James Dillon was not aware he would face a problem with slugs, snails and beetles, when he become a share farmer at Ruby, in South Gippsland, Victoria, in 2019.
He first noticed some problems when flocks of birds visited in 2020 and his pasture became sparse in newly sown paddocks. But it wasn't the birds causing the sparse pasture.
The first pest Mr Dillon identified on the pastures was slugs and snails. Then it was symphilids, cockchafers and blackheaded beetles. Some of the same paddocks have been affected each time.
"Anything I sowed in autumn 2020 was affected by slugs and snails, attacking the new leaf growth," Mr Dillon said.
"I tried to spring-sow calving paddocks in October 2020," Mr Dillon said. "I needed to spray an insecticide to kill the grubs, before I could resow the paddocks."
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It's now become his standard practice to broadcast an insecticide when sowing ryegrass in each renovated paddock on the rotation. He grows Expo perennial ryegrass.
"I tried to sow without an insecticide last autumn, the pasture was eaten out again," Mr Dillon said.
The flocks of birds on his hill paddocks were the first indication there was something wrong in 2021, followed by large bare patches of ground.
"When I went to investigate, I found the beetles were needling away in the pasture," Mr Dillon said.
Fortunately, his pasture contractor had experience with blackheaded beetle and cockchafer infestations on other farms, so was able to tell him what was happening. His neighbour also knew there'd been a history of similar infestations in the district. Mr Dillon contacted his agronomist for advice.
"It's one of those things that occurs depending on weather conditions and the time of year," Mr Dillon said.
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When it comes to the cockchafer, which infested 25ha of country, he resowed perennial ryegrass without spraying. After blackheaded beetle infestation in another 25ha, he has oversown also with perennial ryegrass.
He is relying on observation, paddock preparation and timing to try and offset using too many commercial products to kill the insects.
"I'm not happy about using sprays and baits, because there's also lots of healthy bugs in the soil," Mr Dillon said.
"When you're killing cockchafer and black beetle, you're killing everything, and there's good insects in the soil."
He's sowed 10ha this autumn to see if the cockchafers have returned.
Mr Dillon brought his 300-head split-calving herd of Holsteins, Ayrshires, Aussie Reds, Jerseys and cross-bred milking cows with him into the 50:50 sharefarming agreement with Michael Malone.
Ruby is in the high-rainfall zone of South Gippsland and has steep hills. Mr Dillon calves down one-third of the herd in autumn, mid-March to the end of April, and two-thirds in spring, from mid-July to mid-September.
A nitrogen-phosphorous-potassium fertiliser goes out in autumn and spring, and urea is spread in paddocks following the cows. The three effluent ponds are emptied onto surrounding paddocks.
Hay and silage are usually harvested from late September.
Because of last year's wet spring, production was down leading into summer, partly because of pasture quality.
"Production is down on previous years; the wet spring weather seemed to knock the cows around and the grass quality was affected," Mr Dillon said.
"Spring's fresh-in-milk cows were down two litres per day from their usual peak. Production has been down 500 litres/cow over summer."
Silage harvest didn't begin until the end of October and most of the 850 wrapped rolled bales were harvested in November.
"That's a month later than normal," Mr Dillon said. "I'm also down about 100 rolls."
Fortunately, the preceding outstanding harvest seasons meant he already had several hundred rolls of silage already in stock. He also had an abundance of silage in 2020 and 2021.
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