[ASC-media] New legumes for drier environments
joanne.finlay at dpi.nsw.gov.au
joanne.finlay at dpi.nsw.gov.au
Mon Dec 4 23:23:06 CET 2006
NSW DEPARTMENT OF PRIMARY INDUSTRIES
5 December 2006
New legumes for drier environments
With experts predicting global warming will increase temperatures in
Australia, plants that can cope with hotter, dryer and more variable
conditions will become even more important.
A national program is now under way to identify new earlier maturing and
drought tolerant legumes for pasture and grain-based crop rotations that
will adapt to climate change.
Options include legumes that flower early, thereby increasing the chances
of avoiding drought, and deep-rooted legumes, which make greater use of
rainfall events as they occur.
NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) researcher Graham Crocker says
the first alternative is to breed and select shorter season annual legumes
that flower and set seed earlier to allow them to regenerate in the drier
"There are at least 14 cultivars of 10 annual species with early maturity
currently available, including barrel, spineless burr, button, snail and
hybrid medic, balansa, gland, Persian and sub clover, yellow serradella,
and Lotus," Mr Crocker said.
"While they were designed to extend the growing range into more marginal
areas, they could be grown in the present zones if the dry margins move
"The disadvantage of earlier maturing lines is they generally produce less
herbage and often cannot respond to late season or out of season
He said another approach is to select perennial legumes that are deep
rooted and therefore give better drought tolerance. The fact that they are
already established means they can respond to rain at any time of the
These characteristics also allow them to minimise the effects of rising
water tables and associated salinity problems.
While lucerne is the obvious legume for the slopes and plains of northern
NSW, there are others such as sulla and sainfoin.
Mr Crocker said these winter-growing, non-bloating legumes prefer alkaline
soils and can produce large quantities of feed.
"Sulla has other advantages ? the characteristics that make it
non-bloating also give it a drench-like effect to reduce the worm burden
and protein protection in the rumen allows it to increase animal
"It is also very tolerant of aphids which are expected to increase with
increasing temperatures. "
Other alternative perennial legumes include the summer growing
sub-tropical species burgundy bean, desmanthus and butterfly pea.
Although these are affected by frosts, they regenerate in spring, giving
much faster production than annuals, in the second and later years.
Mr Crocker said that with the continuing dry conditions farmers and
advisers are showing an increasing interest in finding adaptable legumes
to improve pasture quality for animals and to increase soil fertility for
The collaborative legume evaluation project involving State Departments of
Primary Industries and CSIRO is funded by the Grains Research and
Development Corporation and Australian Wool Innovation.
The 160 farmers who attended field days to showcase legumes being
evaluated by Mr Crocker this spring were impressed with the growth of most
varieties despite the dry season (where current annual rainfall is 200 mm
below average). Field days were held at Tamworth, Somerton (near
Gunnedah), Barraba & Warialda.
Contact: Graham Crocker, Tamworth, (02) 6763 1138 or Joanne Finlay on 6391 3171 or 0428 491813
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