Pasture species overview


2 min read

Pasture damage management Certified seed Treated seed Storing seed on farm

Choosing the right plant species and cultivar is essential for optimising pasture life, feed availability, and your profit. Match these to your farm's specific conditions like climate, soil, and pests. Even though perennial ryegrass and white clover dominate dairy pastures, other species can be vital in unique situations. If your pastures have sparse ryegrass and clover due to damage, a proven approach suggests assessing each paddock's damage level. Ensure you use certified, treated seeds and sow them within a month of purchase to guarantee their quality. Storing seeds? Keep them in a cool, dry place and avoid storing them from one season to the next.

Plant species and cultivar play a major role in maximising the life of pasture, the amount of feed available and ultimately profit from every hectare of pasture sown.

The best results come from matching species and cultivar to the farm system, climate, soils and pests. Consider animal performance, persistency requirements and the environment when selecting.

While perennial ryegrass and white clover are the cornerstone of dairy pastures, several other species play an important role in different circumstances.

Pasture damage management

Many New Zealand farmers are managing pastures that have less than desired density of ryegrass and clover. This can be as a result of treading damage in winter, or in the summer insect and drought.

For pasture damage during winter, research carried out in Taranaki during the 1980s found that oversowing and undersowing ryegrass seed into damaged pastures increased dry matter production by 1-2t/ha in year one and year two following sowing.

A DairyNZ led industry group comprising researchers, seed industry and contractors have agreed on an approach for farmers faced with this situation. This group recommends farmers carry out a paddock by paddock assessment of the damage by ranking paddocks one to five based on the extent of damage. They should then use the tools suggested actions to establish a plan for each paddock.

Download Pasture Condition Score Tool below

Certified seed

To ensure good quality seed, use certified and treated seed and ensure the seed is sown within a month of it being purchased.

In all cases certified seed should be purchased to ensure the seed is of the specified cultivar, assured quality and purity.

All certified seed has a Seed Analysis Certificate, which is available from your seed supplier on request.

Key points to look for on this are

  • Identification - the cultivar tested and merchant reference number, also known as seed line number (on side of seed sack).
  • When tested - date of test, which should be within six months of sale.
  • Standard tests - purity (% pure seed, contaminants); germination (% live seed, hard seed in legumes, abnormals); bulk search (contaminants in very low levels, not enough to show in purity).
  • Other tests - endophyte % in perennial ryegrass (either seed or seedlings grow outs). Industry levels are set at a minimum of 70% endophyte in ryegrass seed.

Treated seed

Seed treatment can be seen as an 'insurance policy' against paddock failure.

  • Reduces the risk of losing a pasture or crop at establishment by protecting newly-emerged seedlings from pests and disease.
  • Seed treatment lasts for approximately six weeks post-sowing, which is the period that young plants are most vulnerable to insect attack and disease.
  • Treatment also provides good control of low to moderate insect pressure - a wider control programme is needed where increases are high.

Storing seed on farm

Seeds are living entities that can deteriorate over time and this particularly applies to endophyte levels in ryegrass seed.

On the farm, store seeds in a cool, dry place and sow seeds within one month of uplifting seeds. Do not keep seeds from one season to another.

Last updated: Aug 2023

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