MEDIC PASTURE

Decision time in the autumn

HomeFARMING ZONES IN WANAGuide to cereals and pasture >   You Are Here

CHAPTER HEADING

SUMMARY OF CONTENTS

The first stage in convincing farmers to adopted medic pasture is to produce a simple budget. This shows the changes in costs and returns when medic is grown and the increase in profit. Some sample budget forms are provided.
If the extremes of over-grazing and under-grazing can be avoided the medic pasture has a much greater chance of success. Some simple planning to provide a rough balance between the area of proposed medic pasture and the number of sheep will make grazing management much more straightforward.
The traditional method of medic pasture establishment in the WANA region over the last 25 years and in Australia for 80 years has been to sow medic seed into a well-prepared seedbed. Medic seed can be costly and seedbed preparation and sowing is difficult for small farmers who lack the proper equipment.
Establishing medic pasture using pods is an innovation that offers many potential benefits particularly for small farmers. The method was first developed by ICARDA in Syria in the 1990's and now forms the basis of the Zaghouan rotation in Tunisia. It potential in the WANA region is considerable.
The parcour or rough grazing land occupies more than half of the cereal zone in the WANA region. Pasture establishment using seed has been difficult but pods may be a better option.
Grazing the green medic pasture is vital in make a profit, to control weeds and produce ample supplies of pods for future years. Farmers in the WANA region have developed innovations that take their grazing management to higher levels of efficiency than those achieved in Australia.
Pods provide a valuable feed supply in summer for sheep and are needed for the regeneration of the pasture in future years. Farmers must find a balance.
Measuring the pods is an important part of grazing management. We have made a separate topic so it can be printed and used as an extension guide for farmers.

YOU ARE HERE

The medic pasture has completed its first year. The pasture regenerates with the autumn rains. Farmers must decide whether to cultivate the land for cereals (the classic medic - cereal rotation) or leave it for another year or more. The options are discussed.
Making hay from medic is not as simple as it may seem. This chapter discusses the options and innovative rotations for medic hay production.
Turning the medic pasture into profits is the objective. This chapter shows how live-weights are increased, death rates reduced and lambing percentages increased. The new flock structure is more efficient and produces greater returns.
A check list of possible failures and what to do about them.
 
 

FOUR COMMON ROTATION ON THE GROUND IN THE WANA REGION

SEASON

ROTATIONS

CEREAL - FALLOW

CEREAL - MEDIC
( Traditional rotation)

CEREAL - VETCH

CEREAL - GRAIN
LEGUME.

AUTUMN

Cereal crop sown

Cereal crop sown

Cereal crop sown

Cereal crop sown

WINTER

Cereal crop grows

Cereal crop grows

Cereal crop grows

Cereal crop grows

SPRING

Cereal crop matures

Cereal crop matures

Cereal crop matures

Cereal crop matures

SUMMER

Cereal crop harvested
Stubble grazed by livestock

Cereal crop harvested
Stubble grazed by livestock

Cereal crop harvested
Stubble grazed by livestock

Cereal crop harvested
Stubble grazed by livestock

AUTUMN

Weeds germinate naturally

Medic regenerates from seed
produced 18 months earlier.
No cultivation of the land required.

Land cultivated and sown to vetch or similar forage legumes.

Land cultivated and sown to grain legume such as lentils or
chick peas.

WINTER

Weeds grazed. Low stocking rate.

Medic pasture grazed. High stocking rate.

Grazed or more often left for hay.

Grain legumes grow.

SPRING

Land cultivated for fallow

Medic grazed. Pods produced for future regeneration.

Cut for hay.

Grain legumes mature.

SUMMER

Bare soil vulnerable to erosion.

Pods and stubble grazed.

Stubble grazed.

Grain legumes harvested.

Stubble grazed.

AUTUMN

Cereal cycle begins again.

Cereal cycle begins again

Cereal cycle begins again

Cereal cycle begins again

Where are we now?

        By autumn we have reached the end of the first full season of medic pasture.

    * The medic may have been sown with seed in the autumn before. The pods were produced from the medic pasture in the spring. They were not over-grazed in the summer and have arrived at the second autumn. (see:  Sowing with seed )

     *  It may have been sown with pods two winters before. That is the pods were sown over a cereal crop. The pods carried over the summer in the cereal straw and germinated in the autumn to form a medic pasture. This pasture grew and produced pods in the spring. These were not over-grazed in summer and have arrived at their third autumn. (see: Sowing with pods )

  

Autumn rains and classical medic rotation.
 

