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ORD LAND AND WATER       » Management Plan » Pastoral
Introduction

Rangelands health in the Ord catchment has come a long way since the highly successful regeneration program of the 1960’s. Pastoralists manage much of the land within the catchment and therefore have a responsibility to ensure it is maintained in good order. However with few stakeholders with the capacity to provide support state agencies need to engage with the pastoral industry to provide that support.

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Woody thickening

Woody Thickening

Goals

  • To minimise the impact of native woodlands and invasive woody weeds encroaching on pastures.

Background

Woody thickening is a global phenomenon whereby the density of trees and woody shrubs is increasing in the landscape. Woody thickening can be a naturally occurring phenomenon but is being enhanced by climate change, changes in fire regimes, grazing and other human land use activity. Woody thickening influences carbon storage and carbon accounting, by increasing the biomass present in a landscape. Water balances are impacted through increases in evapotranspiration, which leaves less water available for stream flow. Nitrogen cycling is also affected.

Thickening of native woodlands and the encroachment of invasive woody weeds onto grassland can cause a decline in desirable pasture species, a decrease in land condition and can also introduce toxic plants to the environment that can be detrimental to livestock and native species.

Encroachment of invasive weeds can be worse in wet years where massive recruitment of seedlings inhibits germination and the establishment of desirable pasture species, while fostering further weed seed dispersal across the rangelands.

Woody plants in pasture can have beneficial effects, for example, providing shade, browsing, soil conditioning by adding nutrients and an improved micro climate for pasture growth at low densities

Current Status

Woody thickening has occurred in savannahs of Africa, North and South America, south-east Asia and Australia. Savannah ecosystems are characterised by a dynamic equilibrium between competing tree and grass species but where woody thickening has occurred, the equilibrium is shifting and trees are becoming favoured. In Australia, woody thickening has occurred predominantly in savannah areas. Savannahs cover 11% of the world’s vegetated land, whilst savannahs together with open woodlands cover more than half of Australia. The Ord catchment is a part of Australia’s tropical savannah region that spreads right across the north of the continent.

Current studies (Kidman Springs Northern Territory fire trial 1993-2013) indicate that generally on high value pastoral land where fire frequencies are low, woody plants are increasing. This is potentially caused by grazing activities reducing fuel loads that would normally suppress woody plant growth and also by reducing pasture competition for woody plants.

Knowledge Gaps

  • The implications of climate change on pasture production in northern Australia?

  • The amount of carbon that can be stored in woodland areas in low rainfall savannah regions.

  • The effect of increased atmospheric carbon on woody plant growth.

Strategies

Strategy 1

Use fire to control woody thickening by encouraging:

1. The planning of burn programs annually and identifying areas of greatest risk.

2. The use of late burning programs that will have the greatest impact on woody plants.

3. The control of woody plants while they are under two metres in height./p>

4. The spelling (resting of) paddocks to build fuel load prior to burning and after to promote good recovery of pasture species.

5. The re-burning of areas where acacia species are predominant to control the rapid regermination of seed.

6. Sufficient time intervals between fires so not to adversely impact on perennial grasses and maintain adequate pasture competition for woody plants.

7. Keeping records such as photos of woody weed encroachment and/or management.

Strategy 2

Ensure stocking rates are adjusted so paddocks are not grazed to the point where woody plants have less competition from pasture species.

Strategy 3

Encourage the continued provision of education and latest research to land managers.

Responsibilities

Land managers have the responsibility to monitor and as required, manage woody plant thickening in such a way that land condition is not negatively impacted. The Department of Agriculture and Food has the responsibility for advising landholders on best methods of control.

References

1. Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. (2015) Fire Management of native and invasive woody weeds in the Northern and Southern Gulf: Factsheet.

2. Cate Macinnis-Ng, C. & Eamus, D. University of Technology, Sydney. (2009) The Increasing Density of Shrubs and Trees Across a Landscape: Land and Water Australia.

3. Northern Territory Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries (2014) Kidman Springs fire experiment 1993-2013: Northern Territory Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries.

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cool burn

Burning

Goals

  • To maintain productive pasture through the use of appropriate burning techniques.

  • To reduce the impacts of late season fires through the use of early burning programs.

