80% of Katannings annual rainfall is supposed to fall between May and October. However, we’re starting to get more and more ‘unseasonal’ and ‘significant’ summer rainfall events – I’m happy to call that the effects of climate change.
We're seeing more and more of these in summer.

We’re seeing more and more of these in summer.

No doubt about it, a top-up of on-farm water supplies mid-summer is a blessing, particularly for those people with livestock who need good quality water. But animals also need food. And here’s where the difference comes in. There are (broadly), two types of pasture – annual and perennial. As the names suggest, annual pastures grow green in winter and die off to brown in summer. Perennials are green and actively growing all year round.
Annual pastures in summer.

Annual pastures in summer.

When summer rainfall occurs, annual pastures can be ‘ruined’. Like straw, once they get wet they can rot, lose their nutritional value or simply wash away because their dead shallow roots can’t hold them in the soil. The farmer may be left with very little feed for their livestock. In contrast, perennial pastures boom after summer rain. Being that they are green, they can uptake the water and GROW in the warm conditions, and their deeper living roots hold them in the soil. The amount of livestock feed available in these paddocks explodes.
Sheep grazing in lucerne, a perennial pasture

Sheep grazing in lucerne, a perennial pasture.

All farms in this district have mainly annual pastures – they can be the stubbles left from the crop, or an annual pasture phase used to rest a paddock before another season of cropping. Not all farmers have perennials, as they are costly & tricky to establish, require different management and remain in place in that paddock for up to 10 years (or more in some cases), affecting crop rotation plans. But with an increase in summer rainfall events, there may be an increasing role in perennial pastures for Katanning and further afield. We already knew they are good for tackling groundwater recharge, but maybe they’re also a tool in the climate change adaption toolkit. Integrating them into a farm system can be a challenging process, but Katanning Landcare is here to help farmers who want to make the change.