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Pasture Grasses

Shorn Merino wethers grazing phalaris-based pasture, Victoria.

Pasture Grasses

Producing wool with good staple strength, low vegetable fault and high yield relies on a year-round supply of quality pasture.

Australian woolgrowers carefully manage pasture persistence and productivity to maximize the welfare and genetic potential of wool sheep, protect the resource base and generate profit.

The wool industry has long invested in the selection, breeding and commercialization of a range of high value pasture grasses and legumes. These pasture species can lift feedbase quality and productivity, build soil carbon stores and protect natural resources.

However, pasture establishment can be expensive. Choosing the right pasture mix for the enterprise and location is essential, particularly in a more variable climate.

AWI invests in pasture breeding, selection and commercialisation to make available to woolgrowers a suite of high performance pasture legumes and grasses that support profitable, sustainable wool production.

Introduced and native perennial grasses provide good options for woolgrowers wanting to grow a year-round supply of feed and protect natural resources.


 Phalaris is the most widely-sown, temperate perennial grass in the inland high-rainfall zone and adjacent cropping areas in southern Australia. Over the last 100 years, as least 2.5 million hectares were sown to phalaris.

AWI and the CSIRO bred and released the widely sown phalaris cultivars, Atlas PG, Australian II, Holdfast and Landmaster, and recently developed three new phalaris cultivars:

  • Holdfast GT, a general-purpose, winter-active cultivar more persistent under heavy grazing pressure in areas where phalaris is widely sown.
  • Advanced AT, an aluminium-tolerant cultivar for acid soils.
  • A heat tolerant cultivar adapted to the NSW north-west slopes.
Phalaris heads.

Benefits of New Phalaris Cultivars

Holdfast GT is a winter-active cultivar with improved persistence under grazing. It combines the grazing tolerance of Australian phalaris with the high productivity of winter-active cultivars. Holdfast GT could extend the area sown to phalaris by 0.5-1.0 million hectares.

Advanced AT is a new aluminium tolerant cultivar bred for more reliable establishment of phalaris-based pastures on 0.3 million hectares of southern Australian acid soils.

A heat tolerant cultivar for the north-west slopes of NSW is projected to provide high quality forage to help fill the severe winter feed gap on 0.35 million hectares in this region.

Phalaris toxicity and phalaris staggers can affect sheep grazing short, frosted or drought-affected phalaris regrowth.  The greatest risk is when sheep eat large amounts of toxic herbage quickly, particularly in autumn or early winter.

Minimise problems by orally administering cobalt bullets to sheep before stocking the paddock, and not introducing hungry stock to lush, green phalaris-based pastures.

Phalaris plant with seed heads.

Selecting Pasture Cultivars

Pastures Australia developed Pasture picker, an on-line tool for woolgrowers and other producers seeking independent information on pasture species, management and agronomy across a range of environments.  Pastures Australia aimed to lift returns from pastures in Australian farming systems by coordinating pasture investments by AWI, Meat & Livestock Australia, the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation and the Grains Research and Development Corporation.

Further Information

How to make money out of grass (PDF 4.76Mb) - a guide to grazing management of native pastures in the Northern Agricultural Districts of South Australia.

Phalaris development program - the AWI-funded CSIRO program emphasised the importance of phalaris persistence for long-term economic and environmental returns from perennial pastures.

Improved Perennial Grasses Project - developing a more heat tolerant phalaris cultivar for the north-west slopes of NSW. For more information, visit the Future Farm Industries CRC.

Pasture Picker - an on-line tool for woolgrowers and other producers seeking independent information on pasture species, management and agronomy across a range of environments. Visit: and select the "Pasture Picker" tab.