Pepping up pasture production with native grass

Narromine Transplants' David Cliffe and NSW DPI researcher, Cathy Waters, inspect some of the wallaby grass plants grown from seed collected from a 750 000 square kilometre areas of the State.

Narromine Transplants' David Cliffe and NSW DPI researcher, Cathy Waters, inspect some of the wallaby grass plants grown from seed collected from a 750 000 square kilometre areas of the State.

A quest to pep up the potential of native grass as a valuable pasture has taken a Central West researcher across NSW, to Canberra and Perth and now back to Trangie.

NSW Department of Primary Industries researcher, Cathy Waters, is close to completing a study of the genetic diversity of wallaby grass (Austrodanthonia spp) in a bid to boost pasture production and protect land from dryland salinity.

“It’s all about getting substantial quantities of low-cost seed for use in large-scale revegetation projects,” Ms Waters said.

“The real advantage of wallaby grass is that it can persist in really dry times when exotic species often fail. It provides ground-cover which can help prevent erosion and provide all year round feed which stock find very palatable.”

On top of that wallaby grass can reduce salinity problems.“During summer when exotic species are dormant wallaby grass is active and can soak up rain. That reduces the recharge which in turn reduces the causes of dry-land salinity,” she said.

Found in every state except the Northern Territory, wallaby grass is one of nature’s survivors.

“Wallaby grass has been chosen because it’s currently an important component of many grazing systems and despite changes we have made to soil fertility and increases in grazing pressure it has persisted over and above other native species.

“We’ve found enormous genetic variation within and between different plants collected from a 750 000 square kilometre area of the State and this may provide the key to understanding the long-term survival of wallaby grass in the fickle Australian landscape.”

Guidelines on where to source the best seed from the wild will be developed for landholders in conjunction with Charles Sturt University and the CRC for Plant-based Management of Dryland Salinity (Salinity CRC).

According to Ms Waters the study, due for completion this year, will have immediate application.

“We should have clear guidelines to find and develop suitable seed sources for local revegetation projects by the end of the year.”

Plant breeders will use results from the study to develop productive wallaby grass cultivars which could be used widely throughout NSW.

“Native grasses provide low-input pasture and there is enormous interest from graziers who have previously had very few commercial cultivars from which to choose.”

Wallaby grass plants are being studied at Trangie Agricultural Research Centre and Narromine Transplants with genetic studies at the Western Australian Conservation and Land Management Herbarium in Perth, CSIRO, Canberra and CSU, Wagga Wagga.

For further information, please contact Cathy Waters, Trangie Agricultural Research Centre 02 6880 8037.