Let’s say that you own 1000 acres and you want to farm.
What do you do with that land?
One of the first decisions that many of you would come to is the decision of do I get livestock or go with annual crops.
Both common. Both viable choices for farming big land.
One system is based in perennials and grazing animal’s and the other is based on annuals and mechanical tillage.
For many people these two systems would be seen as mutually exclusive.
Annuals and perennials don’t really mix, at least on first thought they don’t. But what if you could do it?
How do you plant annuals into a perennial grass system and how do you graze animals through an annual system?
It all comes down to timing.
If you seed annuals into dormant perennial grassland you take advantage of a niche in time where both species can co-exist. Then you later harvest the annual crop and grass the animals through the now non-dormant perennials.
The system provides the benefit of zero tillage, rotational grazing, a constant plant cover on the soil and root mass under the soil, and minimal inputs costs.
The system is called Pasture Cropping and it was developed by Colin Seis.
Colin Seis is an Australian farmer who owns a 2000-acre farm “Winona” which is situated north of Gulgong on the central slopes of NSW Australia. ‘Winona’ runs 4000 merino sheep and grows crops like, oats, wheat , cereal rye, brassica, pea and vetch. He is the pioneer – developer of “Pasture Cropping” which is a perennial cover cropping method of sowing cereal crops directly into perennial pastures. It combines grazing animals and multi-species crops , into a single land use method where each one benefits the other economically, environmentally and ecologically.
Colin’s story is nothing short of amazing. His journey from conventional agriculture to a more regenerative system begin in 1979 when their then conventional farm was subjected to a brush fire which literally burned everything that they had to the ground forcing them to start completely over. As Colin described it they were instantly broke, and suddenly had to stop using fertilizer because they couldn’t afford fertilizer. That started his quest to find a better system and along the way came pasture cropping, an idea that come after a night of beers.
Today’s show is a presentation that Colin gave at PV2 in March 2015. It was an honor to have him present at the conference, this guy is a true pioneer and innovator, and his work needs to be heard…
What is pasture cropping?
‘Pasture Cropping’ is an innovative land management technique that enables annual crops to be grown opportunistically into dormant perennial pastures or pastures whose competitive capacity have temporarily been supressed by grazing ,and /or selective herbicides to enable the successful growth of annual crops.
In contrast to conventional cropping that is sown into bare soil or stubble, ‘Pasture Cropping’ creates and exploits temporary competitive niches in the root ecology of the perennial pastures to enable the optimal growth of the short term annual grain crop. ‘Pasture Cropping’ avoids the need to kill the competitive pastures prior to sowing the crop thereby maintaining living plant cover of the soil so as to enhance its biological health, water retention and their protection from wind and water erosion relative to conventional crop practices.
Colin Seis has seen the need for ‘fast tracking’ improvement in degraded soil and grassland as well as producing crops for human consumption and /or stock feed. Since 2010 he has been developing ‘multi species pasture cropping’ with the aim of producing better quality forage and improving soil health even more than single species pasture cropping does.
‘Multi species pasture cropping’ uses all of the methods used in ‘pasture cropping’ but with the addition of 10 or more compatible annual crops that are sown at the same time. The mix of species improves soil microbial health, soil structure, nutrient cycling, as well as producing excellent stock feed. It has the added advantage of being able to harvest a grain crop after the multi species crop is removed by grazing.
The rationale behind ‘Pasture Cropping’:
Farmers for centuries have either grown and grazed pastures or grown crops on bare soils or tilled seedbeds. To try to get the best of both, many farming systems have also integrated alternate cropping and ley regenerative pastures stages in their farm management plans. However this has required the periodic killing of the pastures by cultivation or bio-cides to allow crops to grow. Few have been able to integrate both in one perennial ecology and farming system.
This is because perennial pasture and crop systems operate via different ecological and competitive processes that are assumed to be incompatible with each other.
Whereas perennial grasses compete through maximizing their root soil interfaces to survive periods of stress, annual crop plants compete as pioneers, rapidly and opportunistically exploiting suitable soil niches to produce adequate seed for their survival when stresses return. While both strategies can be highly effective it may be difficult for one plant to compete through both.
However these distinct competitive strategies may enable farming systems to be designed where the two types of plants can co-exist synergistically in time and space to benefit soil health and plant production.
For the past 20 years Colin Seis from, Winona, Gulgong in central NSW, Australia has been at the forefront of refining and evaluating such ‘Pasture Cropping’ strategies. Outstanding results and benefits have been confirmed in these lead trials, including:
- High crop yields of up to 4 tonnes per hectare when oats were sown into grassland.
- Sustained high pasture and animal production from the periodically cropped land.
- Marked improvements in the structure of and carbon levels in the ‘Pasture Cropped’ soils with Carbon bio-sequestration rates of up to 9 tC/ha/annually, plus significant improvements in the water holding capacity, nutrient dynamics and natural capital value of the landscape.
- Marked improvements in the biodiversity and resilience of the pasture cropped lands enabling them to sustain relatively higher pasture and crop yields even under stress.
- Significantly reduced input costs and risks on farm in producing these outcomes thereby markedly improving the economic and social viability of these farming systems.
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