Managing Lolium perenne L. (perennial ryegrass) in a sub-tropical environment in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
Lolium perenne L. (perennial ryegrass) generally fails to persist under the sub-tropical cpnditions of South Africa. Furthermore, little research data are available on how to manage this species locally. This study was designed to identify the management options, particularly with r espect to grazing defoliation, which would help enhance the longevity of perennial ryegrass pastures. This was addressed by: 1) reviewing on-farm management practices of perennial ryegrass in KwaZulu-Natal; 2) conducting a detailed two-year field study of the effects of grazing frequency (HF, MF and LF = high, medium and low frequency, respectively) and intensity (HI, MI and LI = high, medium and low intensity, respectively), rotationally applied with the addition of a continuous grazing treatment (CG), on parameters linked to persistency. tiller population dynamics, dry matter These included: (DM) yield and quality, perennial ryegrass vigour, weed invasion and root development; and 3) examining effects of different levels of applied nitrogen (N) during the establishment year on various parameters linked to persistency. These included: tiller population densities, DM yield and quality, perennial ryegrass vigour, weed invasion and root development. The review of on-farm management practices of perennial ryegrass growers in KwaZulu-Natal revealed that reasonably high rates of N application (e.g. 350 and 250 kg N ha¯¹ a¯¹ to perennial ryegrass as pure and clover-based stands, respectively) are important for pasture survival. However, a consistent distribution of the applied N is even more important (i. e. at least seven split applications of N onto pure stands of perennial ryegrass and five onto perennial ryegrass-clover). In terms of grazing management, the period of absence of animals from the pasture during summer was identified as the most important grazing variable affecting pasture survival (i.e. ≥ 21 days). Also, the length of the period of occupation by animals should be as short as possible, particularly during summer (i. e. ≤ 3 days). Paying careful attention to summer irrigation is also an important variable contributing to pasture survival. Grazing intensity was not highlighted as an important contributor to pasture survival. In terms of tillering potential, DM yield and quality (cellulose dry matter disappearance and herbage N) and perennial ryegrass vigour, perennial ryegrass followed definite seasonal trends. These were highest during autumn and spring and were lowest during the mid to late summer period. Perennial ryegrass was most susceptible to general sward degradation through poor management during the mid to late summer period when the danger from weed invasion is greatest and its growth potential, vigour and tillering abilities are lowest within these seasonal periods, grazing defoliation produced marked effects. In terms of tiller survival, DM yield, plant vigour, reduced weed invasion and root production, treatments incorporating low frequency grazing (e.g. LFLI and LFHI) generally out-performed (P≤0.05) those incorporating high frequency grazing, irrespective of the intensity (e.g. HFHI, HFLI, and continuous grazing (CG)). The defoliation treatment incorporating medium frequency and intensity (MFMI) (currently the recommended defoliation strategy for perennial ryegrass) was also out-performed in many instances (P~0.05) by the low frequency treatments (e.g. LFHI and LFLI) . During the establishment year, increasing levels of applied N increased (P≤O. 05) perennial ryegrass DM yields and herbage quality. Models predicting the response of DM yield and quality to applied N suggest linear responses up to 720 kg N ha¯¹ a¯¹. Further refinement of such models and the inclusion of animal production parameters is recommended. Maximum (P≤0.05) tiller population densities occurred at applied N levels of 480 kg ha¯¹ a¯¹. Perennial ryegrass vigour increased (P≤O. 05) with increasing levels of applied N up to 480 kg h¯¹ a¯¹, but individual tiller vigour decreased. Increasing levels of applied N up to 360 kg ha¯¹ a¯¹ suppressed (P≤O. 05) weed tiller densities. Increasing levels of applied N (up to 600 kg h¯¹) increased (P≤O. 05) the root organic matter (OM) per unit volume of soil in the top 5 cm of the soil and decreased root OM per unit volume in the 10 - 20 cm soil depth category.