NGRG Chairperson: Introducing Chris Penfold
I grew up on a mixed broadacre farm at Tumby Bay, but moved from there in 1986 to study at Roseworthy College. Following my initial degree, I was successful in attracting seed-funding for an investigation of organic, biodynamic, integrated and conventional farming practices on a 16 ha site at the college. The paddock was quickly fenced internally and a shelter/fodder belt was planted around the circumference. Remarkably, external funding was maintained on the trial for 8 years, and it was the basis for a Masters degree.
From there, I have done other broadacre research with piggery effluent as a fertiliser, and managed the field operations of a large project that investigated nitrogen cycling through different management regimes.
In 2000, I was encouraged to apply for funding to investigate non-chemical weed control options in viticulture. This started a very enjoyable period of work in the grape-growing sector which led to the investigation of native species as cover crops for the mid-rows of vineyards. The work showed that, so long as the vines are well established when the grass is sown, wallaby grass (Austrodanthonia richardsonii) appeared to fit very well into the grape-growing system in areas such as the Barossa and Coonawarra. Wallaby grass competed wonderfully well with weeds over the spring and summer periods, looked great and provided habitat for enhancing invertebrate biodiversity. Prostrate saltbushs (Atriplex semibaccata and Enchylaena tomentosa prostrate form) on the other hand worked really well in the dry inland environments, but were much too competitive with the vines in areas such as the Barossa.
That was my introduction to native grasses. Fortunately, there is sustained interest within the viticulture community for their inclusion within vineyards. The Barossa has led the way with the Building Resilient Landscapes program, which continues to display improved management practices such as perennial species within and surrounding the vineyards. Each year I have sown another hectare or two of commercial vineyard to wallaby grass, as growers ease themselves in to the use of native perennials.
There are lots of great people within the NGRG who are quite passionate about their local environment. I think that it will be wonderful to work with them while learning and sharing experiences. I’m confident that the NGRG will continue to play a strong supportive role in creating community awareness of the benefits of native grasses in a healthy, diverse landscape. To do so, the group will have to remain relevant to current members while encouraging others to join. As a tool for information dissemination, the e-Newsletter will be a great start and, when linked to the redeveloped web-site (a work in progress), will be a tremendous source of information for members and the broader community.
Fortunately for all of us, most of the committee from last year has stayed on for another year. Amongst them is a collective wealth of botanical, ecological, biophysical and practical knowledge on native grasses. I’m looking forward to working with the committee to further encourage the acceptance and adoption of native grasses throughout our urban and farming landscapes.
I would also like to hear of members’ experiences with native grasses and what they would like to gain from their membership. Please email me at email@example.com with any comments you may like to make.