Small Talk Autumn 2019

In this issue

Small Talk survey – We want to hear from you

A day in the life of a DO – Every day brings new and unusual challenges

Establishing native grass pasture – A cleverer option

Introducing Rebecca Tonkin – Sustainable Agriculture Officer

AG Group takes next BIGG step – learn more about BIGG

Events – Find out what landholder events are planned for this autumn

Handy hint – ParaBoss

Things to do in autumn – Get your property ready for the autumn season


Small Talk survey

We’re evaluating Small Talk and we want to hear from you!

Small Talk survey

We’ve made it as easy as we can for you to give us your feedback – it will take only 3 minutes online and most questions are multiple choice.

What you tell us will help us understand how Small Talk is useful for you, and help us decide if we can continue to produce Small Talk and which is the best format: hard copy and/or electronic newsletter.

What we want to know

  • Is Small Talk relevant to you?
  • Have the stories improved your knowledge and awareness of managing rural land – soils, pastures, livestock, biodiversity, water, bushfire preparation?
  • Did reading a Small Talk article inspire you to make changes to your land management practices?
  • Did reading Small Talk prompt you to attend an event, arrange a property visit with a staff member, or join a Landcare or agricultural group?

Survey feedback

Head to our online survey to fill it out. The survey will close Sunday 24 March.

General feedback

You can also give general feedback to Lucy Hyde:

  • via email: lucy.hyde@sa.gov.au
  • by mail: Cleland Workshop, GPO Box 1047, Adelaide SA 5001
  • by phoning: 0408 678 890 or 8130 9066.

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A day in the life of a DO

Natural Resources Adelaide and Mt Lofty Ranges (AMLR) District Officers (DOs) encounter new and unusual challenges every day.

A day in the life - camera on goats

District Officer Lisa Blake sets up the remote camera on the goats. Photo: Natural Resources AMLR

Our district officers are highly knowledgeable about their area (sub- district) of the AMLR region. They help private landholders by advising on sustainable land management techniques, plant identification, revegetation, native animal monitoring, pest control and more.

District Officer Lisa Blake, who covers areas of the Fleurieu and Willunga Basin district, has been working recently with landholders of a bush block in Inman Valley. What started out as a pest plant control program has evolved to include pest animal management and native animal monitoring.

A day in the life - eagle family

A wedge-tailed eagle family settles in for dinner. Photo: Remote camera

Pest plant and animal control

An Inman Valley landholder contacted Natural Resources AMLR to report a sight from their kitchen window – a sea of pink across a hillside of remnant vegetation on a neighbouring property. On investigation the pink plant was identified as Erica baccans (berry heath) which is a declared weed and a threat to native vegetation.

It was the only known infestation in the southern Fleurieu region.

Lisa immediately engaged staff and contractors to map and control this weed. Soon after this process began, two goats were found to be living in the remnant vegetation. Free-roaming, unidentified goats cause a lot of damage. They are classed as ‘Feral’ under the South Australian Government Declared Animal Policy and must be controlled. An experienced contractor was engaged to undertake this task, under a new NRM levy-funded project that prioritises emerging pests on the Fleurieu.

In the Mount Lofty Ranges, Northern and Yorke Peninsula, Eyre Peninsula, Murray–Darling Basin and the South East regions, the heath goanna is Critically Endangered. It is estimated that fewer than 100 individuals remain in each of these regions.

A day in the life - Rosenberg's goanna

A Rosenberg’s goanna stops by for a bite. Photo: Remote camera

Wildlife monitoring

The location and quality of the habitat on this property prompted staff to set up a remote camera to show which introduced or native species would use the goat carcasses.

After two weeks staff collected the images from the camera. They were amazed to see a family of wedge-tailed eagles – Australia’s largest bird of prey and a legally protected species – feeding on one carcass over three days.

A recent article on Fleurieu Peninsula wedge-tails in South Australia’s bird journal, SA Ornithologist, stated that 44 active territories were found in 2017, and 38 of them produced young. This equated to about one pair per 30 square kilometres. The population of this species on the Fleurieu Peninsula has been stable over the last 10 years.

A very healthy heath goanna was also captured on film. They too are partial to scavenging on carrion to supplement their diet.

In South Australia the heath goanna is classified as Vulnerable. Once common across the higher rainfall, cooler areas of southern Australia, it has suffered dramatic declines on mainland SA, largely due to land clearance, habitat fragmentation and degradation, road deaths, and predation by cats, dogs and foxes.

In the Mount Lofty Ranges, Northern and Yorke Peninsula, Eyre Peninsula, Murray– Darling Basin and the South East regions, the heath goanna is Critically Endangered. It is estimated that fewer than 100 individuals remain in each of these regions.

In South Australia the heath goanna is classified as Vulnerable. Once common across the higher rainfall, cooler areas of southern Australia, it has suffered dramatic declines on mainland SA, largely due to land clearance, habitat fragmentation and degradation, road deaths, and predation by cats, dogs and foxes.

Where to from here?

Staff continue to work with the landholder on follow-up control of Erica baccans. They’re also investigating how to undertake more biological surveys on the property and help develop a plan for ongoing protection of the local native flora and fauna.

