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Pasture Legumes

Balansa clover and ryegrass, Sidonia, Victoria.

Producing wool with good staple strength, low vegetable fault and high yield relies on a year-round supply of quality pasture.

Australian woolgrowers carefully manage pasture persistence and productivity to maximize the welfare and genetic potential of wool sheep, protect the resource base and generate profit.

The wool industry has long invested in the selection, breeding and commercialization of a range of high value pasture grasses and legumes. These pasture species can lift feedbase quality and productivity, build soil carbon stores and protect natural resources.

However, pasture establishment can be expensive. Choosing the right pasture mix for the enterprise and location is essential, particularly in a more variable climate.

AWI invests in pasture breeding, selection and commercialisation to make available to woolgrowers a suite of high performance pasture legumes and grasses that support profitable, sustainable wool production.

Role in Whole Farm Systems

Legume pastures are a high quality source of animal feed that are palatable, highly digestible and high in protein. Many woolgrowers rely on nitrogen-fixing legumes such as lucerne, sub clover and medics to increase pasture productivity and wool quality and cut.

Pasture legumes also provide a break crop for controlling troublesome crop weeds and cereal root diseases in Australia's sheep/wheat zone.

AWI supported several pasture legume breeding programs that released a range of perennial and annual legumes suited to pastures across southern Australia.

On occasions, legume-dominant pastures can cause animal health problems, e.g., bloat from white clover and lucerne, or photosensitisation (sensitivity to sunlight) from biserrula.  Establishing mixed-species pastures and careful grazing management can help minimise, but not eliminate these problems.

Annual Pasture Legumes

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.


Perennial lotus.

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.

Selecting Pasture Cultivars

Pastures Australia developed Pasture picker, an on-line tool for woolgrowers and other producers seeking independent information on pasture species, management and agronomy across a range of environments.  Pastures Australia aimed to lift returns from pastures in Australian farming systems by coordinating pasture investments by AWI, Meat & Livestock Australia, the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation and the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC).


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.

Further Information

Pastures Australia co-ordinated investments in pasture research, development and extension to produce: