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Fescue Project; Fescue; A Low Rainfall Pasture Tool?

Updated: Nov 20, 2023

Aim; to demonstrate that winter active fescue can be a valuable pasture system tool in the <550 mm rainfall zone in Victoria.

Approximately 40% (>50) of PPS member farms are located north of the Great Dividing Range in Central Western Victorian. The area, south of the Wimmera and Central plains, consists of light soils and the region typically has a short growing season due to low spring rainfall and high evaporation; this is becoming increasingly frequent with “bob tail” springs reducing production capacity.

PPS has conducted small scale plant variety trials in the region and the results have shown that winter active fescues may have a role in increasing pasture production while at the same time reducing the risks of low spring rainfall.

Currently dry spring conditions cause a rapid utilisation of pasture feed followed by long periods of supplementary feeding, often in containment areas. The grazing of perennial species like phalaris through a dry spring can impose stresses that lead to plant losses in subsequent years. PPS considers that winter active fescue sown on part of the farm could increase overall dry matter production and also allow spelling of phalaris and other species to aid the build up of plant reserves before grazing later in the spring. The addition of further perennial species on farm will assist in keeping adequate ground cover over summer. The use of winter active fescue is currently limited in the region and PPS believes that a successful demonstration could show its potential benefits to the pasture system.

A successful project would demonstrate to producers in the <550 mm rainfall that the attributes of winter active fescues could be utilised to increase productivity through increased late winter dry matter production and

persistence of other perennial cultivars through management systems change.

The Increased frequency of below average spring rainfall in the low rainfall regions are resulting in shorter growing seasons which is impacting on overall farm productivity as well as reducing pasture persistence.

PPS considers that a proportion of winter active fescue pastures on the farm may be able to break this cycle.

The replacement of degraded annual species with perennial fescues will give an immediate increase in dry matter production.


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