Would you like a free property visit?

If you are new to rural property management, new to the region, or wanting assistance with plant and animal identification and management, our District Officers can meet you to assess your property, discuss your goals, identify issues and priorities, and help you develop a realistic management plan. Please contact your nearest Natural Resources Centre to arrange a visit.

Find fact sheets and case studies on rural land management under Landholder services and Landholder education.

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Establishing native grass pasture

Native grassy-woodlands once clothed the Adelaide Hills, and the grasses fed many species of grazing native marsupial.

Case study - restore native grasses

Efforts are helping restore the once plentiful native grasses in the central Adelaide Hills. Photo: Will Hannaford

These native grasses evolved over millions of years, adapting to our low fertility, acidic soils to become drought tolerant and responsive to rainfall events all year round. However, they have been almost completely lost through historic broad-scale land clearance.

Now, many landholders are seeing why native grasses would make a more sustainable pasture than those of exotic introduced species such as ryegrass and phalaris.

Re-establishing native grasses is not as easy as continuing to plant their exotic counterparts, but a native pasture project at Charleston is examining ways to improve their appeal.

Case study - green leafy native grass

Green leafy native grass established at Charleston in the Adelaide Hills. Photo: Will Hannaford

Exotic versus native

Natural Resources Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges District Officer Will Hannaford, said the ‘quick and easy’ option for landholders was to look to conventional exotic species, but native grasses could pay off in the long run.

‘In looking at both the introduced conventional pasture grasses and native grasses, in terms of cost, the time and effort required for establishment, then at first glance, the introduced, conventional grasses are the much easier option,’ Will said. ‘But if you’re prepared to put in the time, money and effort then you can end up with a very good pasture from native grasses.’

In particular, Will said, landholders who graze horses would benefit from using more native pastures.

‘There has been a growing surge in interest in native grasses nationally by those in the horse industry, as well as local hobby farmers. Price is still a big barrier, but there is a market, particularly with the horse industry, for low sugar hay and low sugar pastures. Much of the ryegrass and clover hay on offer does not provide the low sugar options offered by natives that horse owners are now looking for.’

Case study - native grass Charleston

Native grass at Charleston, Adelaide Hills. Photo: Will Hannaford

Challenges in establishing native grasses

In the native pasture project, a number of native and exotic species were sown at a site at Charleston, in the central Adelaide Hills, in 2015–17.

The project examined aspects of establishing native pastures including seedling vigour, sowing rate, fertiliser addition, May versus September sowings, and seeding equipment.

Dry matter, plant counts and leaf analysis were used to evaluate the success of the different treatments. The results are informing further research and determining the scope for uptake of native grass pasture establishment.

This case study found a number of barriers to the successful widespread use of native grasses at a local level.

Cost

Native grass seed is more expensive than conventional introduced exotic seed.

Seeding equipment

Without its awns removed, native grass seed does not pass through traditional seeding equipment. However, new native grass seeding contractors (for example, not-for-profit Seeding Natives Incorporated) have developed ways to successfully sow native grass seed.

Seedling vigour and weed control

Native grasses have a very low seedling vigour compared to introduced grass pasture species, particularly ryegrass.

Weeds can thus easily out-compete the slow growing native grass seedlings so the cost of weed control is much higher than in introduced grass pasture. Thorough weed control in the years before sowing and broadleaf control in the first few years of establishment is critical.

Key findings

Although site monitoring is ongoing, the Charleston study has already revealed some results:

  • The most successful native grass species for biomass and nutrition are, in combination, weeping rice- grass, spreading panic paspalidium and tall wallaby grass species such as Austrodanthonia caespitosum, A. fulvum and A. racemosum. Cotton panic is also worth consideration.
  • Weeping rice-grass and spreading panic paspalidium have particularly good protein and other nutritional levels.
  • A mix of C3 (late autumn/winter/ spring growing) and C4 (spring/ summer/early autumn growing) native grasses provides grazing all year round. Weeping rice-grass, spreading panic paspalidium and the tall growing species of wallaby grass are a good mix option.
  • Some native grasses are particularly palatable and most are low in sugar, offering a strong potential alternative nutrition source for horses. Horses struggle to digest non-structural carbohydrates which most exotic pasture, especially ryegrass and clover, has at high levels. Exotic pasture species that do have low sugar levels, such as cocksfoot, have seed priced much lower than native seed at present.
  • Native grasses appear to offer less nutritional advantage for cattle or sheep than existing exotic options.
  • September sowing in La Nina years (good chance of spring rain) is a better option than sowing in April or May as the cold soil temperatures of winter (<10 degrees C) significantly affect seedling growth of newly established native grasses. The result is very weedy pasture.
  • There are now options to mechanically sow native grasses at the broadacre level that were not available in the past.
  • The placement of some types of fertiliser with the seed at the time of mechanical sowing, may be beneficial to the seedling vigour of native grasses but further work is needed to quantify this.

These findings lend themselves to broader research, while similar research is continuing on nearby sites.

