MAN­AG­ING PAS­TURE IN THE WET

Look af­ter lucerne and it will re­turn the com­pli­ment

Central and North Burnett Times - - CURRENT AFFAIRS - PAUL MCINTOSH

THERE are quite a few real sto­ries flow­ing through about the two ex­tremes of pas­ture sur­vival dur­ing the drought time.

For those of us who have had sig­nif­i­cant rain in the past two months, it may be ei­ther a case of amaze­ment of large amounts of pas­ture re­gen­er­a­tion, or it is shock at still see­ing large ar­eas of bare soil. This can be on a pad­dock to pad­dock ba­sis.

Lucerne, as we all know, has some of the tough­est sur­vival at­tributes of all pas­ture species.

This huge tap root sys­tem, given time to de­velop, can pro­vide large re­serves of mois­ture and nutrient to the above ground part dur­ing dry pe­ri­ods.

So two days af­ter rain starts and you ob­serve emerg­ing green shoots among those brown stalks from old tus­socky lucerne crowns, you know that you will soon have some high protein pick ini­tially for your live­stock.

For those of us who have been lucky enough to have a sig­nif­i­cant rain event of some five inches plus, you may now have a flour­ish­ing pad­dock of lucerne.

How­ever, be cau­tious of this early ex­ces­sive growth as its higher tan­nin lev­els may ex­ac­er­bate the bloat prob­lem, par­tic­u­larly for in­tro­duced hun­gry cat­tle.

The other cau­tion clause is that lucerne needs a spell to re­gen­er­ate its crown and some say the root sys­tem also, with car­bo­hy­drates, the fo­cal point of lucerne pro­duc­tion and har­di­ness.

This spell­ing pe­riod, to al­low the plant to flower and pro­duce some seed, is in­vari­ably per­formed at roughly this time of the year. It al­lows the plant to per­sist and per­form for a longer life span in years and gives it strength to sur­vive in­sects or soil dis­eases.

This per­sis­tence also may come down to hav­ing good es­tab­lish­ment con­di­tions with soil struc­ture, low lev­els of alu­minium in acid soils, medium salin­ity is­sues and va­ri­ety choice be­ing key fea­tures. All these pa­ram­e­ters point to hav­ing a much bet­ter branched root sys­tem with a large di­am­e­ter pen­e­trat­ing tap root.

Va­ri­ety choice is a chal­lenge and you need to con­duct your own in field tri­als with your own needs and chal­lenges of your soil to­pog­ra­phy and lim­i­ta­tions.

Start by look­ing at crown height. This has great in­puts into per­sis­tence and tim­ing of pro­duc­tion flushes.

I get plenty of ar­gu­ments about this, how­ever the lower the crown in the soil sur­face, the longer the per­sis­tence, even though it prob­a­bly ini­tially pro­duces less dry mat­ter per year than a highly win­ter ac­tive va­ri­ety. You must also pro­tect these ex­posed crowns from trac­tors, hoof prints and wet­ter con­di­tions.

Any lucerne stand sub­ject to anaer­o­bic (oxy­gen-free) con­di­tions, does not like it at all.

Drown­ing un­der wa­ter in low spots is fairly im­me­di­ate for lucerne to die out, how­ever even wet con­di­tions can start the demise of your lucerne stand, no mat­ter if it is pas­tures in Clon­curry or the black soil flats of the Kin­bombi creek.

I re­call a small cor­ner of our fam­ily lucerne farm hav­ing wa­ter from an ir­ri­ga­tion event, lie there for less than 12 hours be­fore I was del­e­gated to dig a drain­ing trench in this heav­ier soil type.

No mat­ter how we looked af­ter that sec­tion, pas­palum took over in this de­cay­ing lucerne stand.

So look af­ter your lucerne stands, as they will look af­ter you in these usual chal­leng­ing times.

You must also pro­tect these ex­posed crowns from trac­tors, hoof prints and wet­ter con­di­tions.

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