    When the rain comes in autumn the medic pasture will regenerate from seed that was produced in the earlier spring.

Most of the seed was hard when formed in spring but a proportion has broken down due to summer heat and will germinate with rain.

For most cultivars more than half of the seed will remain hard within the pod and germinate in the following year or years. (See What cultivar? for a detailed explanation of the hard seed pattern with common medic cultivars also Training Kit No 3.4 for photos)

The farmer needs to decide what to do next?

With the classical medic cereal rotation as developed in Australia the medic pasture is cultivated, the medic is killed and the land is sown to cereals.

There are alternatives to cultivation for cereals. New rotations such as the Zaghouan 4 from Tunisia are being developed in the WANA region that reflect the different economic conditions and cultural traditions.

Second year medic.
 

    We recommend that the medic pasture is not cultivated in the autumn as in Australia but left for a second year of medic pasture. There are sound economic and psychological reasons for this decision.

    * Failure of shallow cultivation.

    In the countries that imported the fragmented medic system (all the WANA region except Libya, Iraq and Jordan see: Overview of medic ) farmers do not have the equipment for efficient (in terms of good weed kill) and low cost shallow cultivation.

They must improvise with equipment that was designed for deep ploughing.

The results have often been poor.

Medic pods have been buried too deep and the pasture fails.

In other cases the medic pods have not been buried too deep by the process of seedbed preparation but weed control in the cereal crop has been poor because the implements have failed to dig out the weeds properly.

Cereal yields after medic have at times fallen because of the weeds. Farmers have become disillusioned and have lost interest in medic.

A second year of medic pasture allows farmers to concentrate on better medic management before acquiring new skills in cultivation and sowing.

    * Better returns from medic.

    If we accept that the cereal phase can be a major cause of failure for medic rotations where no appropriate equipment for shallow cultivation is available the second medic year gives the farmer more profit.

The medic pasture will be stronger (certainly the case if seed was used in the initial establishment) and more productive.

The cost will be lower (only 100 kg per ha of phosphate).

The farmer will have the second year impact on flock efficiency (see:  Profits from livestock ).

Higher lambing percentages and lower death rates will start to feed into increased profits as well as the earlier reduced use of hay and grain and heavier lambs.

Second year medic is a better indicator of long term profit than first year medic.

    * Information overload.

    The farmer adopting the medic rotation needs to acquire many new skills.

Keeping the medic pasture for another year will postpone the need to acquire expertise in shallow cultivation for another year.

More effort can be put into achieving the maximum profit from the medic.

    * A realistic base for the third year.

    The second year regenerated medic and the second year flock production figures provide a realistic base line for future profit comparisons.

First year medic is more expensive (especially if established from seed) and because the density of plants is lower it is less productive.

Farmers can see the profits from medic in the longer term and compare them with the profits from cereals.

They may decide to postpone the cereal crop for more years.

It is not a valid long term comparison (medic pasture compared to cereals using cereal yields from the previous cereal-fallow rotation) because cereal yields after medic will rise. In the short term the farmer may decide that good medic pasture is better than their previous poor cereal crop (using the cereal-fallow rotation).

It is certainly less risky. They can experiment with the cereals slowly.
 

Third year medic
 

In the third autumn and in future seasons the farmer faces the same choice.

Do I destroy this medic pasture and sow cereals?

As the whole farm is gradually converted to medic he will face the same choice for other fields.

If he does sow cereals in rotation with medic he still faces the same choice.

Some fields will be medic regenerating in the cereal stubble.

Some will be medic regenerating from previous medic pasture.

Should he destroy it and sow cereals?

    * Economic choice

    Farmers will use the gross margin from the medic and gross margin from the cereals as one factor in their decision.

This is not straight forward:

    + Small farmers who depend on contractors for their cereals will favour medic. Their production costs for cereals are higher and their costs for livestock (assuming family labour) are lower.

    + Larger farmers with their own machinery may favour cereals.

    + Poor land or land infested with weeds with low yield potential for cereals will probably be more profitable under medic.

Cereal costs are related to area. That is cultivation, seed, fertiliser, herbicides and harvesting all relate to the area. Low cereal yields mean low profits or gross margins. Regenerating medic costs are also related to area but extremely low (just some phosphate) as there is no need to sow or cultivate.

Sheep profits or gross margins are related to feed availability per sheep not to land productivity. Profits per sheep can be high off poor land and as much per sheep as profits off good land provided an appropriate stocking rate is used. 

    * Machinery availability.

    To grow a successful cereal crop and achieve medic regeneration farmers must have machinery for shallow cultivation.

Adapting deep ploughs and other equipment is not satisfactory.

If farmers do not have the equipment or their contractor does not the decision to destroy the medic pasture for cereals may be postponed further. 

    * Rainfall and Risk
 

As well as making a long-term decision on whether to grow another medic pasture instead of sowing cereals the farmer will need to decide on cereal program based on the weather that year.

Medic pasture provides the farmer with a new flexibility and a means to evade some of the risk of drought.

With the cereal - fallow rotation the farmer must grow cereals if at all possible. The land has been fallowed in the spring and few weeds will germinate on the fallow in the autumn. If the farmer sows nothing he obtains nothing.

With medic rotations there is always a medic pasture. If rains are poor or late the medic pasture is more profitable and less risky than cereals as shown in the chart below.

OCTOBER

NOVEMBER

DECEMBER

SUMMARY OF CEREAL PROGRAM

Good rain. Start cereal sowing program

Cultivate and sow best land to cereals as first priority

Cultivate and sow poor land with lower yield potential

50 % or even more of the arable land sown to cereals.

Poor or no rain. Leave medic uncultivated.

Good rain. Start cereal sowing program

Cultivate and sow best land to cereals as first priority

Less than 50% of the arable land sown to cereals

Poor or no rain. Leave medic uncultivated.

Poor rain. Leave medic uncultivated.

Good rain. Start cereal sowing program

Considerably less than 50% of the arable land sown to cereals

Poor or no rain. Leave medic uncultivated.

Poor rain. Leave medic uncultivated.

Poor rain. Leave medic uncultivated.

Cereal program abandoned

    Decisions are based on a very simple proposition:

"If the rain does not fall the chances of a good cereal season become less"

This may seem blindingly obvious but it works as follows:

    Let us say the first good rain in a particular zone is expected in October.

Rain falls in October?

Yes/No?

    Yes - Proceed with normal cereal sowing program.

    No  - Delay cereal program. Leave medic pasture to grow if sufficient rain for germination. If no rain at all pods should not be over-grazed

Rain falls in November?

Yes/No?

    Yes - Proceed with cereals. Give priority to best land. Cultivate and sow as quickly as possible.

    No -  Delay cereal program. Leave medic.

Good rains continue in December?

Yes/No?

    Yes - Continue with cereal program on poor land.

    No -  Abandon cereal program on poor land. Profits will be lower. Expected yield will be low. Medic (still untouched) will produce better returns.

The longer the opening rains are delayed the less the chance of obtaining a good return over the cost of sowing cereals.

Late rains will mean the season is shorter and the risk of a low cereal yield is great. That is true if there is a equal chance of average rainfall falling in each month. In fact some research has shown that the chances are not equal in many Mediterranean zones. The poor rainfall in early autumn is more often followed by poor rainfall throughout the season than by good rain. There correlation is not precise and there are exception where the season recovers.

This flexible approach is one of the great advantages of the cereal-medic rotation.

With cereal-fallow the land was cultivated in the previous spring and if it is not sown it produces nothing.

Even a poor failed cereal crop is better than bare ground as it can be grazed by sheep if the crop is too poor to harvest.

If the cereal fails to make a profit over costs, the loss is less than the loss from doing nothing.

Farmers are faced with the choice of a loss or a greater loss. A really bad choice.

      * More and less than 50%
 

    It can be seen from the above chart that the area under cereals varies.

In good years it will be above 50% and in poor year less. In drought years nothing.

Broken up into land types the best land will be farmed on the basis of medic-cereal in most years.

Poor land will be medic - medic - cereal. In really good years more of this poor land will be sown to cereals - hence more than 50%. In poor years much less.
 

    * Catch up rain.

    Of course there can be late catch-up rains. The spring can be excellent and continue late. While this always happens in our dreams it rarely happens in nature. As mentioned above there is statistical evidence to show that weather patterns can set in for the whole growing season. While their cause is still not well understood nor are they easy to predict the effects can be shown in retrospect. That is poor winter and spring rain is more likely after a poor autumn rain than catch-up rain.

If good rains do come the farmer can still utilise the medic.