Background

Australian savannahs have adapted to frequent fires in the landscape and are quite resilient to their impacts, however, fire incidence has changed since European settlement.

Kimberley pastoralists operate in this fire-prone environment using fire as a management tool for animal production and as a means to limit the effects of uncontrolled fires that pose significant economic, safety, and environmental risks to pastoral enterprises.

Smoke from these fires can cause significant air pollution in towns and cities. The health impacts of this smoke in the Kimberley have yet to be well quantified.

There are many important issues arising from the characteristics of the broader, regional fire regime that go beyond the farm gate. These include community health and safety, biodiversity, and economic effects on the tourism and aviation industries. Regional fire regimes are particularly important for highly mobile fauna such as granivorous birds that depend on the availability of food resources across large areas.

Current Status

Most land management agencies across northern Australia are committed to the prevention of late dry season, high intensity fires, primarily through fuel reduction burning early in the dry season. In Western Australia the Department of Parks and Wildlife lights fires over extensive areas of reserves, National Parks and unallocated crown land by using incendiary devices dropped from aircraft. In the Kimberley region the Department of Fire and Emergency Services provides an aerial burning service to pastoralists early in the dry season. Most early fires are designed to burn patches of vegetation to minimise problems with fires later in the year.

Pastoral lands, particularly the higher valued areas, tend to burn less where grazing has reduced fuel loads and effectively created fire breaks. In pastoral scenarios where land is grazed, early dry season burning has shown in some cases, to impact negatively on pasture production. Grazing immediately after fires can cause a decrease in perennials and an increase in annuals and unpalatable forbs (herbaceous broad leaf plants) as stock graze newly emerging shoots supported by the availability of residual wet season soil moisture.

Bio-geographical regions within the East Kimberley range from the Northern Savannah Province in the north, Northern Mulga Province in the central area and the Western Desert Province to the south. These provinces are influenced by annual rainfall that supports plant growth. The further south that annual monsoon activity extends into these provinces has a significant bearing on annual plant and in particular grass production. This in turn influences the fire risk of that region in the subsequent dry season.

Sequestration of carbon

In June 2014, the Commonwealth Government moved to establish the Emissions Reduction Fund that will operate in 600 to 1,000 mm rainfall areas of the country. The Emissions Reduction Fund proposes to cover the old Carbon Farming Initiative projects that:

  • reduce emissions of methane and or nitrous oxide from soil, burning, livestock and other agricultural activities;

  • remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by sequestering carbon in living biomass, dead organic matter or soil;

The fund is proposed to operate through a reverse auction process by which the Clean Energy Regulator will invite bids from proponents of projects already approved under the old Carbon Farming Initiative to offer to supply emissions reductions in the form of Australian Carbon Credit Units.

Bidders will submit an offer that includes delivery schedule and unit price. The Clean Energy Regulator will accept offers, commencing with the lowest priced offer and continuing until either bids representing 80% of the abatement on offer at the auction have been accepted or there are no more projects bidding at the below the Clean Energy Regulator’s benchmark price.

Knowledge Gaps

  • The potential implications of climate change on pasture production in northern Australia.

  • The amount of carbon that woodland areas store in low rainfall savannah regions.

  • How fire practices can best be used to appropriately maintain or improve land condition.

  • If fire can be used to manage the prevalence of less desirable grasses for example, annual sorghum and Black Spear grass.

  • The opportunities for land managers to participate in burning and carbon sequestration.

Strategies

Strategy 1

Develop an annual fire management plan that:

1. Takes into consideration burn history over the previous five years.

2. Includes the provision and upkeep of fire breaks.

3. Allows for the removal of stock from burnt paddocks to allow adequate regeneration.

4. In the management of woody thickening, ensures sufficient accumulation of fuel in paddocks prior to burning.

5. Considers using both early and late burning strategies to reduce the spread of uncontrolled fires and promote good pasture growth.

Strategy 2

Encourage the continued provision of education and latest research to land managers

Responsibilities

Land managers have a responsibility to burn responsibly. The Department of Fire and Emergency Services has the responsibility to assist with early season burning programs through the provision of aerial resources.

