THE MARGINAL  ZONE


Pasture establishment and grazing management

    Cereal fences and other innovative ideas for the improvement of pastures in the marginal zone

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GUIDE  FOR FARMERS AND EXTENSION AGENTS

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 HIGH   RAINFALL  ZONE

  ABOVE 500 mm

CEREAL  ZONE

     500 mm  to 200 mm 

    Medic overview

Deep ploughing overview

What cultivar?

 How does your medic grow?

   MARGINAL  ZONE 
   

  250 mm  to 150 mm

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 Tenure and grazing management

RANGELAND

Below 200  mm

Rangeland overview

Action plan for flockowners

Water harvesting

 

Where are we now?

    The Marginal Zone is the fringe of the Cereal Zone and the Rangeland that is cultivated.

The land is sown almost every year to cereals.

The cereals are rarely harvested but sold instead for grazing to flockowners.

The purpose of the seeding is to establish tenure over the land and allow the pasture to be used exclusively or sold.

The system is inefficient.

The cereal is sown without fertiliser.

Fertilisers would not be justified but as the soil has low fertility the production is very low.

The cultivation and seeding is minimal but is still costly in comparison to the returns.

The rotation is destructive to the soil structure.

The constant cultivation and small return of organic matter leave the soil vulnerable to erosion by wind and water.

Pasture technology.

The most appropriate technology for the marginal zone is medic pasture.

The medic cultivars adapted to the short growing season already exist for the zone and have a proven track record of high levels of production in Libya and Iraq.

The medic pasture should be used as a permanent pasture or as a long rotation not a medic/cereal rotation as in the cereal zone.

The long rotation is perhaps one cereal crop every three or four year when seasonal conditions are particularly good.

    Advantages of medic

    The medic pasture will provide fertility to the soil.

Production will increase considerably.

A small amount of phosphate fertiliser should be applied for optimum results.

    The cost of the medic pasture is low and the productivity is high.

Once the pasture has been established the only cost is the phosphate fertiliser. This costs less than the cultivation, seeding and seed required for the cereal system.

Combined with the high production levels it is much more profitable for the farmer as well as providing protection for the soil.

    Medic pasture can be grazed within a few weeks of seeding and reaches full production in the second year when density of plants is higher.

This is a much more rapid return than fodder shrubs. It is also more profitable than natural regeneration.

The cost of natural regeneration is lower but the returns are lower for many years.

    Medic is less risky than fodder shrubs.

It can withstand poor management better and can recover. If it fails the cost of reseeding is less.

    Establishment methods

    * Using seed

    Large areas of medic pasture have been established in the marginal zone of Libya and Iraq using traditional cereal seeding equipment (modified with small seed boxes for medic seed).

These have been very successful.

The method is well suited to large projects with large scale equipment and teams of trained operators.

The method could be used by contractors for farmers of all sizes.

    * Using pods

    Medic pasture can be established using pods as in the cereals zone.

This would cost less than the purchase of seed and the use of contractors.

It may fit into the grazing management better than seeding with seed (see below).

For smaller farmers the pods can be distributed by hand but for large areas a mechanical broadcaster is needed. These need to be developed.

Grazing management

    Existing system.

    Establishing the medic pasture is the easy bit.

The technology exists.

The seed is available.

The methods are well proven.

The success rate is high.

The problems begin with grazing management.

The existing system of grazing the cereal crops is bad for medic.

The crops are grown during the winter and then utilised by large numbers of animals in a grazing spree in spring.

Translated to medic this means that the medic is under-grazed in winter.

Tall grasses can compete with the medic and reduce production by shading.

In the spring the pasture is grazed severely at the time when the green pods are forming. These are often removed. The medic will not regenerate in future years.
 

    After medic.
 

    * The first year

    It is possible to muddle through the first year of medic without major changes to the grazing management system.

This is good as it provides an incentive to change.

Frequently farmers and flockowners are asked to make disruptive changes for the sake of future benefits.

If benefits can be provided first then there is a strong incentive to keep them coming.

Autumn and winter

The medic is sown in the autumn with a small amount of cereal seed (no more than 20 kg per ha).

The medic and cereal germinate.

The cereal provides protection for the medic against grazing (see below).

The optimum grazing management is for the medic and cereal to be grazed during winter to a height of about 7 to 10 cm.

If the pasture grows tall it will shade the medic.

Production will be reduced.

For the first year tall growing pasture is unlikely to be a problem.

The cereal is too sparse at 20 kg per ha to cause serious problems for the medic.

Other grasses and weeds will not shade the medic as they have been suppressed by years of cultivation and low soil fertility.

Spring

In the spring the medic will flower and produce green pods.

This is when the large flocks enter the marginal zone from the rangeland on their journey to the cereal zone where they will eat the stubble during the summer.

Normal practice is to sell the cereal crop to the nomadic flockowners.

If this is done with the medic the sheep will eat the green pods.

They will not fall on the ground and the medic will not regenerate in future years.

If the grazing is delayed for a couple of weeks the pods will mature and drop on the ground.

The medic pasture can then be grazed.

The owner will need to monitor the pods on the ground to ensure they are not all eaten. ( Grazing dry pods and  Measuring pods

The normal practice is for the grazing to be exploited by the flockowner who has purchased the pasture and then any residue not harvested is grazed by other passing flocks.

Obviously the pods would all go under this regime.

If the farmer is unable to prevent this continued grazing of the dry pods during summer he can cultivate the dry soil and mix in the pods. It now becomes very difficult for sheep to find all the pods and enough will survive to ensure regeneration in the following season.

    * The second year

    In the autumn the medic will germinate after the first rains.

The soil has not been worked nor has anything been sown.

The traditions that protected the land from uncontrolled grazing do not apply.

There is a danger that the land will be grazed by any passing flock as a common grazing area.
 

If the pasture survives ungrazed it will grow more strongly during winter.

The increase in soil fertility and seed reserves of grasses will mean they will grow more strongly.

It now becomes more important for the pasture to be grazed to avoid weed competition taking over the medic.

If the owner now (in winter) starts grazing he has even greater problems keeping the pasture exclusive.

The ungrazed pasture (perhaps with cereals see below) could be classed as a "crop" according to tradition but once it is grazed that status is lost.

In the spring the same problem of grazing green pods occurs.

Again it can be postponed but eventually will need to be resolved. There is no reason why green pods cannot be grazed provided the grazing is controlled and a large flock does not vacuum cleaner all the medic pods off the ground.
 

In summer the dry pods can be protected again by cultivation but it is a wasteful practice that leads to soil erosion and a more permanent solution is required.

    Cereal fences and cover crops.

    Cereals are traditionally respected as a crop in spite of the fact they have really been grown as a pasture.

The farmer who cultivated and sowed the cereals does not need to guard them and can sell the grazing rights.

In Jordan cereal "fences" have been sown around medic pastures in the second year.

The farmer has sown a strip of cereal around the medic to indicate it is a cultivated piece of land. Flockowners have generally respected this.

If this is not sufficient cereals could be sown into the medic to provide protection. This is more difficult as it has to be done in such a way that it will not destroy the medic. It can be done early in autumn by sowing into the dry ground before the medic has germinated.

Alternatively it can be done after the first rains using a seeder where many of the tines have been removed and the cereal is sown at very wide spacings.

These will leave most of the medic undisturbed.

While the cereal fence is not a serious problem, the use of a complete cereal cover is a wasteful practice that should be avoided by resolving the tenure problems. It add costs and increases erosion without any benefit.

    Tenure in the longer term.

 See  Tenure in the marginal zone