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Legume pastures are a high quality source of animal feed that are palatable, highly digestible and high in protein. Many woolgrowers utilise nitrogen-fixing legumes such as lucerne, sub clover and medics to increase pasture productivity and wool quality and cut.
There are several benefits pasture legumes provide to livestock industries including:
- the supply of free, biologically fixed, atmospheric nitrogen which increases the growth of companion grasses
- higher animal intakes compared to grasses resulting from more rapid breakdown of legume material
- higher protein:energy ratios in material reaching the abomasum.
- nutrient building of nitrogen and other minerals to assist with mixed farming systems.
Consequently where pasture legumes are maintained at between 25 and 45% of the pasture dry matter, higher livestock returns can be anticipated compared with pastures with low or no legume content.
AWI, Future Farm Industries CRC and Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) have developed the EverGraze platform to help producers use best practise to manage pasture and legumes. The extensive online platform provides resources, case studies and tools for producers.
EverGraze Exchange – Legumes for temperate pastures
This Online EverGraze Exchange discusses the importance of legumes and consideration in selection and establishment of legumes.
Feed On Offer Library
The Feed On Offer (FOO) library allows users to estimate FOO and nutritive value of grazed pastures and legumes.
AWI-funded feedbase projects
AWI has supported several pasture legume breeding programs that released a range of perennial and annual legumes suited to pastures across southern Australia.
AWI supported the National Annual Pasture Legume Improvement Program (NAPLIP) that developed over 50 different annual pasture legume cultivars for the high rainfall and sheep/wheat zones of southern Australia, including:
- Izmir and Coolamon sub clovers - mainly for WA producers.
- Jester barrel medic and the hybrid Toreador disc medic resistant to blue-green aphids - mainly for sheep/wheat farmers on alkaline soils.
- Napier sub clover - to replace Meteora sub clover.
- Prima gland clover resistant to red-legged earthmites, and spotted and cowpea aphids, and frost-tolerant.
- Bolta and Frontier balansa clovers tolerant of water logging.
- Urana sub clover - an early season sub clover for drier areas.
- Balansa and Persian clovers for lower rainfall zones.
- Cavalier and Scimitar spineless burr medics for heavy alkaline soils.
- Charano, Santorini and Yelbini yellow serradellas for sandy, acid soils.
AWI and the Future Farm Industries CRC are commercializing the perennial pasture legume, lotus. Several lotus species are adapted to acid and waterlogged soils and can provide higher wool growth rates per kg of dry matter than lucerne.
Lotus contains tannins that protect ruminants from bloat and suppress the activity of some internal parasites.
Lotus will provide woolgrowers with an alternative to lucerne in the 7.6 million ha of acid and waterlogged soils in the 450-700 mm rainfall zone of southern Australia.
The wool industry invested in lucerne breeding programs over many years, releasing many of the most widely-sown cultivars. Lucerne cultivars bred for perennial pastures in grazing and mixed farming enterprises include:
- Venus – a persistent, winter-dormant cultivar.
- Genesis – a winter-active cultivar.
- Aquarius, Hallmark and Sequel – highly winter-active cultivars.
- Eureka and Sceptre – superseded by new cultivars.
Every legume requires an association with specific strain of soil rhizobia to convert atmospheric nitrogen into plant-available nitrogen. At germination, the rhizobia invade the plant's root system to create a symbiotic (win-win) nitrogen-fixing relationship with the plant.
Fixed nitrogen benefits both the grass and legume species in the pasture and any subsequent crop phases in a mixed farming system.
AWI and GRDC supported the National Rhizobium Program to screen and select rhizobia for each new annual or perennial legume species released in Australia. The program also helped commercialise new methods of rhizobia inoculation, including freeze-dried, granular and liquid inoculants.
The Yarn - Episode 138: Legumes for Livestock
With a change in the local landscape and weather patterns, woolgrower Alistair McDougall is trialing legume pastures to fill his autumn feed gap and improve soil quality. High in protein, highly digestible, hardy and persistent, Alistair shares his hopes for these legumes in his livestock system.