Producers see value in legume pastures

Corrina RidgwayThe West Australian

South Coast producers trialling alternative pasture legume bases in an effort to combat red clover syndrome have recorded exciting results.

Association for Sheep Husbandry, Excellence, Evaluation and Production vice-president John Wallace and partner Narelle Roach put serradella, biserrula, gland and bladder clovers through their paces on their Walbrook Farms properties, 35km to 80km east of Esperance.

The Wallaces run 4500 Merino ewes, 1500 ewe hoggets, 1000 wether hoggets, 500 crossbred lambs, 300 head breeding cows, 65 heifers and 260 calves on 1000 hectares of pasture, while reaping 5000ha of crop.

Stocking densities are as high as 12 dry stock equivalents, so solid pasture bases are essential.

Mr Wallace kicked off the pasture trials in 2012, sowing 12ha of Prima gland clover, 24ha of Bartolo bladder clover, 40ha of biserrula, 40ha of Santorini serradella and 80ha of summer sown Margurita serradella.

He said the Margurita had proved to be outstanding.

It was sown on March 2 with 23kg pod/ha and 7kg/ha of Aloska and received 50mm rain on March 19.

Mr Wallace said by April 10, it was stocking 20DSE for a period of 12 days, before resting with further grazing for a fortnight in July.

After promising results on a dry year, John has backed up the trials with an extra 80ha mix of Santorini serradella and Prima Gland clover at 2.5kg/ha each.

He also seeded another 52ha of summer Margurita serradella in March.

"The bladder clover got waterlogged in May but I will seed some again next year," he said.

"I didn't reseed any biserrula as I hadn't harvested any seed."

Coomalbidgup farmer Scott Welke runs 8500 head of breeding stock sheep 80km west of Esperance.

A rotational program of 8500ha of crop and 4500ha of pasture first benefited from alternative pasture introduction more than three years ago.

"I started searching for alternative pastures to try and get something in our paddocks that was productive, as our subclovers were falling apart," he said.

"The medic's nodulating capability was also letting us down."

Mr Welke manages 360ha of grazed Santorini serradella, 250ha of Cadiz serradella and 700ha of perennial Rhodes grass.

The balance of pasture comprises vetches, medic and subclovers.

Both producers believe the palatable starches, fast biomass growth and nitrogen sets rivalling - and in some cases outstripping - traditional subclovers had boosted their productivity.

"All four varieties have the ability to create 400 to 500kg of organic nitrogen per hectare," Mr Wallace said.

"Although all of it isn't available in the first year of set - 30 per cent is available in the first 12 months - it is organic, so the benefit is that when the plant needs it, it will have direct access."

Mr Wallace said the ability to drop bagged fertiliser rates for organic nitrogen produced was also a bonus.

"On canola normally we would be adding 14 units of phosphate and 20 of nitrogen at seed then 40 NS41 and 40 units of urea later," he said.

"If we are growing 500kg nitrogen/ha, you should be able to seed canola with just 12 to 14 units of phosphate, 20 units of nitrogen at seeding, without having to apply anything further."

Two years ago, a three-tonne canola crop was grown in the region after being sown on a serradella pasture paddock.

The pair both prefer the serradella varieties Santorini and Margurita because of their tolerance to local acid sands, great biomass, season-round palatability, high nitrogen set, action as a lupin inoculant and lucrative seed price.

"Bare Santorini seed fetches $15 to $16 per kilo sold to Ballard Seeds and you can conservatively harvest two tonnes of seed pod/ha," Mr Welke said.

"The issue is the difficulty in harvesting it."

Santorini also had a peculiarity referred to as a 'winter clean', which was advantageous to both growers.

"It has a hard yellow seed which doesn't actually germinate until 12 to 14 days after the first winter break," Mr Welke said.

"This allows germination of weeds and a spray off before the pasture comes through, giving you a nice clean stand of serradella."

The Wallaces put their 2012 summer sown Margurita to silage after weed issues dampened seed harvest prospects.

The resulting silage was 10 mega joule of energy rate with an 18 per cent protein reading.

"It's good enough to use as a finishing ration for prime lambs," Mr Wallace said.

Other species also boast astounding biomass and prospective silage use.

Biserrula ticks boxes with red mite resistance, greater nitrogen set capabilities than subclovers and tolerance to acidic soils.

It is also known as a weed management tool, because of its heavy biomass.

The legume pasture is not palatable during flowering or seed set, due to photosensitisation in livestock. It also demands a rotational system approach with other pasture bases.

Prima gland clover is known for its slight salt tolerance.

Bartolo bladder clover performs on heavier countries.

Both clovers act as a Group C inoculant, allowing the re-inoculation of existing subclover stands, improving subclover productivity.

Weed control has been an issue with the pastures, which are susceptible to many pesticides.

Mr Wallace has also had some germination issues this season.

"It is with my own seed and we are still getting to the bottom of it," he said.

"The germination tests were fine, so it may be an equipment or sowing depth issue."

Mr Wallace intends to expand his legume pasture bases in coming seasons.

"I'm hoping to sow biserrula onto our Mt Ney cropping country next season when it comes out of rotation," he said.

"It's on the heavier mallee country, so it should perform well."

Mr Wallace aims to increase serradellas in a pasture mix, seeding into existing subclovers.

He said he was very interested in summer-sown Margurita.

"The summer Margurita is a great system coming out of a long-term cropping rotation and promoting good stocking rates," he said. "The stocking rates it holds are exceptional."

Mr Wallace believes subclovers still have a strong hold in the pasture mix.

Get the latest news from in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails