This title was selected by the Agrostologist (Department of Agriculture), Mr. J. N. Whittet, for a lantern lecture to the Conference members of the N.S.W. Institute of Stock Inspectors on Wednesday, March 29th, 1939.
He spoke appreciatively of the assistance given by grassland workers in the United Kingdom, Irish Free State, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, France, and the United States of America, and considered that the contacts made in those countries were of inestimable value. Already valuable contributions of these countries' pasture plant seeds, which were selected by the Agrostologist when visiting overseas plant breeding stations, had come to hand and were being sown in the strain testing plots this autumn.
The importance placed in England and Wales on the conservation of the surplus growth of permanent pastures as grass hay for winter feeding is exemplified in the 1937 statistics, which show that 4,671,000 acres were harvested for this purpose; in addition, 1.469,000 acres of clover and rotation grasses were also cut for hay.
Perennial rye grass and white clover are the dominant species in the better class pastures; lime and phosphate content is maintained at a high level by regular applications of these ingredients, using the equivalent of one ton of ground carbonate of lime per acre every five years and 6 cwt. basic slag per acre once every three years. In order to encourage the use of these materials on pasture land, the British Government is allowing farmers rebates of 50 per cent. on the price of lime and 25 per cent. on basic slag. The key to the improvement of poor quality pasture is phosphate, together with sowing white clover of proved perenniality.
Temporary grass is a feature of most rotation work, and red clover is always included in the pasture seed mixture sown, perennial rye, Timothy, white and red clover being the species usually planted for this purpose. In the United Kingdom, red clover is universally used for hay, soil fertility building and grazing purposes, and should be more extensively utilised for similar purposes on the arable lands of the higher rainfall zones of Australia.
Some of the most valuable research on pastures is being conducted at Cockle Park Experiment Station, Northumberland, and the Plant Breeding Station, Aberystwyth. Wales. The "Cockle Park Seed Mixture" is a household quotation amongst grassland farmers in Great Britain, while they look to Professor Stapledon and his assistants to turn out improved strains of grasses and clovers from Aberystwyth, in addition to conducting detailed research on pasture management.
In Scotland and Wales, bracken fern on the rough hill country is one of the farmer's greatest problems. The chief means of reducing bracken consists in gradually exhausting the reserves of food stored in the plant's creeping rhizomes by repeatedly cutting the fresh growth and encouraging useful herbage to grow by sowing seed and using fertilisers.
Great care is taken of all animal manures, which is carefully stored and later applied to arable and pasture lands. The value of dung lies not only in the beneficial effect obtained from the manurial ingredients it supplies, but it also assists to conserve soil moisture and stimulates the action of soil bacteria.
In Sweden, 55 per cent. of the total area is forest land, the vast areas of pine and spruce located in the North constituting this country's greatest natural resource. The area of cultivated fields is no less than 71.1% of the total area of the southernmost part of this country, and agricultural practices are at a very high standard. 49.5% of the total number of these southern farms range in area of from 5 to 25 acres; of the total numbers of farms with more than five acres in Sweden, 80.4% are farmed by the owners.
Grass, clover, cereal and root crop seed improvement work is at a very high standard, and practically all seed sold is bag sealed and certified. State sealing of seed was instituted in this country 50 years ago.
Particular attention is paid to soil fertility uplift, large quantities of dung being collected, lime and basic slag freely used, and red clover universally sown to build up humus and nitrogen content of the soil. In the well farmed localities, it is considered that one-third of the farm should be under red clover. This plant is looked upon as their soil nitrogen builder in the rotation programme, and hay and silage is made principally from this species and Timothy. This country is one of the foremost in Europe in pasture plant breeding work.
The pasture research and experiment work of Denmark is similar to that carried out in Sweden. Seventy-five per cent of the total area is agricultural land. 66% of which is ploughed for cropping purposes: of the latter figure, 40% is temporary pasture consisting of two, three or four year leys, planted mainly with Timothy, perennial rye and red clover.
Denmark is noted world-wide for its activities in co-operation, and the production and sale of high-yielding seed can be included in this movement. Forty years ago, a co-operative society was formed to purchase its members' seed requirements, and ten years later it arranged to grow uncer contract large areas of improved strains of pasture plant, root and cereal seeds. The membership of this Association in 1936 was 4,222, and the number of active seed growers 2,965.
Potash is largely used in Denmark on many soils, and cases were seen where stands of red clover could not be obtained unless potash and phosphate were applied. Phosphate alone, or phosphate and nitrogen, would not produce satisfactory results. Liquid manure as well as dung, is carefully saved and applied to arable land, the latter being used mainly on the root crop.
Great care is taken in the production of milk and milk products for local sale and milk products for export. For example, one farm supplying Copenhagen with bottled milk for children was visited, where strict attention to cleanliness is observed; in addition to the staff wearing white hats and long white coats and observing the ordinary rules of cleanliness when milking, the vacuum cleaner is run over the cows every second day, the veterinarian inspects the animals fortnightly, and the staff is overhauled by the doctor once a month.
