Sacrificial grazing of wheat crops : identifying tactics and opportunities in Western Australia's grainbelt using simulation approaches

L.W. Bell, J.N.G. Hargreaves, R.A. Lawes, Michael Robertson

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    Failing grain crops are sometimes sacrificed for grazing by mixed farmers, a decision involving a complex range of factors. This simulation study used two APSIM (Agricultural Production Systems Simulator)-based approaches to investigate the circumstances under which more revenue might be obtained by sacrificing a wheat crop for grazing rather than harvesting it for grain in Western Australia’s grainbelt. First, we developed a simple partial budget calculation to estimate and compare revenue from grain or grazing alternatives using data for grain yield and standing biomass at flowering. This was simulated for a factorial of soil types and locations varying in mean annual rainfall. We then simulated wheat quality and livestock production on spring wheat grazed at different stages of crop development and at a range of stocking rates. Dynamic simulations of grazing showed that livestock production increased as grazing was delayed; stocking rate had little impact at this time. Grazing earlier necessitated lighter stocking rates but surprisingly had little benefit for animal performance. Partial budgets showed that under average commodity prices, grazing a wheat crop could be more profitable 40–75% of the time on poorer soil types in lower rainfall environments. In these situations, by tactically grazing when grain yield is below a critical level economic returns could be increased by more than A$50/ha in 30–40% of years and over the long term average revenues could be increased by A$30/ha.year. This critical grain yield ranged from 1.3 to 1.7 t/ha on shallow gravel soil and 1.9 to 2.2 t/ha on a deep sand. In higher rainfall environments and on better soil types grazing was rarely a better option unless livestock prices were high relative to grain. This approach, combining crop simulation with partial budgets, was useful for developing simple management rules for a complex system. Overall, the findings of this study suggest that making tactical use of a wheat crop for forage in situations with low grain yield prospects is a major opportunity to increase profitability and help respond to climate variability in mixed farms in many areas of the Western Australian wheatbelt.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)797-806
    JournalAnimal Production Science
    Issue number9 & 10
    Publication statusPublished - 2009


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