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Unit 7 - The saltland toolbox
Site Assessment
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SOLUTION 6

Puccinellia based pastures

 

6.1  Puccinellia based pastures in a nutshell

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A quick summary

Puccinellia (Puccinellia ciliata) is a perennial grass that is highly salt- and waterlogging-tolerant. It is typically sold as the variety ‘Menemen’ in Australia. Along with Distichlis and marine couch, it is the most salt-tolerant of the commercially available grasses and the only salt-tolerant grass suitable for highly saline scalds. Although a perennial species, it behaves like an annual by drying off back to the base and going dormant when the surface soil dries out in summer. It is best suited to areas with more than 400mm annual rainfall and where the watertable is not too deep over summer.

Puccinellia is highly palatable and has a low salt concentration in the leaves. It forms tussocks up to 40cm high and wide and has long, thin leaves. Its growing points are embedded in the base of the plant, which is compact and resistant to grazing. Puccinellia will shoot with the onset of cooler late autumn temperatures and respond to dew, before the opening rains.

The plants grow from mid autumn to spring and mature (hay off) in November/December, remaining dormant over summer to early autumn. It has its highest grazing value in winter and spring whilst green and before flowering. Nutritive value declines as the plant flowers, matures and senesces, and further declines through summer and autumn even though it is still palatable. It changes from a high quality, highly digestible feed capable of supporting high animal liveweight gains in spring to less than a maintenance ration in late summer/autumn.

Mature stands can be grazed after the opening rains (when they rapidly produce green feed) and/or more commonly as dry feed in late summer-autumn, although at this stage some supplementation will be needed unless weight loss in the animals is acceptable. Leaving the feed standing over summer shades the soil, reducing the concentration of salts at the soil surface through evaporation.

Puccinellia provides a beneficial food option to sheep producers on saltland, in most instances providing a pasture sward free of grass seeds. Some landholders also successfully harvest puccinellia seed in summer to autumn either for sale or their own on-farm use.

There is good information available about puccinellia in those states where it is an important saltland species – see Puccinellia: for productive saltland pastures or Puccinellia fact sheet by the Primary Industries and Resources SA. The most up-to-date information about puccinellia pastures has been summarised by the Sustainable Grazing on Saline Land (SGSL) initiative - see Saltland Pastures for SA ManualDraft AGNote 1292 Establishing Puccinellia or Draft AGNote 1293 Managing Puccinellia.

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History

Puccinellia (Puccinellia ciliata) originates from near the Aegean Sea on the west coast of Turkey (12km from Menemen, north of Izmir). It was introduced into Australia by CSIRO in the 1950s and extensively promoted and adopted in WA in the 1970s and 1980s. It has now become naturalised on saltland in many parts of southern Australia. Many established stands in WA received little subsequent management.

In contrast, puccinellia pastures found widespread acceptance in the south east of South Australia in the early 1980’s with the onset of widespread salinity problems.

Historical note: Bugs, floods and drought

In the early 1950s large areas of native vegetation in this area were replaced with highly productive Hunter River lucerne, which maintained groundwater recharge to near pre-clearing levels. The area of lucerne was reduced from a high of 300,000ha in the mid 1970s to about 20,000ha in 1978 by a combination of lucerne aphids, drought and wingless grasshoppers. Severe flooding inundated large areas of the region in 1981, causing the saline groundwater to rise to the soil surface. It was this event that resulted in the region’s farmers searching for salt-tolerant pastures and finding that puccinellia was a very good fit for their environment
  

Farmers undertook much of the development work for puccinellia management in SA, with some agronomic assistance in the late 1980s -early 1990s. In excess of 200,000ha is probably now established and productive in the upper south east of the state. Whilst not taken up to this degree in other states it is finding more acceptance as part of a shotgun mix of saltland pasture species in WA, Victoria and NSW as well as in other parts of SA.

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Identification

Puccinellia is a fine leafed perennial grass – See Figure 6.1 below showing the front and back of the SALTdeck cards that have been produced to assist with the identification of the 50 most common saltland species. These can be viewed on this website or they ordered from the Land Water and Wool website. Although a perennial, in many saltland situations puccinellia hays off completely after flowering in spring as the surface soil dries out and the salt concentration builds up at the soil surface. It can then re-shoot very quickly even proir to the opening rains in autumn in response to cooler temperatures and dew.

Figure 6.1 – The two sides of the SALTdeck card to assist with the identification of puccinellia.

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