Sustainable industry support

In 2017-18, Sustainable Industry Partnerships were funded through the Australian Government and managed by the Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges Natural Resources Management Board. Healthy natural ecosystems and sustainable primary production systems are fundamental to social, environmental and economic well-being.

For more information

Will Hannaford, Adelaide and Central Hills District Officer, 0419 037 303.

Jodie Pain, Sustainable Agriculture and Training Coordinator, 8130 9065.

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Introducing Rebecca Tonkin

Rebecca Tonkin

Hi, I am Rebecca Tonkin. I recently began work with Natural Resources Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges (AMLR) as a Sustainable Agriculture Officer to deliver the project, Combating Soil Acidity: What Lies Beneath? My area of expertise is soil science and land management.

My background is in the agricultural side of natural resources. I have a Bachelor of Agriculture and a PhD from the School of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Adelaide. After a short stint with the SA Research and Development Institute, I took a position at Rural Solutions SA in Murray Bridge as a soil and land management consultant. I worked there for 10 years on projects such as managing sandy soils, monitoring soil acidity, and trialling different products (including lime) for farmer groups.

In 2017, I started my own consultancy business working with farmers, environmental groups and businesses to provide soils expertise. I now also work part-time for Natural Resources AMLR on the soil acidity project.

This exciting new Combating Soil Acidity project is supported through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program, and the Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges Natural Resources Management Board. For more information visit www.nrm.gov.au.

Soil acidity is a serious land degradation issue that affects soil and plant health. It is most common in areas with higher rainfall and higher agricultural productivity. While work has been done in the past on soil acidity, we know that the amount of soil acidity in the AMLR region is still increasing. We also have found gaps in our knowledge, particularly in areas of non-commercial or semi-commercial land ownership.

We are gathering information about the extent of knowledge about soil acidity in this area through a survey, and following this up with free soil testing throughout
the region. If you are interested in taking part, please contact me at Rebecca.tonkin@sa.gov.au or on 0400 488 786.

We’ll also hold information sessions in various community groups throughout AMLR. If you think your group would be interested in learning more about soil acidity and what can be done about it, please contact me.

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Ag group takes next BIGG step

BIGG autumn 2019

A BIGG field visit. Photo: BIGG

In 2012, the Barossa Improved Grazing Group (BIGG) was created from the North Rhine Sheep Group, Mt Pleasant Beef Group, Barossa Mid-North Dairy Discussion Group, and Angaston and Koonunga Ag Bureaux. BIGG is committed to delivering greater productivity and NRM outcomes for its members through the adoption of innovative practice. The group frequently partners with Natural Resources Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges to deliver many valuable sustainable agriculture projects on pasture management, soil moisture monitoring, livestock health and more.

BIGG has now been successful in its application to become an incorporated association with a new constitution. Big congratulations to the group for all the behind-the-scenes work to achieve this.

We look forward to working with BIGG as it continues as its own entity. Learn more about BIGG, its events, projects and case studies.

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Events

Landholder events are supported by funding from your NRM levy and the Australian Government's National Landcare Program.

Sign up for our monthly landholder events calendar for a list of upcoming field days, workshops and courses run by Natural Resources Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges, community groups and industry groups by emailing James Hall.

See all Natural Resources AMLR events.

See summaries and images of past landholder events.

You can also follow our Facebook page for webinars, events, and advice on land management, grazing and sheep management in dry times for the coming months.

Contact your local office for one-on-one or group support.

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Handy hint - ParaBoss

ParaBoss is a not-for-profit organisation that unites and manages three disease management resources for sheep and goats – WormBoss, FlyBoss and LiceBoss. It is funded by Meat and Livestock Australia and Australian Wool Innovation, and coordinated by the University of New England with industry oversight, particularly from the Sheep CRC and Australian Wool Innovation.

The three resources provide nation-wide sheep and goat control advice. WormBoss offers region-specific control programs, drench decision guides, and information on common worm species – their appearance, lifecycle, signs of infection and treatment options. Similarly, FlyBoss focuses on fly strike management, and LiceBoss looks at the prevention, management and eradication of lice infestations.

The ParaBoss website also has management tools, tests, online learning, and up to date news, seasonal outlooks and case studies. Visit their website to learn more or to subscribe to their newsletters.

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Things to do - autumn

  • Identify winter germinating weeds and get ready to spray broadleaf weeds. Try integrated weed management, rather than relying solely on chemicals.
  • Monitor stock to ensure they maintain condition, particularly lactating animals who need at least double the food. Consider your supplementary feeding strategy.
  • Graze to reduce dry residues while maintaining groundcover above 70%. Oversow if necessary to bring up the percentage of perennial grasses and clovers.
  • In ongoing dry conditions, consider using a stock confinement area to protect paddocks.
  • If your soil test results recommend it, arrange with your contractors now to implement your lime and fertilising plan.
  • If you are lambing in winter be ready to activate your fox control plan. Contact your local Natural Resources office for advice.
  • Look for early signs of common pasture pests, such as red-legged earth mite, cockchafer and lucerne flea.
  • Plant native vegetation when the rains have started.

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Related links

Natural Resources Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges