Managing Dryland Lucerne - Grower's Handbook
10 Practices to Avoid For Better Lucerne Management
Grazing with cattle (Edenhope late December 2004)
Lucerne pasture has proven to be a viable component in dryland farming systems for both economic and environmental benefits, particularly in drier years. Lucerne is not difficult to establish and manage if we follow recommended procedures. Practices to avoid are listed below.
- Avoid sowing lucerne seed into dry soil unless you are certain of a good rain soon after. Lucerne seed needs sufficient soil moisture to germinate and for seedlings to survive for at least a few weeks without a follow-up rain. It is important to have sufficient rain in the week of sowing.
- Avoid sowing lucerne late in dryland regions. Lucerne plants may not receive enough follow-up rain to keep them growing before their roots are long enough to utilise subsoil moisture.
- Avoid sowing lucerne seed into weedy paddocks. Although established lucerne plants are competitive, weeds will compete with lucerne seedlings and reduce the number of plants establishing. Be sure to establish lucerne into weed-free soils.
- Avoid sowing lucerne into soils with sulfonylurea residues. These herbicides will damage seedlings and reduce plant density. Be sure the soil is free of any damaging herbicides for at least two years.
- Avoid sowing lucerne seed deeper than 20 mm. Lucerne seeds are small; they may not emerge if sown deeply. Sow lucerne shallow (e.g. 5-15 mm depth). Use press wheels or roller to obtain better seed-soil contact to improve emergence.
- Avoid sowing uncertified seed. Certified lucerne varieties, although more expensive, provide better germination rates and establishment, better dry matter production, better aphid & disease tolerance, and are weed-free.
- Avoid sowing lucerne into saline or waterlogged soils. Lucerne can be used as prevention but not as a cure. Lucerne plants are not tolerant of either saline or waterlogged soils.
- If you sow lucerne with a companion crop, reduce the sowing rate of the crop by at least 40%. This will reduce competition for light, nutrition and moisture, particularly in drier years.
- Avoid the temptation to graze first-year lucerne stands before flowering. It’s better to give the first-year lucerne plants an opportunity to build up a strong root system before first grazing. If grazed in the first summer, grazing should by light and for a short period. Lucerne plants at this stage are vulnerable to being pulled out by sheep. Lucerne may be grazed heavily in following years.
- Avoid overgrazing and continuous grazing with sheep. Overgrazing reduces lucerne plant reserves and will reduce the density of stands quickly.
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