The impact of defoliation frequency and nitrogen fertiliser application in spring on summer survival of perennial ryegrass under grazing in subtropical Australia
Donaghy, DJ and Fulkerson, WJ, The impact of defoliation frequency and nitrogen fertiliser application in spring on summer survival of perennial ryegrass under grazing in subtropical Australia, Grass and Forage Science, 57 pp. 351-359. ISSN 0142-5242 (2002) [Refereed Article]
This field study investigated the effect of timing of nitrogen (N) fertilizer application in spring on the survival of grazed perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne cv. Dobson and Yatsyn) over summer in a subtropical environment. There were five N fertilizer treatments: no applied N, 46 kg N ha-1 on 22 October or 22 November or 22 December, or on 22 October and again on 22 December. Water-soluble carbohydrate (WSC) concentration of perennial ryegrass plants entering the summer was altered by varying defoliation frequency, with defoliation interval based on the number of leaves per tiller. Frequent defoliation was set at a regrowth level of one leaf per tiller and less frequent defoliation at a regrowth level of three leaves per tiller, over a total of two by three-leaf per tiller regrowth periods. Application of N fertilizer was found to have no significant effect (P > 0.05) on survival of perennial ryegrass plants over summer. On the other hand, defoliation had a marked effect on perennial ryegrass persistence, with frequent defoliation decreasing ryegrass plant density (51 vs. 88 plants m-2; P <0.001) and increasing the density of tropical weed grasses (99 vs. 73 plants m-2; P < 0.001) by autumn. Frequently defoliated plants had a lower stubble WSC content on a per plant basis than less frequently defoliated plants in spring (103 vs. 201 mg per plant; P <0.001) and summer (59 vs. 101 mg per plant; P <0.001). The lower WSC content was associated with a smaller root system in spring (1.50 vs. 2.14 g per plant; P <0.001) and autumn (1.79 vs. 2.66 g per plant; P <0.01), and this was reflected in 0.29 more plants being pulled from the soil by livestock between November 1996 and April 1997. Rhizoctonia fungus was associated with roots of pulled plants, but not with roots of seemingly healthy plants, indicating that this fungus may have a role in a weakened root system, which was more prone to sod pulling. Nitrogen applied in October and November resulted in a reduced WSC concentration, although the effect was restricted to 1 month after N application. The present study indicates that survival of perennial ryegrass plants over the summer in a subtropical region is prejudiced by frequent defoliation, which is associated with a lower WSC concentration and a shallower root system. Under grazing, sod pulling is a reflection of this weaker root system and contributes to plant mortality.