Lucerne trial results highlighted at Barossa conference

LUCERNE was found to be more tolerant than expected from previous studies, to highly acidic soils in a recent project completed by South Australian Research and Development Institute’s (SARDI) principal research scientist Dr Alan Humphries.

Dr Humphries, who will speak on the outcomes of the Acid Tolerant Lucerne project at the Barossa Improved Grazing Group’s Perfect Pastures Conference on Thursday, February 16, said forage production in the first calendar year after sowing ranged from 4 to 12 tonnes a hectare under rainfed conditions at three of the sites with soil pHCa 4.1-4.3.

“Lucerne is grown on approximately 3 million ha in south-eastern Australia, but poor tolerance to acidic soils limits its further adoption,” he said.

“Lucerne is ideally established on soils in the pHCa range of 5.5 to 8.0, and although it is grown on more acidic soils, forage yield and persistence on these soils is often suboptimal.

“The primary aim of this research was to define the performance of new lucerne varieties and rhizobia strains selected for improved tolerance to soil acidity across a range of environments in south eastern Australia.”

During the study four sites in SA, Victoria and New South Wales with pHCa 4.1-4.3 were chosen with contrasting texture, aluminium toxicity levels and fertility, and this combined with a treatment to ameliorate surface pH to varying degrees with lime, was used to generate a range of environments to evaluate the performance of lucerne.

Dr Humphries said the Barossa was known to have acidic soils, and many of the project outcomes could be applied to lucerne pastures planted in the region. The project was supported by Meat & Livestock Australia and Heritage Seeds.

“The annual production of 12 t/ha had an approximate feed value of 147MJ energy and 2625 kg CP/ha of protein,” he said.

“This would be especially valuable to red meat producers considering that 50pc of the growth occurred outside of the traditional winter-spring production period, extending the growing season into summer and autumn. The summer production occurred despite decile 1-3 springs in 2014 and 2015, illustrating the capacity of lucerne to deliver a constant feed supply.”

The Perfect Pastures Conference will also feature 2016 Australian Rural Consultant of the Year Ken Solly, who will discuss ‘Resilience in Farming Communities’. Other speakers include Landmark production animal specialist Daniel Schuppan; BIGG technical facilitator-coordinator Georgie Keynes; PIRSA soil and land management consultant Brian Hughes and many more, who will cover a wide range of practical topics focusing on annual pastures systems within the conference theme ‘Optimising your sustainable grazing system’.

Ms Keynes encouraged producers to attend the forum.

“The conference will be a great opportunity for those in the Barossa region and further afield to find out the latest research on pasture varieties, and what they should be looking to plant in the upcoming year. We have a great mix of plant scientists, consultants and producers who will be presenting at the conference, and we’ll also be heading out on two site visits as well,” she said.

“The conference will also provide a brilliant opportunity for networking with other producers and industry experts. The $50 price for tickets includes afternoon tea and a two-course dinner and drinks package at Lambert Estate, with food provided by Handmade Catering.”

The conference is supported by Natural Resources SA Murray-Darling Basin and Meat & Livestock Australia.

SARDI is a division of Primary Industries and Regions SA.