Fodder trials bust myths

Damian Jones from the Irrigated Cropping Council and Murray Dairy’s Natalie Eckert. Murray Dairy has partnered with a range of cropping groups to run the trials. Photo by Murray Dairy

An up-close look at how winter crops can be optimised for dairy cow diets has released its preliminary findings.

These findings include: stem diameter not being an indicator of feed quality, high sowing rates in vetch having no impact on yield and quality, and faba beans being a very high quality forage but challenging to ensile or bale due to its high moisture content.

This has all come from the Fodder for the Future project, a $1.6 million research initiative started in 2021 by Murray Dairy.

The project involves six trial sites across northern Victoria and southern NSW at Kerang, Mitiamo, Tatura, Dookie, Finley and Rutherglen.

Murray Dairy strategic project manager Amy Fay said the trials were “really exciting” because the northern Victoria region hadn’t seen anything like this before.

“Nothing has specifically looked at fodder growth in our region, this is relevant local research,” she said.

“It’s important to note this has been funded by the Federal Government to help farmers adapt to a post Murray-Darling Basin Plan world.”

Checking out the Kerang trial.

Because the six trial sites were so spread out, they received vastly different seasonal conditions.

“One of the really important things we noticed was just how challenging seasonal variability is and how climate change is impacting our ability to manage fodder,” Amy said.

“Our eastern sites versus our western sites experienced different conditions. It shows how farmers have to plan for the whole season and have options up their sleeves.”

A more comprehensive report on trial data is expected to be released by Murray Dairy in the coming weeks.

With one year of trials done, Murray Dairy will repeat the most interesting trials and add new variables as they head into a second year of experimentation.

An aerial view of the Kerang trial.

“People are really interested in what sort of yield and quality is possible in our region,” Amy said.

“They’re also interested in how we put our crop types together, particularly for something as specialised as a rotation for dairy cow fodder.

“The industry is moving away from rye-grass and they want to see what combination is best for soil nutrient management.”

In particular, croppers and dairy farmers are interested to see what legume (for example, vetch or faba beans) works best in a rotation.

“We are working closely with the cropping industry on this ... we recognise these farmers (crop growers) are very important to us, because they are growing the fodder we buy,” Amy said.

“Crop farmers are interested in what we’re doing and in particularly they are asking what quality means for a dairy perspective.”

The close working relationship includes having outside groups running the trial sites, as can be seen in the initial breakdown of year one results.