Feb 2021

Why Pasture Diversity?

Lets talk about… Pasture Diversity

What does it mean?

Why is it done?

What are the options?


So what is pasture diversity?

Well, here’s one thing to help understand the concept:

  • Around 20 years ago, senior metro-ologist Jim Salinger stated – we were heading into a climate cycle that would see more weather extremes occurring within a season, but ultimately the only certainty we could bank on was uncertainty.
  • His suggestion to the farming sector was to ensure our production systems are more flexible

Not rocket science… but we have proven his theory right.

What we termed “a normal season” has become a rarity.


So, if pasture persistence is becoming more of a challenge, I wonder if this change may have an influence?


Flexibility within your pasture should include a carefully designed diversity of plant species.

“Carefully designed” means purposefully looking at range of suitable species for any given property (not just throwing in a whole heap of random species and seeing what survives).

So we need to take account of:

  • soil types
  • fertility
  • management

… and companion species characteristics including:

  • seed size/sowing rate
  • growth habit
  • seasonal vigour
  • root structure/root mass
  • pest resistance
  • weed control… just to name a few


GREAT! So what are the options?

Well, let’s look at typical pasture blend considerations and a few questions around diversity…



  • Density – considering soil types, should you be heading for dense tillered diploids?
    • Better ground cover in summer
    • Better soil protection in winter
    • Less weed competition
  • Quality – maybe consider adding a little higher ME tetraploid under protection of a diploid.


  • Flush – early or late? Or maybe you could spread flush out by mixing heading dates with low aftermath seedhead cultivars (ask us more about this)


  • Insect protection – Never ignore ASW (Argentine Stem Weevil) because you can’t see it! (Did you know it’s still NZ’s biggest pasture pest)
    • Ensure you use the best endophyte and its alive! (more info in upcoming article)
  • Hybrids/Italians/Annuals (short term grasses) – General rule, keep them out of perennial pastures until the final years of their life… if at all. 
    • These high powered grasses will look great in the first autumn/winter only 
    • They make life miserable for a new pasture, out compete all winter, then leave massive gaps in summer when they disappear. 
    • And if nil endophyte, will have worked like a magnet to the insect population.

Companion species:

  • Cocksfoot – Put away prejudices and give this a look in. 
    • Extensive breeding has increased palatability, and softened leaf so its grazed evenly with ryegrass.
    • Do you think other plants in the sward will benefit from impressive root depth bringing a new level of nutrient and moisture to the surface? 
    • Of interest, Cocksfoot leaps into action as ryegrass quality plummets in summer, and a new quality testing method has shown Cocksfoot ME to be much higher than we always thought.
    • BUT don’t overdo it, you still need ryegrass for spring growth!
  • Phalaris
    • Long known to produce toxins to certain insect families and being investigated against more!
    • Another tool in toolbox against insects
  • Prairie Grass/Timothy – If your situation could benefit, we’ll suggest it.
    • Very specific to certain soil types, climates, and requirements.
  • White Clover
    • Powerhouse for any perennial pasture, providing good spread of nutrient.
    • For persistence, ensure high stolon density cultivars – lots of branches
    • Do we ever leave clover long enough for flowers to develop viable seed?  Short answer no. 
    • White clover is technically an annual, so keep dropping seed with fert. 
  • Red Clover
    • Add 3-8kg, it’s a 3-4 year plant, but continue to add with white clover
    • This herb-like plant packs serious quality-punch summer/autumn with its tap root, (when ryegrass quality plummets) and its easier to control weeds than with herbs. 
  • Plantain
    • N mitigation – big tick!
    • It’s a useful medic but add later, once weeds under control!


Now, there are obviously more options out there, we don’t want to bore you with them all here.

We are happy to discuss any cultivars/plants/questions further – just reach out to us through our website and we will be in touch.


So basically – once we’ve learnt more about your situation, we can help you through these decisions on the way to increasing pasture diversity across your farm… with a view to more persistent pasture.


Let us emphasise this final point:

“It has to be diversity with real purpose – your home grown feed production is no place for guesswork!

Thanks for your time, all the best,

The Smart Team