ABOUT ROSS WATSON

PASTURE IMPROVEMENT SPECIALISTS

Ross Watson Agriculture P/L is one of Australia’s leading independent providers of pasture agronomy advice.

Our point of difference is our extensive and independent technical agronomy knowledge, combined with our extensive “hands-on” field experience with all facets of pasture agronomy and management . We do “walk the talk” every day. We have over 30 years experience in agronomy consulting, which include all facets of pasture improvement. From paddock preparation, pasture establishment techniques such as conventional seedbeds, direct drilling and aerial spray-sow pastures, to pasture species selection,  soil nutrient and fertility management, fertiliser selection and programs, weed control, and grazing management.

We are the recognised specialists in pasture establishment, management and development programs. We are often engaged to help clients, both small and large, beef cattle, thoroughbred horses, dairy farms and mixed crop and livestock operations to develop detailed farm development programs which are appropriate for the various agricultural land classes throughout every farm.

Over the last 20 years Ross Watson Agriculture has been become recognised within the Australian Thoroughbred Industry as the leading equine pasture agronomist, consulting to all the major thoroughbred studs and being the agronomist responsible for the pasture redevelopment on many of the leading established studs as well as being engaged to design and implement the pasture and farm development of many new stud farms throughout Australia.

We pride ourselves on providing personalised, one on one, pasture agronomy advice to a full range of clients, such as lifestyle properties, broadacre primary producers, as well as large corporate clients throughout Australia as well as internationally. Key client service areas include, the Hunter Region, Northern, Central and Southern Tablelands and Slopes regions of NSW. We have been engaged to provide pasture agronomy advice for specific clients in Victoria , South Australia, King Island and South East Queensland.

We also consult to various government agencies, industry groups, farmer interest groups and corporate agribusinesses. We have also been regularly engaged to undertake independent research and development work in pasture species evaluation, fertiliser product evaluation and the development and evaluation of herbicide products for some of the Australia’s leading agribusiness’.

Our other services include, property assessment, farm planning, farm budgeting and benchmarking, legal support and expert opinions, research and development of agricultural products, working with government agencies on agricultural and land management issues.

We can also provide you with the full range of farm contracting services to establish and maintain your pastures.

We do “walk the talk” everyday !

Career Background.

Ross Watson commenced his agronomy consulting career in 1980, when his was appointed as the District Agronomist with NSW Agriculture at Scone , in the Upper Hunter Region of NSW. He quickly became recognised and respected by famers and the ag-industry for his knowledge and advisory skills in many areas of pasture and forage crop agronomy , farm development programs and  pasture / woody weed control. He excelled in his work developing new pasture establishment methods such as aerial-spray sow and direct drill pasture improvement programs. He authored many leading and popular extension and advisory publications, on pastures, fertiliser and weed control, while in the position as District Agronomist at Scone, many of which are still referenced and used today. In his service at Scone , Ross was the longest serving Agronomist ever to occupy that position , (which still stands), with 16 years of exceptional service until 1996. There is not many farms that he has not been on in the Upper Hunter. He loved his time in that position and had established a strong following within the farming community in this Region as well as central and Northern NSW.

In 1996 he formed Ross Watson Agriculture to service clients in the Upper Hunter as well as other areas of  NSW and Interstate. This was the first agronomy consulting business of its type in the Region at the time. Ross Watson Agriculture is a long standing and respected agronomy consulting business today.

Today he continues to offer that experienced, professional and independent pasture agronomy advice that producers have come to trust and admire.

He has always been “a leader in his field” and his company continues to deliver this level of service to his clients !

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Here is the historical Annual Rainfall for Scone NSW from 1900 to 2018.
I have prepared a graph showing the years with more or less than 450 mm per annum. Most of our severe droughts recorded less than 450 mm. It clearly shows up all the well known drought years. Obviously the extreme droughts were 350-400 mm per annum range , like is showing for 2017-2018 with the two last red columns.

A year with less than 450 mm will show as a RED column, while those years with more 450 mm as BLUE years.

We have experienced 20 years with less than 450 mm in the last 118 years . So 17% of years in the last 118 years were severe drought years. On the positive side we can expect more 450 mm per annum in 83% of years !

There were only 2 occasions in the last 118 years where we experience 2 consecutive years of less than 450 mm , that was in 1918+1919 , combined total rain 704 mm for this period and now 2017+2018 with a combined total of just 764 mm, virtually 100 years apart. The combination of 2 consecutive years of severe drought really hurts. There were several other periods with very low rainfall which also developed drought conditions.

There is great value in studying our past climate. I acknowledge it is only 118 years of data.
There are some valuable lessons from this graph. These patterns will be applicable to many districts in central and northern NSW.

However, from these graphs for Scone NSW , the following points should be noted.

*Our rainfall is highly variable. As Dorothea Mackellar says “ A land of droughts and flooding rains ! “

* Moderate to Severe droughts are a regular but not dominate feature of our climate, over the last 100 years.

*Our current drought from 2017 to date, is certainly amongst the worst in the last 118 years.

* Over the last 100+ years , most severe droughts appear to run for 1-2 consecutive years but can run for 5-10 years periods, with other lower rainfall periods around them.

