Spelling strategies for recovery of pasture condition

The Spelling strategies for recovery of pasture condition project aimed to develop reliable and cost-effective spelling options for producers.

Reduced condition of pasture and soil, through decline in density and growth of desirable perennial grasses, is evident in most pasture communities across northern Australia (Queensland, Northern Territory, and Kimberley and Pilbara regions of WA).  For example, around 50% of the Northern Gulf region, 40% of the Burdekin catchment and 20% of the Fitzroy Basin are estimated to be in ‘C’ condition (using ‘ABCD’ condition ratings),  (Beutel 2009, Scarth 2006, and Karfs 2009).  These areas of ‘C’ condition pasture have effectively reduced their carrying capacity by 50% or more, and are also a major risk for erosion and downstream impacts on water quality.

Wet season spelling of grazing land is a key recommendation for improved grazing management across northern Australia, especially for accelerating recovery of pasture that has declined in condition.  However the Northern Grazing Systems (NGS) initiative has found there to be little reliable and relevant information on which to guide the design of cost-effective and practical regimes of wet season spelling for recovery of pasture condition.  There are few data on how quickly and effectively poor condition pasture will respond to variations in the timing, duration, and frequency of wet season spelling.  In addition, modelling indicates that the net benefit to spelling for a paddock, or group of paddocks, interacts strongly with both the overall stocking rate applied and the impact of any periods of heavy grazing associated with the implementation of the spelling strategy.

This MLA funded project sought to improve the evidence base and modelling capacity underpinning recommendations for use of wet season spelling to recover poor condition grazing land.  Research addressed the response of native pasture in priority pasture communities to different timings, durations, and frequencies of pasture spelling.  The primary emphasis was on use of growing season (or ‘wet season’) spelling to recover the pasture and soil condition of paddocks of native pasture that were in poor, or ‘C’, condition. Interactions with seasonal conditions and the on-going management of stocking rate were considered.  The improved understanding and predictability of wet season spelling that emerged can be used to design more reliable and cost-effective spelling options for producers.

To learn more, please link to the final report (PDF, 5.4 MB).

When:  October 2010 to June 2016

Contact: Paul Jones

Collaborator: Department of Agriculture and Fisheries