Pasture dieback continues to ravage parts of Central Queensland, destroying prime native pastures, crops and forcing beef producers to change their grazing practices.
However, an Applied Horticulture Research (AHR) pasture dieback trial is exploring ways of turning dieback impacted pastures, into productive grazing land again for graziers.
Funded by Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA), two trials were established on four dieback-affected commercial properties in southern and central Queensland to test the effectiveness of a range of interventions against pasture dieback.
Each trial is assessing 14 different grasses and legume species. There is also a management options trial, with nine different treatments at both sites.
They are completely replicated trials with four replicates of each treatment or variety at each site.
Lead researcher for AHR and plant pathology scientist Dr Naomi Diplock has been studying pasture dieback for over 18 months.
Dr Diplock said there are two sets of trials and they replicated in four locations at Jambin, Theodore Biggenden, Gaeta near Gin Gin.
"One of the trials is looking at 14 to 15 different varieties of grass species and how they tolerate dieback or how susceptible they are to dieback," she said.
"While the management trial is looking at different pasture mixes, with a variety of pasture grasses and legume mixes, and re sowing into dieback affected land.
"We're hoping to get out of those trials some varieties that could be used as alternative pasture species.
"The four trials were all set up in paddocks with severe dieback at the time. They were basically grey and dusty and had mealy bugs crawling up our legs when we picked out the sights.
"We've been working with graziers and they've been hosting the trials."
Each trial plot is trialing a mix of pasture grasses, and legume species including progardes, desmanthus, lab lab, butterfly pea, stylo and cowpea.
A field walk was recently hosted by Geoff Maynard and Chris Roffey at Jambin and Gaeta, giving visitors the opportunity to view and discuss the results of the pasture dieback trials one year after establishment.
"We had close to 30 people attend and we walked through and had a look at the trials of both the variety trials and the management trial," Dr Diplock said.
"We walked through with the graziers and we had a look at the results of the trials so far and some of them are showing promise.
"It still early days, we need the trials to run for a number of years to really have a definite, this is what you can do against dieback, but some of the trial results are showing promise."
Dr Diplock said the trials are performing well above expectations.
"We've chosen different soil types, and different climates to get that comparison because the answer in one location might not be the answer in another location because we need different pasture species in different locations," she said.
QUT Associate professor Caroline Hauxwell, also attended the field day, to discuss the role of the mealybug in dieback and its seasonal biology, how to look for and monitor them.
Geoff and Alison Maynard, along with their five children, run a genetics operation across five properties totalling 10,500 hectares in the Callide Valley, breeding Senepol and Belmont Red bulls.
Of their 10,500ha, almost half of it is forest country at Mt Eugene, Jambin, and in 2017, dieback had started affecting their seca stylo - the main legume on their Jambin beef property.
Since then, Geoff found it in the eurocloa, American buffel, green panic, and Rhodes grasses - and he said the only grass to escape the disease was native blue grass.
The Maynards recently hosted a pasture dieback trial on their beef property at Mt Eugene, for local landholders in the region to view their trial results.
Geoff said he received very positive feedback from the attendees.
"There's no silver bullet or a real magic fix to eliminating dieback, but adding legumes or turning to alternative grasses that are more susceptible than others could help graziers in promoting healthy pastures," Mr Maynard said.
"The field day certainly pointed to ways that producers might be able to minimize the effect on their operations."
Mr Maynard said the dieback isn't as bad as other properties in the region.
"It's not terribly bad at this stage. We haven't had it as bad as other people. Once you get out to some of that scrub country, large pastoral acreages have died and we're lucky that we're not at that level," he said.
Mr Maynard said their property received good rainfall over the summer, boosting growth of species in their trial plot.
"There was a patch of signal grass which is going extremely well, but we also did have a very good rain from October into the New Year," he said.
"We had over just over 400 millimetres of rain and the bulk of the grasses there and the legumes have been going very well..
"Hopefully in 12 months time we can come back and see how those plots are going two years on."
Prior to Christmas 2021, producers have mapped over 22 pasture dieback affected properties - mainly from Central Highlands, Banana, North Burnett and Toowoomba local government areas according to Ag Force.
Producers have reported a high incidence of pasture dieback around the Taroom and Theodore regions, but Ag Force is yet to get those logged onto the pasture dieback web map.
In the next few weeks, AgForce will be sending out a reminder along with the map weblink again, to gain further awareness of emerging dieback areas this summer.
Users of the crowdsource map can view other mapped pasture dieback areas but contact details will be securely stored by AgForce.
The map can be viewed here.
Want daily news highlights delivered to your inbox? Sign up to the Queensland Country Life newsletter below.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.