Diversity, trends, opportunities and challenges in Australian grasslands – meeting the sustainability and productivity imperatives of the future?
Bell, LW and Hayes, RC and Pembleton, KG and Waters, CM, Diversity, trends, opportunities and challenges in Australian grasslands - meeting the sustainability and productivity imperatives of the future?, Proceedings of the 22nd International Grasslands Congress: Revitalising Grasslands to Sustain our Communities, 15-19 September 2013, Sydney, NSW, pp. 28-43. ISBN 978-1-74256-543-9 (2013) [Refereed Conference Paper]
Grassland production systems contribute 40% to Australia’s gross agricultural production value and utilise over 50% of its land area. Across this area a broad diversity of systems exist, but these can be broadly classified into four main production systems: 1. Pastoral grazing of mainly cattle at low intensity (i.e. <0.4 DSE/ha) on relatively unimproved native rangelands in the arid and semi-arid regions of northern and central Australia; 2. Crop-livestock systems in the semi-arid zone where livestock graze a mixture of pastures and crops which are often integrated; 3. High rainfall permanent pasture zone in the coastal hinterland and highlands and; 4. Dairy systems covering a broad range of environments and production intensities. A notable trend across these systems has been the replacement of wool sheep with beef cattle or meat sheep breeds, which has been driven by low wool prices. Although there is evidence that most of these systems have lifted production efficiencies over the past 30 years, total factor productivity growth has failed to match the decline in terms of trade. This has renewed attention on how research and development can help increase productivity. In addition, these industries are facing increasing scrutiny to improve their environmental performance and develop sustainable production practices. We propose several areas in which grasslands research and development might help provide gains in system productivity and sustainability. In particular, pasture productivity might be improved by filling gaps in the array of pastures available either through exploring new species or improving the adaptation and agronomic characteristics of species currently sown. Meanwhile there is a need to maintain efforts to overcome persistent and emerging constraints to pasture productivity. Improving livestock forage feed systems and more precise and lower cost management of grasslands would translate into improved utilisation and conversion of forage produced into livestock products. There is significant scope to capture value from the ecological services grasslands provide and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions from livestock production. Multi-purpose grasslands provide not only grazing for livestock but produce other food products such as grain which may also have potential to integrate livestock with cropping. However, reduced human research capacity in pasture science will challenge our ability to realise these potential opportunities unless efforts are made to attract and support a new generation of pasture scientists.