In this article I will focus on the valuation of permanently established pastures.
Permanent pastures can be established on dry land or under irrigation, and can consist of grass only, broadleaf plants only, a mixture of grasses or a mixture of grass and broadleaf plants.
When deciding which permanent pasture to establish, a farmer usually takes note of the following factors:
- The annual rainfall, rain distribution between winter and summer, and its intensity.
- A pasture’s sensitivity to low temperatures and frost.
- The adaptability to sandy -, clay – or organic rich soil.
- Utilization – is it to be baled, utilised as standing hay or green pasture.
Pastures, if treated and fertilized properly, can enhance the carrying capacity of a farm tremendously. Research at Potchefstroom University (now North West University) established that dry land planted pastures can enhance meat production per hectare to between three and four times what it would have been on natural veld in the same area.
Marginal dry lands are seldom economically viable for production of cash crops, and a good alternative is to establish permanent pastures. The value of these marginal lands is between that of natural veld and medium-to-high potential dry lands. It is important however to take note of the age and condition in terms of plant population, weed infestation and other value-inhibiting factors that could be present. The suitability of the cultivar for the area is also very important.
The most popular dry land perennial (permanent) pastures found in South Africa are:
- Eragrostis Curvula (Weeping love grass / Oulandsgras)
Endemic to South Africa and most commonly planted pasture for grazing as well as haymaking. It is well adapted to summer rainfall areas with a rainfall of 650 mm and more per annum, but will survive with a minimum of 450 mm per annum. Yields are 8 to 20 tons / Ha.
- Digitaria eriantha (Smutsvinger)
It is one of the best grazing grasses. It is often used as standing hay and stays tasty until late in the winter. It is not popular for haymaking because it does not dry out easily. This grass can grow in areas with 300 mm of rain per annum, but as a planted pasture it does best in areas with rainfall in excess of 450 mm, where it can be grazed at 5 to 6 LSU (Large stock unit) / Ha.
- Cencrus ciliaris (Foxtail Buffalo grass / Bloubuffelsgras)
Endemic to Africa. This grass can be planted in dry areas, below 300 mm rain per annum, but its production is influenced negatively by cold conditions. It grows better in sandy to sandy loam soil and is difficult to establish in clay soils. It is a tasty and excellent grazing grass with high yields. It is hardy in dry conditions and has a root system of up to 2 metres deep.
Planted pastures under irrigation are mainly used in intensive farming such as dairy farming or for haymaking as in the case of Lucerne. The most common permanent irrigated pastures in the country are probably Lucerne and Kikuyu grass.
- Lucerne is often called the “king of haymaking”, and the most popular cultivar is the SA Standard. Lucerne can be established in areas with a rainfall of 400 mm and higher, but performs best under irrigation. It prefers deep soils for its root system of up to 3 metres. It can give 4 to 10 cuttings per season, which gives 15 to 20 tons per hectare and more, depending on the moisture and climate.
- Kikuyu grass was introduced into South Africa in 1911, and it came from the Kikuyu region of Kenia (Dannhauser, 1987). It is a prolific grower and creeping grass, and can withstand heavy grazing. It must be irrigated or otherwise the rainfall must be above 700 mm per annum for optimum production. It grows best in loamy or clay soils. Kikuyu is primarily a grass suited for grazing, and not haymaking. It is popular with dairy farmers, especially along the coast.
The value of dry land permanent pastures is normally between that of grazing and arable land in the area. The value of irrigated permanent pastures normally consists of the value of irrigated land plus the depreciated value of the establishment cost.
*This article was originally published on the Farmer’s Weekly website