[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

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 
crop rotations.

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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