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Abstract

SGS Water Theme: influence of soil, pasture type and management on water use in grazing systems across the high rainfall zone of southern Australia.

Abstract

Eleven experimental sites in the Sustainable Grazing Systems (SGS) national experiment were established in the high rainfall zone (HRZ, >600 mm/year) of Western Australia, Victoria and New South Wales to measure components of the water balance, and pathways of water movement, for a range of pastures from 1997 to 2001. The effect of widely spaced river red gums (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) in pasture, and of belts of plantation blue gums (E. globulus), was studied at 2 of the sites. The soil types tested ranged from Kurosols, Chromosols and Sodosols, with different subsoil permeabilities, to Hydrosols and Tenosols. The pasture types tested were kikuyu (Pennisetum clandestinum), phalaris (Phalaris aquatica), redgrass (Bothriochloa macra) and annual ryegrass (Lolium rigidum), with subterranean clover (Trifolium subterraneum) included. Management variables were set stocking v. rotational grazing, adjustable stocking rates, and level of fertiliser input. Soil, pasture and animal measurements were used to set parameters for the biophysical SGS pasture model, which simulated the long-term effects of soil, pasture type, grazing method and management on water use and movement, using as inputs daily weather data for 31 years from selected sites representing a range of climates. Measurements of mean maximum soil water deficit were used to estimate the probability of surplus water occurring in winter, and the average amount of this surplus, which was highest (97-201 mm/year) for pastures in the cooler, winter-rainfall dominant regions of north-east and western Victoria and lowest (3-11 mm/year) in the warmer, lower rainfall regions of the eastern Riverina and Esperance, Western Australia. Kikuyu in Western Australia achieved the largest increase in Sm compared with annual pasture (55-71 mm), while increases due to phalaris were 18-45 mm, and those of native perennials were small and variable. Long-term model simulations suggested rooting depth was crucial in decreasing deep drainage, to about 50 mm/year for kikuyu rooting to 2.5 m, compared with 70-200 mm/year for annuals rooting to only 0.8 m. Plantation blue gums dried the soil profile to 5.25 m by an average of 400 mm more than kikuyu pasture, reducing the probability of winter surplus water to zero, and eliminating drainage below the root zone. Widely spaced river red gums had a much smaller effect on water use, and would need to number at least 14 trees per hectare to achieve extra soil drying of about 50 mm over a catchment. Soil type affected water use primarily through controlling the rooting depth of the vegetation, but it also changed the partitioning of surplus water between runoff and deep drainage. Strongly duplex soils such as Sodosols shed 50% or more surplus water as runoff, which is important for flushing streams, provided the water is of good quality. Grazing method and pasture management had only a marginal effect in increasing water use, but could have a positive effect on farm profitability through increased livestock production per hectare and improved persistence of perennial species.