As in the case with Sweden, the Seed Testing Station aids the grower in supplying seed of good quality to the purchaser. In many cases the grower and the seed merchant contract that the seed delivered should be paid for according to its purity and germination. No Seeds Act operates in Denmark, but twenty-five firms, who handle about two-thirds of all the seed sold in that country, have signed agreements with the Seed Testing Station to deliver purity and germination guarantees with all clover grass or root crop seed sold; the genuineness of variety and strain is tested in the control fields of the Station. According to the Law of Sale, any person selling a seed lot which is not true to the variety or strain guaranteed, has to compensate the buyer the whole of the loss which he has suffered.
The seed firms also bind themselves to submit to the Station the addresses of all purchasers of grass, clover and root seeds at the same time as the goods are delivered, together with amount, kind of seed, and guarantee under which it is sold. This enables the State seed authorities to obtain samples from purchasers and check up the quality of the material supplied.
As is the case with other European countries, the best areas of Germany are devoted to arable farming, and here again temporary pastures of perennial rye, Timothy, and red clover occupy a prominent place in the rotation; permanent grasslands are mainly located on moorlands and country too steep for crop production.
Agricultural research in Germany is of a high standard and well organised; all new work has to be submitted to the Reichnahrstand, as the Ministry of Agriculture looks after the feeding of the whole nation. Only those projects which are considered of importance to the nation are approved of; in other words, no time or money is to be wasted on experiments which are not for the common good. Results of trials must also be referred to this Division before publishing.
Although a lot of good quality land exists in Germany, there are also many areas of a sandy nature; lupins are extensively planted on the latter to build up fertility. The production of soft wood timber is being carried out on some of the poorer quality sandy hills, it being preferable to grow trees on that class of land than to produce grass. Practically all of the pasture seed requirements are grown locally, and prices are controlled by the Government to prevent exploitation.
Places of agricultural interest visited were Lichterfelde Experiment Station, where research on crops and grasslands is being carried out by the scientific staff of Deutsches Kalisyndikat, Berlin. This syndicate does a tremendous amount of educational work amongst the world's agriculturists, and turns out literature printed in fifty languages.
Large quantities of potato silage are made in Germany by steaming the tubers until they are soft and ramming them into pits; these are covered with soil. The material comes out dry, there is no reduction in the feeding value, and no wastage as was the case with the old type of pits in which potatoes were stored in the green state.
Potash is also necessary in this country: white and red clovers will not thrive without this fertiliser, and die out at end of first year if it is not used.
At the Experiment Grassland Farm, sheep digestion trials showed that the protein of potash manured pasturage was better digested than that without potash, and that calcium was more effectively absorbed in plots receiving potash.
Other research on pastures show that (a) the removal of lime, phosphate and potash from the soil is greatest when grass is cut young and often, (b) the percentages of nitrogen, lime, phosphate and potash in pasturage decreases in the pasturage as maturity increases, (c) the lime content of legumes is increased where potash is applied to pastures.
As in Sweden, the people of Switzerland have for many centuries appreciated the value of trees for erosion control, grass being only of secondary importance on steep slopes. During the eleventh century there was a legend in this country that if trees were cut, their neighbours would bleed to death; and this is said to be responsible for trees not being destroyed on the hillsides.
Regarding soil erosion regulations, it is compulsory that the wooded areas be kept constant in size, and if any are cut the owner must plant a similar sized area at the same or a higher altitude.
Nitrogen and potash are not largely used, as there is plenty of dung for crops and pastures; basic slag is the chief source of phosphate applied. Liquid manuring on areas cut for green feed or hay and not regularly grazed causes the sward to become badly infested with weeds. Grazing is the only method to keep these in check.
At the Central Experiment Farm, Ottawa, special attention is being given to pasture soil and plant analytical work; spectographic analyses are carried out for the determination of boron manganese, magnesia. etc., and silica-free ash estimations made in the case of the ordinary herbage plants. In Canada, extensive range investigations are in operation to determine the botanical and chemical composition of native forage plants, and the best practices to maintain and improve pasture and range areas.
In the United States of America, the lecturer's itinerary was planned mainly to cover the grassland work of the Department of Agriculture in the low rainfall zones of Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona, because he was of the opinion (a) that the results obtained in these areas were likely to throw some light on problems associated with the management of our semi-arid pasture zones, (b) that species of drought-resistant pasture plants were growing there which would be worth collecting for trial in Australia.
In the case of (a) it was found, as had been our experience in New South Wales, that care and management of native pasture areas is most essential, as the indigenous vegetation is, in the main, the most suitable for dry conditions. This has been our recommendation to graziers in dry localities for many years past.
With (b), arrangements were made to obtain selected strains of the dry-area, native pasture plants of North America for trial in a number of regions in our States. In addition, some species of other countries' dry-land species discovered by U.S.A. plant explorers were also made available for inclusion in these tests.
Mr. Whittet was of the opinion that Australia has much to gain by adopting the U.S.A. soil erosion control research results, which definitely emphasise the necessity of preserving the existing tree and pasture flora, and encouraging the production of a protective cover on denuded areas.