value and soil nutrition,” Adrian says.


“It has been a success, Barenbrug has been terrific to deal with and we are seeing great results, it's very rewarding.”