Tips to assessing pastures after fire damage

Pasture-recoveryOne of the early tasks for farmers returning to their property after fires will be to evaluate the viability of pastures and grasses.

Agriculture Victoria Livestock Extension Officer Fiona Baker said most open plains grass paddocks that had short or little grass when the fires passed through generally experience low to moderate intensity burns.

“Paddocks will often look brown to dark brown in colour a few days after the fire,” she said.

“Most of these paddocks can recover on their own given time and moisture.

“Annual pastures generally will need to be resown.”

As for perennial pastures, Ms Baker said the need to resow would depend on the severity of the burn and what the paddock density was like prior to the burn.

“Paddocks that had long grass can suffer from moderate to high intensity burns,” she said.

“These paddocks may look dark brown to black in colour a few days after the fire and may struggle to return to normal production.

“The viable plant numbers in the paddock may have been reduced and may need either oversowing or resowing.”

Ms Baker said paddocks bordered by forested areas often suffer from high to very high intensity burns, therefore looked more charred or like ash beds with very little remnant vegetation remaining. Burnt cow pats, hay or silage bales will also often look like this.

“A quick test to see whether grasses have survived is to go out into a paddock and give a tuft or two a gentle tug,” she said.

“If it stays/holds in the soil, the plant has a good chance to recover with adequate moisture. If it pulls straight out, it is dead and the paddock will need resowing.”

Another method farmers can use to test what will recover while waiting for adequate rains is to mark out a one metre square in a paddock and hand-water it with five litres of water each day – enough to maintain damp soil from day-to-day, for at least a fortnight.

“If nothing reshoots, the paddock will need to be resown,” Ms Baker said.

Native pastures will be first to respond to rain and show signs of recovery.

Ms Baker said this has been observed following the recent rains in the fire affected areas.

“Certainly, some paddocks may need a complete resow, some may just need to be oversown to thicken them back up, while others may just need time to recover,” she said.

“Most perennial grasses are quite resilient and can survive the low to moderate burns.”

Agriculture Victoria staff are on the ground in fire-affected areas to support and advise all farmers who need assistance – whether it’s animal welfare, pasture recovery – or anything agriculture related.

For more information on pasture recovery after fire or to find out about support for farmers impacted by fires go to agriculture.vic.gov.au/bushfires.

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