Managing Dryland Lucerne - Grower's Handbook
Lucerne is More Than a Quality Pasture
A clean stand of lucerne (Navarre, summer 2003)
There are several agronomic, environmental and social benefits contributing to lucerne’s value as a high quality pasture. The following are ten of these benefits.
- Weed Control.
When established, lucerne will compete with weeds. It can control problem summer weeds such as skeleton weed and heliotrope. This reduces the need to use chemicals for weed control. “With lucerne, you only need 1/8th of the cost of selective grass control compared with annual legumes. Caltrop poisoning is not an issue with lucerne; because of the lucerne feed availability during summer-autumn period” (a lucerne grower). Lucerne also provides an opportunity to control grasses before cropping.
- Cereal Disease and Pest Control.
As a legume, lucerne provides a long disease break for cereal and oilseed crops. Subsequent cereal and/or oilseed crops will be healthier.
- Soil Builder.
As a legume, lucerne increases soil nitrogen and organic matter, enhancing soil structure and fertility. Approximately 100 kg N/ha/year for 3-4 years is available after its removal. The deeper roots of lucerne also bring to the surface nutrients that have been leached below the root zone of cereals.
- Soil Protector.
As a perennial with deep roots, lucerne provides groundcover year round, protecting the topsoil from both wind and water erosion.
- Recharge Control.
The deep roots of lucerne are capable of utilising water below the root zone of annuals, reducing the potential for salinity due to rising watertables.
- Drought Proof Component.
Including lucerne into the farming system in dryland regions can reduce risk. “In the recent drought, lucerne paddocks were the only grazing available to me. Lucerne allows me to carry on with my normal program of lambing twice a year. Most farmers in the region either reduced their stock or sold out their stock. I did not have to reduce my livestock numbers” (a lucerne grower).
- Wool Quality and Quantity Enhancer.
Lucerne pasture may increase wool productivity and quality. Weed free lucerne pastures will reduce grass seed contamination of wool.
- Summer & Autumn Green-Pasture.
Lucerne responds readily to any reasonable amount of summer or autumn rainfall, producing stands of green feed. This green part in a dryland farm, like an oasis in the desert, provides a positive relief for both the lucerne producers and those passing by.
Lucerne allows flexibility in managing livestock and rotations. It provides an extra 3-6 months of grazing, compared to annual pastures, opening ‘out-of-season’ opportunity livestock production. Lucerne can be a short (2-4 years) or a long (e.g. 5-10 years) component of farming systems, according to farm requirements.
- Labour Saver.
When established, lucerne is a low maintenance pasture. It allows growers to carry on with other farm tasks. “You do not need to feed every day during the summer-autumn period”.
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