Don't panic, it's only grass
The impressive performance of panic grass on sandy soils in the Northern Agricultural Region (NAR) and on the south coast has highlighted that it should be trialed by livestock producers interested in increasing the availability of out of season feed to reduce their reliance on supplementary feed and increasing stocking rates.
Characteristics and growing conditions
Panic grass is a highly palatable, leafy, sub-tropical bunch grass that is drought tolerant and responds rapidly to rain following a dry spell.
It has demonstrated very good persistence and biomass production on sandy soils, including deep pale sands but does not tolerate waterlogging or flooding.
It is readily eaten by cattle and sheep and often preferentially grazed.
Panic has been widely sown in the NAR with more than 50 000ha sown, while on the south coast there are relatively few commercial paddocks, but the potential area is more than 500 000ha.
Panic grass responds rapidly to out-of-season rainfall including light showers of rain.
When the prevailing weather conditions in early winter are mild it can provide modest growth however panic becomes dormant once conditions become cold.
It is one of the first sub-tropical grasses to start growing in spring when the temperatures increase and will continue to grow until soil moisture is depleted.
It is suited to regions that receive more than 425mm of annual rainfall and soils that are well drained.
It typically has a dry matter digestibility of 65%, but can go as high as 72%.
Crude protein varies but on average is 11%.
As a consequence it will maintain stock or provide modest weight gains.
All sub-tropical grasses, including panic grass, are established in spring, while it is getting too late to sow in the NAR this year the sowing window for the south coast is 7 September to 15 October and soils currently have sufficient moisture to ensure success (refer to the Seasonal climate information page on the department’s website).
When planning to establish a sub-tropical grass do not forget the following rules:
- plan ahead
- species selection
- seed quality
- pre-sowing weed control
- sowing time
- machinery setup
- sowing rate and depth
- sowing speed
- post-seeding checks
- grazing management.
These are expanded on in a sub-tropical grass establishment article on the department’s website.
Panic grass has a much smaller seed than kikuyu and as a result needs to be sown at a depth of 5-10mm.
Check seed quality as it can have post-harvest seed dormancy – ask for a Seed Certificate – ‘fresh seed’ = dormant seed.
There are three main commercial varieties of panic grass available, including two recently released varieties especially developed for southern Australia, Megamax™059 and Megamax™049.
Megamax™059 is a new variety of panic grass which was selected for superior growth characteristics including increased production, high persistence and cool season tolerance in comparison to other commercial sub-tropical grass cultivars.
It is a medium to large panic grass, medium-leafed with a similar tiller density to Gatton panic.
In Western Australia Megamax™059 has demonstrated very good persistence and biomass production. Limited seed is available in 2017.
Megamax™049 is a new variety of panic grass selected for superior growth characteristics including increased production, high persistence and cool season tolerance in comparison to other commercial sub-tropical grass cultivars.
It is a short to medium panic, the foliage is soft and fine-leafed with excellent leafiness and a medium to high tiller density.
It is early flowering with fine stems. In WA Megamax™049 has demonstrated excellent persistence and very good biomass production. No seed is available in 2017.
Gatton panic is a robust, tufted grass that is agronomically similar to green panic, slightly less drought-tolerant and more sensitive to frosts, but superior on low fertility soils.
Gatton panic has longer and broader leaves than green panic, greener foliage and often contains anthocyanins (purple pigmentation) near the base of the stems.
Companion legumes for panic grass, depending on soil type, include French and yellow serradella on sands and sub clover on the better soils.
If you run livestock on the south coast and have sandy soils, maybe give panic grass a go this spring. For producers in the NAR it’s time to start planning for next year.
For more information contact Paul Sanford, Senior Research Officer, Albany, on +61 (0) 8 9892 8475.
The development of the new Megamax panic grasses was co-funded by the department, the Future Farm Industries Cooperative Research Centre, Meat and Livestock Australia and NSW Department of Primary Industries with commercialisation through Heritage Seeds. Agronomic research on panic grass was funded by the department and MLA.