In mixed cropping and livestock dryland farming systems in southern Australia, grazing of cereals during their vegetative growth stages (typically during winter) can provide a valuable contribution of high-quality feed during a period of low pasture growth. This paper reports results from a series of experiments investigating the impact of defoliation on the grain production of cereals in the Eyre Peninsula region of South Australia. The comparative dry matter production and grain yield of wheat, barley and oats cultivars, with and without defoliation, at a range of growth stages were measured in four experiments over three growing seasons, two of which were water-deficient. The barley varieties evaluated produced up to twice the dry matter of the wheat or oats cultivars to the time of defoliation. Mowing following stem elongation more than halved grain yield (1.9 to 0.9 t ha–1) relative to no defoliation in an early-maturing variety, but with less reduction in later maturing varieties. Defoliation before stem elongation in two seasons of very low growing-season rainfall (<100 mm) caused no or very little loss in grain yields, which were generally <1 t ha–1. A long-season winter wheat produced similar grain yields irrespective of defoliation and timing, but with no yield advantage over the defoliated spring cereals. The results suggest opportunities to incorporate the grazing of cereals to fill a winter feed-gap in the low-rainfall zone of southern Australia.
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Vol. 66 • No. 4