References

1. Savannah Explorer. (2016) Fire management and greenhouse gas emissions: www.savanna.org.au.

2. Northern Territory Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries (2014) Kidman Springs fire experiment 1993-2013: Northern Territory Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries.

3. Department of Agriculture and Food. Fire Management Guidelines for Kimberley Pastoral Rangelands: www.agric.wa.gov.au/.

4. Malte, C., Ebach. A. (2012) A history of biogeographical regionalisation in Australia, Article: Zootaxa 3392. 2012

 

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erosion

Erosion

Goals

  • To protect and retain topsoil by limiting the disturbance and removal of vegetation, especially around watercourses and riparian areas.

  • To ensure roadways and fence lines do not collect and direct water flows away from their natural pathways.

  • To stabilise and rehabilitate, where practical, existing areas of soil and sediment transit.

Background

Early Erosion

Since European settlement in 1884, extensive cattle grazing has been the dominant land use in the Ord River catchment area. In the early years, station infrastructure, including fences and artificial watering points was inadequate. Cattle control was limited or nonexstent in some cases. Stock concentrated around natural water sources, with the frontages of the Ord River and its tributaries suffering as a consequence. Heavy grazing pressure was maintained well into the 1950s and was exacerbated by the simultaneous significant increase in feral donkeys, camels and water buffalo.

By the middle of twentieth century various studies (Teakle and Medcalf, 1944) concluded that widespread vegetation degradation, erosion and soil loss into the Ord River valley was extensive, sheet and gully erosion and especially degradation along the stream banks was widespread. Erosion susceptible areas were described in more detail by CSIRO in 1952, while aerial reconnaissance in 1962 (Fitzgerald, 1968) pinpointed further active erosion.

No remedial action was initiated prior to the development of the Ord River Irrigation Area in 1960. During the early assessment of the irrigation potential of the Ord River area, the recognition for sedimentation to potentially reduce the life of any Ord River storage reservoir and provide a serious threat to irrigation security, led to the implementation of a regeneration program. The program was focused on that part of the catchment, identified in 1944, as the major area of erosion (Teakle and Medcalf, 1944).

Regeneration work commenced in 1962 in cooperation with the existing pastoral lessees. However, this approach proved unworkable. The Ord River and Turner River Stations and parts of Flora Valley, Ruby Plains and Elvire Stations near Halls Creek, were subsequently collectively designated as the Ord River Regeneration Reserve, an area of approximately 1 million hectares, for which the Department of Agriculture became responsible for rehabilitation and management. In 1987, an area of approximately 200,000 hectares on the western side of the Ord River was excised from the Reserve for the creation of the Purnululu National Park.

Graded Track Erosion

In the latter part of the twentieth century, with the increasing use of vehicles and fencing to partition land the use of graders steadily increased. Graders and other forms of heavy equipment were used to cut new roads and fence lines and to maintain them. Often roads and in particular tracks were not formed, crowned or drained adequately. This diverted sheet water flow across the landscape, collecting and redirecting it to flow along the roadway or fence line. As a consequence, creek lines were diverted, water was diverted from the downhill side of tracks and roadways and fence lines were significantly eroded. Frequently, to avoid the old road that had become a water course a new parallel road would be cut and the integrity of fence lines suffered as soil was washed away from underneath one section to partially bury other sections downhill.

Current Status

Since 1960, changes in the rehabilitated land systems that comprise the Ord River Regeneration Reserve and adjoining lands have included significant variation in vegetation in terms of botanical composition, species richness, plant density, biomass and to a lesser extent, vegetation structure (Payne 2002).

Several factors are believed to be responsible for the changes including management practices and generally above average rainfall since 1990. As the plant communities are now dominated by long lived perennial species, a return to a more normal rainfall pattern is unlikely to reverse these trends.

More broadly across the catchment land management now includes the following components to reduce the risk of erosion.

  • Fencing as an aid to controlling the location of stock and grazing pressure.

  • A progressive reduction of grazing pressure by stock in comparison to levels of grazing the early part of last century.

  • Removal of feral animals, particularly donkeys.

  • Management of degraded country over many years including cultivation of niches for plant establishment and the introduction of perennial plant seed.

  • Workshops held throughout the catchment since 2000 focusing on fence line and road management.

