Knight Italian ryegrass pays off for Ballarat farmer

Graham Fagg, Ballarat VIC

Knight Italian ryegrass is demonstrating its ability to deliver outstanding growth and performance for farmers across Australia. The fast-establishing Italian diploid variety is being embraced by farmers like Graham Fagg, who first began using Knight as part of his pasture renovation program. Having recently learned about some of the benefits, he decided to trial it as a winter grazing crop in a couple of his paddocks, with what he describes as “great success”.

Heather & Graham Fagg | AusWest & Stephen Pasture Seeds
Heather and Graham Fagg in their Knight Italian ryegrass pasture
Ewes with lambs grazing Knight | AusWest & Stephen Pasture Seeds
Ewes with lambs grazing Knight Italian ryegrass at the Fagg's farm

Graham runs 5,000 cross breed merino sheep on 600 hectares just south east of Ballarat. Since buying the land five years ago he’s done extensive renovation work, fixing paddocks that were fairly run down, with poor quality grasses and low soil fertility, as well as developing some country that hadn’t even been touched.

Graham explains how he faces a variety of other challenges, including loamy, sandy soil, ongoing issues with worm burdens and a climate that’s often cold and dry. “We’ve also had some challenging years where we didn't get an autumn break, which means we try and get our grazing crops in a lot earlier than usual,” he says.

Graham sowed about 48 hectares with Knight Italian ryegrass across two paddocks in autumn 2018. “It only needed minimum tillage, and we used an air seeder, sowing with a seven-inch spacing alongside MAP fertiliser at about 100kg per hectare,” he says. “We also put it in on its own, with no irrigation.”

Graham chose Knight mainly because of its grazing tolerance, and he describes how it was a lot quicker to establish than other varieties he’d used. “It seemed to hang on very well. It’s done an exceptional job so far. We had about 500 ewes and lambs on it, and it’s really lived up to its reputation as a solid grazing crop.”

“We’ve seen a number of benefits already,” he continues. “It’s definitely improved our livestock nutrition. The stock always look healthy and they’ve gained good weight. It’s also got great palatability, and the vigorous growth has been incredible. I couldn't get over how much it just kept growing, even through the colder months. We had a little bit of capeweed, and a few red legged earth mites, but they didn't seem to stop the ryegrass at all.”

For Stephen Pasture Seeds Territory Manager Michael Grant, Knight is setting the benchmark for Italian ryegrasses, and for a number of reasons. “Knight is very quick to establish and can be over-sown into old thinned out old pastures improving these paddocks dramatically. A good tip is to sow early and get your seed Kickstart® treated to protect the seedlings from Red legged earth mite and other insect pests” he says.

“With the right preparation, Knight’s growth through winter is exceptional,” says Michael. “Its high winter activity is its main claim to fame, and its ability to recover and regrow after grazing is excellent – and in a good season, you can also get a second cut later in the spring.”

“The stock carrying ability is outstanding with this grass, particularly for both live weight gain and milk production. It's a very high-quality grass, making it highly beneficial for livestock nutrition.”

“This season in particular has been extremely dry, and with hay reserves down and grain costs and being so high, it’s never been more important to grow your own feed on farm,” he points out.

Knight locked up for hay | AusWest & Stephen Pasture Seeds
A Knight pasture looked up for hay production at the Fagg's property

Graham says that his Knight Italian ryegrass paddocks have been able to carry his ewes right through winter and into spring, which is no mean feat considering the late autumn break and cold conditions last winter.

With its ability to come back, Graham is also impressed by Knight’s regrowth – one of the key benefits to many of farmers who use it. “I’ve already had four grazings off it, compared to around two by this same point, when I used other grasses,” he reports.

“I’m a great advocate of this ryegrass,” he concludes, “mainly because it performs so much better. You can get fantastic growth off it and potentially feed a lot of stock, even on a small area. We’re hoping we can get just as good a result from it next year.”

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