It may be in excess of what the livestock need. The surplus can be sold to other flock owners. It can be harvested for pods. It can be cut for hay.

    * Home consumption cereals.

    Farmers produce grain for home consumption as well as for sale.

Even small farmers in the WANA region are rarely true subsistence farmers. They have a mixed economy of production for sale and for home consumption.

These farmers will wish to continue cereal production even if medic is more profitable.

If medic pasture and livestock are more profitable they can reduce their area of cereals considerably.

If they adopt the Zaghouan rotation below they reduce their cereal area by half.

It is probable that their yield will double. In that case total cereal production from the farm will remain the same.

If the cereal is for sale half the area at double the yield will produce a much greater profit for the farmer.
 

Other rotations for cereals

    The most promising alternative is the Zaghouan 4 rotation from Zaghouan in Tunisia. It is called 4 because it takes four years to complete. This eliminates one cereal phase and introduces fallow again.

  * Season 1.

    Medic pasture established from pods sown the season before over a cereal crop. Grazed green and dry.

    * Season 2

    Medic pasture regenerates from pods produced in season 1. Grazed green and dry.

    * Season 3

    Medic pasture regenerates from pods produced in season 1 and 2. Grazed green. Farmers will benefit from green medic during winter period of acute feed shortage.

    In late winter or early spring cultivated for fallow.

This can be a high quality fallow cultivated early as the farmer has plenty of medic pasture on other parts of the farm and there is no conflict between feeding the sheep and fallowing for cereals. The priority is cereals.

    The fallow can be cultivated using conventional implements for deep ploughing. These are more expensive than shallow cultivation but they are available and farmers know how to use them.

    If there is any moisture carry over (see:  Soil Moisture with fallow) it occurs when the fallow in well prepared and early.

    Weed control will be good. Again farmers have no need for weeds as sheep feed. They have ample medic on the farm and can put all their effort into producing a high quality fallow.

    Soil fertility and available nitrogen will be high as the land has been under grazed medic for two and a half years. The fallow will be most effective in mobilising the nitrogen.

   * Season 4

Cereal sown into fallow.

Seed bed prepared early.

Cereals are sown early. Yield should be excellent due to good weed control and high soil fertility.

Medic pods sown onto cereal crop during winter or early summer onto the stubble.

The fallow does reduce the flexibility of the rotation. It has been prepared in the previous spring. If there is a drought and the cereal is not sown the cost of the fallow is a loss.

If the fallow has been prepared using the tradition deep ploughs the farmer will have lost the medic as the pods will be buried too deep to germinate in future years. He may sow the cereal the following year and broadcast pods over it.

If the fallow was prepared with scarifiers the medic pods from previous years will be near the surface. Some will germinate in Season 4. It is difficult to say whether these will be sufficient to form a dense medic pasture. At this stage the farmer has realised the benefits of a good density of medic plants and will probably broadcast pods to make sure rather than leave the land to a poor regeneration from pods that were produced two and half years earlier.

    * Season 5

    Same as Season 1 - medic regenerates from pods sown in Season 4.

    * Land use summary.

    The Zaghouan 4 rotation has approximately the following:

    50% in green and dry medic for the whole year.

    25% in medic/fallow.  Say 12.5% green medic and 12.5% fallow.

    25% in cereals and stubble.
 

Summary of decision making in autumn
  

Classic Medic - cereal rotation

Zaghouan 4 rotation

Medic pods sown over cereal crop in previous year.

First Year of medic pasture

Medic seed sown. Green medic grazed.

Pods produced. Pods contain hard seed

Medic regenerates from seed in pods in cereal stubble. Grazed as green pasture. Pods produced. Pods contain hard seed.

Second Year

Medic left as second year pasture. Greater density. More productive.

Medic cultivated and sown to cereals.

Medic cultivated and sown to cereals.

Medic left as second year pasture. greater density. More productive.

Third Year

Medic cultivated and sown to cereals. Classic medic-cereal rotation.

Medic pasture regenerates from hard seed produced in First Year

Medic pasture regenerates from hard seed produced in First Year

Medic left as pasture again.

Fallow in spring

Fourth Year

Medic pasture regenerates from hard seed produced in Second Year

Medic cultivated and sown to cereals.

Medic cultivated and sown to cereals.

Cereal crop sown on fallow. Medic pods broadcast over cereals.

More on Zaghouan rotations  Zaghouan