Strategies

Strategy 1

Encourage vegetation coverage not to drop below 60% by:

1. Adjusting paddock stocking rates as required to reduce incidences of overgrazing.

2. Planning late season burns to avoid leaving bare areas prior to early wet season down pours, especially in erosion prone areas.

3. Identify and separately manage soils susceptible to erosion that is slaking soils.

4. Maintain higher rates of vegetative cover on slopes to reduce runoff velocities and encourage water infiltration.

5. Placing check banks in gullies, where required, to slow water movement down and allow time for soil infiltration.

Strategy 2

Encourage stabilisation work to be carried out through techniques including; water ponding, drainage control, soil ripping and reseeding when necessary.

Strategy 3

Encourage the building and maintenance of roads, track and fence lines by:

1. Ensuring best practices are used including removing windrows, installing check banks and ensuring drains are broad and flat.

2. Consider locating roads and fence lines on high ground such as ridges and catchment boundaries where possible.

3. Avoiding low spots, unstable soils and eroded areas

Responsibilities

Land managers have a responsibility to manage erosion on their properties. The Department of Agriculture and Food WA (DAFWA) has the responsibility to assist with advocating best practices for erosion control.

references

1. Department of Agriculture and Food. (2001) A Review of the Management of the Ord River Regeneration Reserve: Department of Agriculture and Food.

2. Department of Agriculture and Food. (2004) Spectacular Recovery in the Ord River Catchment 2004, Miscellaneous Publication 17/2004.

3. Northern Territory Government Department of Natural Resources, Environment and the Arts Land Notes Natural Resource Management (Various): www.netra.nt.gov.au/

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pasture condition

Pasture Condition

Goals

  • Maintain and improve pasture condition

Background

Cattlemen from Victoria, New South Wales and Victoria moved to the East Kimberley in 1884 to 1885 and introduced an open range system of grazing that allowed little control of grazing or breeding strategies. This practice prevailed up to a century before artificial watering points and fences became common. Shorthorn cattle were introduced in the 1880s with numbers reaching a peak of 700,000 in 1916/17. Peak numbers of 300,000 sheep were also reached in the Fitzroy River valley in 1912.

In the absence of fences and with a minimum of artificial waters, stock would constantly overgraze the more attractive pasture along river frontages and alluvial flats. As a result, severe erosion and pasture degradation occurred (Payne and Hutchinson, 1963).

Regeneration of degraded paddocks began to build momentum in the 1960s with the construction of fences that allowed paddocks to be spelled (rested) and stock numbers better managed. This momentum steadily increased with rangelands monitoring and various grazing land management practices being introduced as knowledge grew.

From 1984 the Western Australian Rangeland Monitoring System (WARMS) was developed and implemented by the Department of Agriculture across the rangelands of Western Australia. The aim of WARMS was to provide an objective assessment of changes in vegetation and soil surface condition of grazed shrub land pastures.

Current Status

Through WARMS, grassland sites are assessed on a three-year cycle and shrub land sites are on a five year cycle. A sixth assessment of the grassland sites was completed in 2011. The second full cycle of shrub land sites was completed in 2010. Currently DAFWA collects photographic and physical data including attributes of the soil surface and vegetation.

The Commissioner of Soil and Land Conservation uses this information to report annually to the Pastoral Lands Board. This annual report is an obligation of the Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia (DAFWA) under Section 137(2) of the Land Administration Act 1997. The Pastoral Lands Board (PLB) of Western Australia uses information from the Commissioner's report in its annual report on the current condition of land under pastoral lease.

Rangeland Condition Assessments were carried out by DAFWA until 2010 when it was proposed that a self-monitoring program be developed for pastoralists to undertake the assessments on their properties. At the time of this report that change in assessment responsibilities has yet to occur.

Implicit in WARMS is the assumption that changes in the condition of the paddock are reflected adequately in the changes in condition on a selected area, within the paddock, called the monitoring site.

There are three components to WARMS:

  • a series of Rangeland Monitoring Sites selected within the paddocks or grazing domains of a pastoral lease;
  • a series of unfenced Reference Areas selected on areas remote from water and representative of the major communities monitored on each lease; and
  • a series of Pasture Land Benchmarks from which stock are excluded, and which are selected in conjunction with Rangeland Monitoring Sites, but on a regional basis.

