Mitchell grass expert expects 25pc drought survival

Mitchell grass expert expects 25pc drought survival

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Dave Phelps, Department of Agriculture, Longreach outlines the characteristics of Mitchell grass that may help it survive the severe drought conditions of western Queensland.

Dave Phelps, Department of Agriculture, Longreach outlines the characteristics of Mitchell grass that may help it survive the severe drought conditions of western Queensland.

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Mitchell grass specialist Dave Phelps has hopeful news for the many landholders in western Queensland.

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Mitchell grass specialist Dave Phelps has hopeful news for the many landholders in western Queensland watching grass stubble being sucked progressively drier who are questioning whether their vegetation is ever likely to return.

The region has consistently been in the worst five to 10 per cent of years for rainfall received for the last three years when rolling averages are calculated, and paddocks have taken on a dull grey tinge.

Mr Phelps told Queensland Weed Symposium field trip participants in Longreach last week that Mitchell grass goes dormant to cope with such extreme conditions.

"Mitchell grass emerged around five million years ago and it's had plenty of droughts in that time," he said.

"Its tap root keeps it alive in dry times and keeps things ticking over."

He expected that a quarter of the plants in most paddocks would

survive the drought.

The way drought-breaking rain falls is going to have a big bearing on regrowth, according to Mr Phelps.

"You need 30 to 40 inches [762 to 1016mm] to return it to productivity," he said.

"No-one can predict how long that will take."

He said he had seen it happen in one summer at Kynuna, when there was steady rain every six weeks.

"You only get that once a century," he said.

"It generally takes two to three wet seasons."

Mr Phelps said the Mitchell grass would come back but it was going to be a very slow road to recovery for graziers in the west.

"And it has implications for how much money they have to spend on weed control."

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