* Most of our severe drought periods of 1-2 years, in RED were soon followed by average to above average rainfall year in BLUE. Maybe we will see some relief soon.

*If you look at the very low rainfall period that persisted from 1935-1941 where rainfall was around 450 mm per annum for 7 consecutive years ! Although the probability of several consecutive years (5 years+) of severe drought like conditions , in the last 100 years is very low, we need to acknowledge , it is possible and has happened before .

* If you look at this long term rainfall graph it is very clear, that the period of say 1900 to 1950s was a much drier period than what recent and current generations of farmers have experienced in the last 70 year period. Note the greater frequency of drier periods in RED and the lower peak rainfall events in BLUE ,in the early part of this century. Climatic conditions in the early 1900-1950s were much drier and had a much lower cumulative rainfall pattern, then what has occurred in the more recent 60 years. Our climate of recent times, looks more like what was occurring in the early part of this century. A sobering fact.

* If you look at the peak rainfall events in the BLUE columns, across the table you will note there has been a decline in the frequency of high rainfall/wet years since the very wet times of the 1950s. BUT our annual rainfall events and our total cumulative rainfall , over more recent decades is still better than what was experienced in the 1900-1950 period ! Our climate runs in major cycles. Something to think about !

* One area of concern is that much of our foundation agricultural and pasture research, and our paradigm of agricultural systems for Australia was developed over the last 60 years or so , when our rainfall pattern was better than previous known events. Although it does not seem like it, we have experienced generally a better run of rainfall years in recent decades, than what low rainfall periods Australia is capable of experiencing!

Has these more recent decades of better cumulative rainfall, framed or coloured our view of what we think our climate, water resources, land management as well as what our agricultural and pastoral systems should be ??
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The lack of ground cover on many pasture paddocks due to continued grazing and overgrazing through this extended drought is going to extend many producers drought pain, even when it does rain. Preserving groundcover above 70 % should be one of your drought management policies.

For producers that have some very bare, hard surface pasture paddocks now, or your dedicated sacrifice paddocks, it might be advisable to consider a shallow working with the contour with a narrow tyned cultivator or tyned direct drill seeder. Not applicable to all situations, but may be a benefit to many areas I am seeing. This operation creates some mild surface roughness to slow rainfall runoff, allow better water infiltration and collect surface silt movement. The primary goal is to improve rainfall harvesting in your paddock profile for the surviving pastures or oversown pasture seeds to use during its recovery phase.

The two photos are two identical paddocks, same management, side by side with same slope, same lack of groundcover, same aspect. One untreated, and one treated with narrow tyned cultivator last week before the 25 mm storm rain event on the weekend.

The first picture is the untreated paddock in its overgrazed, bare, drought state after this weekend rain. Note the serious surface soil wash and obvious rainfall runoff/loss. Unfortunately, but to be expected, there was very little water infiltration into the soil surface. Surface soil loss represents a major loss of nutrients and organic matter. 1 mm of topsoil loss over 1 hectare is 10 tonne of soil !! Topsoil loss won't be replaced in our life time.

The second photo shows the huge benefit of implementing some simple soil protection strategies , with narrow tyned cultivator when there is no natural ground cover. Note no wash marks, no soil loss, minimal water loss off paddock , much better and deeper water infiltration very evident, even after this storm.

Drought recovery will be about effective rainfall harvesting. Pastures which have been carefully managed with strong ground cover will recover quicker, be more productive, be stronger and be healthier.
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Stones and rocks on hay or silage making paddocks don't mix , as we all know !! Now might be the time to clean up those paddocks (like our Farm Services Team are doing today) that have more stone than is desired for hay or silage work. Having clean paddocks that can be cut for hay or silage this year could be a major plus given depleted stocks of conserved feed on farm and throughout much of eastern Australia now. Hay will remain a high value product for a while, given this ongoing drought and high demand. Being able to sow a crop in autumn to graze in winter and then maybe make silage or hay in spring could be a high profit strategy. ... See MoreSee Less

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Our Farm Services Team had the pleasure this week of working with Martin and Kriston Feehan to commence their farm development program just outside Scone. Our first stage this week was to cultivate and clean up the surface stone, with our Schulte Rock clearing gear. Hundreds of tonnes of stone were cleaned up leaving these quality basalt soils, smooth and clean in readiness for their future pasture program. ... See MoreSee Less

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March is our preferred month for sowing early winter grazing crops such as Oats, Winter Wheat and forage grasses. . Some clients have asked, "What is the probabilities of various rain amounts in March?" We will be using this information to make decisions on time of sowing and the chances of decent rain to get enough moisture into our fallows, before sowing.
The following table provides you with the probabilities of various amounts of rain in the first half , second half and over the whole month of March , based on the last 120 years data. You can assess your fallows and develop your sowing strategy, for this year. The chances of decent sowing rain events in March are relatively low, but there is a chance, as seen in Table above. With NO subsoil moisture in most fallows, this year, the risks of sowing early or dry sowing are relatively high. Some rainfall models are indicating a good chance of decent rain events in March. Maybe this March will go "rogue" and RAIN ! As previously posted you need to be "Rain Ready"
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