Pasture

Pasture is a critical resource in grazing operations. The interaction between grazing and pasture management influences the profitability and sustainability of an enterprise. Pasture management is the process of ensuring pasture persistence, maintaining soil nutrition for growth and making the best use of the pasture. Grazing management is the total process of organising livestock to make the best use of the pastures grown. Pasture condition declines when:

  • desirable species are replaced by less desirable species

  • reduced plant cover increases the proportion of bare soil

  • erosion accelerates

  • production of palatable, perennial species declines, or

  • any combination of these effects occurs.

From a pastoral perspective, pasture condition describes the current condition of the vegetation compared with the optimal condition that could be expected, taking the potential of the site into account. The term ‘health’ is sometimes used, meaning that all parts that make up the whole are present and working well together. Pasture condition is rated as good, fair or poor in this guide, depending on how close the current condition is to the optimal condition.

Black soil group – species list

Common nameScientific nameLife form
Desirable
Barley Mitchell GrassAstrebla pectinataperennial
Hoop Mitchell GrassAstrebla elymoidesperennial
Ribbon GrassChrysopogon fallaxperennial
Bundle-BundleDichanthium fecundumperennial
Queensland BluegrassDichanthium sericeumannual or short-lived perennial
Plume SorghumSorghum plumosumperennial
Native MilletPanicum decompositumperennial
Intermediate
Flinders GrassIseilema spp.annual
Native Pea Rhynchosia minima perennial sprawling or climbing legume
Bull Mitchell GrassAstrebla squarrosa perennial
Silky BrowntopEulalia aureaperennial
Native MilletPanicum decompositumperennial
Annual SorghumSorghum spp.annual
Ray GrassSporobolus actinocladusperennial
Pan Wandarrie GrassEriachne glaucaperennial
Wire Grass, Northern Wandarrie GrassEriachne obtuseannual
Black SpeargrassHeteropogon contortusperennial
White GrassSehima nervosumperennial
Flemmings bush Flemingia parvifloraannual forb
NeverfailEragrostis setifoliaperennial
Nineawns, Bottlewashers, Limestone grassesEnneapogon spp.annual or short-lived perennial
Kimberley CouchBrachyachne convergens annual
Sensitive plantsNeptunia spp.perennial legume
Undesirable
FeathertopAristida latifoliaperennial
Threeawn grassesAristida spp.annual or perennial
Yellow DaisyWedelia asperrimaannual herb
Goathead BurrSclerolaena bicornisannual or short-lived perennial woody herb
Speedy weedFlaveria trinerviaannual herb
Mimosa bushAcacia farnesianashrub

Sandy soil group – species list

Common nameScientific name
Life form
Desirable
Curly SpinifexTriodia bitexturaperennial
Soft SpinifexTriodia pungensperennial
Ribbon Grass Chrysopogon fallaxperennial
Silky BrowntopEulalia aureaperennial
White GrassSehima nervosumperennial
Kangaroo GrassThemeda triandraperennial
Plume SorghumSorghum plumosumperennial
Bundle-BundleDichanthium fecundumperennial
White GrassSehima nervosumperennial
Intermediate
Wire Grass, Northern Wandarrie GrassEriachne obtuseperennial
Black SpeargrassHeteropogon contortusperennial
Annual SorghumSorghum stipoideumannual (certain pastures only)
Pan Wandarrie GrassEriachne glaucaperennial
Curly SpinifexTriodia bitexturaPerennial (certain pastures only)
Undesirable
Threeawn grassesAristida spp.annual or perennial
Hard spinifexesTriodia spp.perennial
Annual SorghumSorghum stipoideumannual (certain pastures only)

