Perennials -The answer to shallow soils

Running predominantly Jersey cows Peter and David Williams' dairy is somewhat unique in that it has plenty of available water, but most of its soils are quite shallow and require specialist management.


Since 1953 the farm at Vacy has been in the Williams family. Their knowledge of the 225-hectare property has been built up over many years and more recently they purchased another 80 hectares that is in a development phase.


The original farm had about 150 hectares under hard hose irrigation with water coming from the Paterson River and the new block has a centre pivot.


Soil types vary from a small area of  river loam on the Paterson River running into some heavy clay and then up to mostly light loamy shallow grey soils that dominate the farm.


Peter (right) and David Williams in the excellent perennial pastures they grow. Not only are perennial grasses like Impact 2, Kidman and Arrow highly productive, they grow longer in1othe season and protect the soil from erosion.


Soil erosion on any exposed lighter soils is a big threat so cultivation is vetoed,all pastures and crops are direct drilled. The brothers don't cultivate soil to prevent it from being washed away.


Establishing perennial pastures is another way negating soil erosion and the farm is sown down to either Impact 2, Kidman or Arrow  perennial ryegrasses. In with these is a mix of red clover, white clover, lucerne and plantain.

"Each ryegrass variety has its own special traits," explained Peter. "Impact 2 seems to be able to go right through the summer here without going too dormant and it survives well. Kidman really does produce a lot of feed in spring and goes relatively dormant when we go into hot weather, so we need to keep the ground cover up prior to that. Arrow is very persistent and has good summer production. Established plants and root systems keep the soil covered and hold it in position, whereas sowing every year to annuals would expose the soil more to erosion."


"Annuals also create a feed gap come January and February and since these newer perennials have come onto the market it has made managing things a lot easier.


"Having the three varieties in different paddocks along with the clover, lucerne and plantain means close to year-round production. The new ryegrass varieties are a big advance on the older ones that use to go to seed very early and be dormant over summer."


Peter said a big requirement for perennial sustainability was to keep grass cover over summer to stop summer weeds establishing.

"We really try to be careful with our summer grazing management, especially on newly sown perennial paddocks. We don't like to see the grass eaten down to the crown and a  lot  of exposed ground.

"Even if it appears a little bit wasteful, we've learnt to go a bit easy on grazing in summer. Usually cows are not on a paddock for any more than two days and don't come back in for 17 extending out to 28 days, depending on the time of year and growth."


Peter said when perennial paddocks are well managed and come into their second year, they are often good enough to not to have to be re-sown and are left for another 12 months.

If they have started to thin out they over­ sown a mix of Bealey and Barberia or Kidman and Barberia.

"By the third year we usually over-sow an annual or Italian ryegrass, just to f ill them up, because by that time they usually have kikuyu and we start again."

About every three years they use a glyphosate knockdown to give a total weed cleanout and direct drill perennial varieties back in again.