Pasture cropping is an emerging farming-systems practice of southern Australia, in which winter grain crops are sown into an established stand of a winter-dormant, summer-growing perennial pasture. There is a pressing need to define times, locations and climates that are suitable for pasture cropping. To evaluate effects of management interventions, agro-environment, and possible interactions on crop and pasture productivity associated with pasture cropping, an AusFarm® simulation model was built to describe a pasture-cropping system based on annual crop and subtropical grass. The model was parameterised using data from field research on pasture cropping with barley cv. Buloke and a C4 subtropical grass, Gatton panic (Panicum maximum cv. Gatton), conducted at Moora, Western Australia. The simulation was run over 50 years using the historical climate data of five southern Australian locations (Cunderdin, Jerdacuttup, Mingenew, and Moora in Western Australia, and Karoonda in South Australia). Two wheat cultivars and one barley crop were considered for each location, to examine the impact of crop phenology on this farming system.
Jerdacuttup and Moora favoured pasture cropping, with average barley-yield penalties of 10 and 12%. These locations were characterised by colder growing seasons, more plant-available water at anthesis, and more winter–spring rain. The cereal crops did not rely on stored soil moisture, growing instead on incident rain. The winter–spring growth of the Gatton panic pasture was highest at Mingenew. This generated a high yield penalty, 38% loss under pasture cropping, compared with the other locations. Changing the efficacy of a herbicide application to the pasture when the crop was sown had a strong effect on yield. Yield penalties at Moora and Mingenew reduced to 7 and 29%, respectively, when the proportion of live biomass killed by the herbicide was doubled.
Utilisation of soil moisture by the Gatton panic pasture during summer and early autumn had little effect on subsequent grain yield, whereas reduced pasture growth during the winter–spring growing period had a substantial effect on crop yield. Pasture cropping can therefore succeed in agro-climatic regions where crops can be grown on incident rain and pasture growth is suppressed through low temperature or herbicide. Perennial pasture growth should be minimised during the crop growing period through the management of crop sowing date, nitrogen fertiliser application and C4 grass suppression to minimise the effect on stored soil water at crop anthesis.