Red soil group – species list

Common nameScientific nameLife form
Desirable
Curly SpinifexTriodia bitexturaperennial
Plume SorghumSorghum plumosumperennial
Ribbon GrassChrysopogon fallaxperennial
White GrassSehima nervosumperennial
Hard spinifexes.Triodia spp.perennial (certain pastures only)
Silky BrowntopEulalia aureaperennial
Soft SpinifexTriodia pungensperennial
Kangaroo GrassThemeda triandraperennial
Native MilletPanicum decompositumperennial
Limestone GrassEnneapogon polyphyllusannual or short-lived perennial
Perennial lovegrassesEragrostis spp.perennial
Black SpeargrassHeteropogon contortusperennial (certain pastures only)
Bundle-BundleDichanthium fecundumperennial
Intermediate
Annual SorghumSorghum stipoideumannual
Wire Grass, Northern Wandarrie GrassEriachne obtuseperennial
Black SpeargrassHeteropogon contortusperennial
Citronella GrassCymbopogon bombycinusperennial
LovegrassesEragrostis spp.nnual or perennial
Limestone GrassEnneapogon polyphyllusannual or short-lived perennial
Slender Wandarrie GrassEriachne ciliateannual
Rice GrassXerochloa lanifloraannual or short-lived perennial
Curly SpinifexTriodia bitexturaperennial
Woollybutt GrassEragrostis eriopodaperennial
Soft SpinifexTriodia pungensperennial
White GrassSehima nervosumperennial (certain pastures only)
Nineawns, Bottlewashers, Limestone grassesEnneapogon spp.annual or short-lived perennial
Kimberley CouchBrachyachne convergensannual
Purple NineawnEnneapogon purpurascens>annual or short-lived perennial
Kimberley CouchBrachyachne convergensannual
Bunched Kerosene GrassAristida contortaannual or short-lived perennial
Nineawns, Bottlewashers, Limestone grassesEnneapogon spp.annual or short-lived perennial
Undesirable
Threeawn grassesAristida spp.annual or perennial
Hard spinifexesTriodia spp.perennial
Unequal Threeawn, Feathertop ThreeawnAristida inaequiglumisannual herb
Erect Kerosene GrassAristida holatheraannual
Northern Kerosene GrassAristida hygrometricaannual
Bunched Kerosene GrassAristida contortaannual or short-lived perennial shrub
Winged Spinifex, Lobed SpinifexTriodia intermediaperennial
Limestone SpinifexTriodia wiseanaperennial
Unequal Threeawn, Feathertop ThreeawnAristida inaequiglumisperennial

Strategy 1

Manage stock numbers to suit the grazing of paddocks to benefit production and ensure land condition goals are met by:

1. Ensuring sufficient watering points to reduce uneven grazing.

2. Calculating long and short-term carrying capacity of paddocks.

3. Balancing the amount of dry season forage on offer, against demand by developing forage budgets for individual paddocks.

4. Being prepared to destock as seasonal conditions and pasture condition dictate.

Strategy 2

Develop a wet season spelling plan that:

1. Provides adequate time for good seed production and set.

2. Builds energy supply in plants.

3. Allows for regeneration of bare areas.

Responsibilities

The Pastoral Lands Board (PLB) is responsible for the administration of Western Australian pastoral leases under Part 7 of the Land Administration Act 1997. The Board has statutory responsibilities to ensure that pastoral leases are managed in an ecologically sustainable way and to establish and evaluate a system of pastoral land monitoring sites.

The Commissioner of Soil and Land Conservation has the responsibility to report annually to the Pastoral Lands Board. This report is an obligation of the Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia under Section 137(2) of the Land Administration Act 1997.

The Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia, has the responsibility to monitor WARMS sites throughout the Rangelands.

Pastoralists have the responsibility to ensure pastures are managed to maintain land condition. The Pastoral Lands Board has the responsibility to ensure Rangelands Condition Assessments are not discontinued.

references

1. Holm, Mc.R., Burnside, D.G., Mitchell, A.A.(1987) The Development of a System for Monitoring Trend change in Range Condition in the Arid Shrublands of Western Australia: Western Australia Department of Agriculture.

2. Watson, I., Blood, D. Novelly, P., Thomas, P. & Vreeswyk, S.V. (2001) Rangeland monitoring, resource inventory, condition assessment and lease inspection activities in Western Australia conducted by the Department of Agriculture: Department of Agriculture.

3. Ryan, K., Tierney, E., Novelly, P. & McCartney, R. (2016) Pasture Condition Guide for the Kimberley: Department of Agriculture and Food Bulletin 4846.

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