Ser­radella proves to be sav­ing grace

Narrogin Observer - - Observer News -

Ser­radella and bis­er­rula have been hailed as the sea­son’s sav­ing grace by Brook­ton farm­ers Anna and Colin Butcher.

Pad­docks of the the self-sow­ing, ni­tro­gen-fix­ing for­age legumes have burst to life across the cou­ple’s 3000ha prop­erty af­ter wel­come spring rains.

The Butch­ers took a leap of faith when they first tri­alled ser­radella in 2012, af­ter re­ceiv­ing a Wheat­belt Nat­u­ral Re­source Man­age­ment grant.

It kick­started what would evolve into a key man­age­ment strat­egy grow­ing the prof­itable pas­ture legumes as a both a break crop and sheep feed.

Ms Butcher said the hard-seeded ser­radella and bis­er­rula crops had re­duced eco­nomic risk across the pair’s crop­ping and live­stock op­er­a­tion.

“We started off grow­ing it to get some free ni­tro­gen for our crops, to re­duce our risk if we had a bad year,” she said.

“Then we found that it grew so well that we needed to have some­thing to eat it, so we started to run sheep on it. “We found the sheep did well on it.”

Ini­tially seeded in sum­mer, Ms Butcher said the ser­radella pro­vided qual­ity au­tumn feed and “was able to sur­vive a false break”.

In 2013, the Butch­ers tri­alled Mace wheat across 50ha pre­vi­ously seeded to ser­radella.

With no added ni­tro­gen, the crop pro­duced a five-tonne/ha yield and re­turns of $1360/ha.

The fol­low­ing year, they in­creased this to 500ha and did not use ni­tro­gen over the grow- ing sea­son. The Butch­ers now use min­i­mum ni­tro­gen across their canola, wheat, bar­ley and hay crops, with the ex­cep­tion of three units up­front at seed­ing.

In­stead, they ro­tate the legume pas­tures across pad­docks used to grow crops, with a one-year pas­ture phase fol­lowed by a one to three-year crop­ping phase.

Ms Butcher said ni­tro­gen ap­pli­ca­tion was al­most un­nec­es­sary af­ter the pas­ture phase, be­cause the ser­radella and bis­er­rula left plenty in the ground.

“We found the or­ganic ni­tro­gen fixed by the ser­radella was ad­e­quate for large crops,” she said. “We also found that if that or­ganic ni­tro­gen was not be­ing used, it stayed there for an­other year.”

The pas­ture legumes have also be­come a feed sup­ple­ment at the farm, with this the first time since 2012 the cou­ple has had to hand-feed sheep.

More than 700ha of Mail­rock Farm’s land was set aside for the two legumes this year, while about 1500ha was planted to wheat, canola, bar­ley and oats.

De­part­ment of Pri­mary In­dus­tries and Re­gional De­vel­op­ment WA se­nior re­search of­fi­cer An­gelo Loi said ser­radella was a well-adapted pas­ture species.

How­ever, Dr Loi urged farm­ers to read the la­bels on their prod­ucts to un­der­stand the im­pli­ca­tions for fu­ture crop ro­ta­tions.

“It is im­por­tant for pro­duc­ers to know which chem­i­cals can be used in-crop to avoid chem­i­cal residues im­pact­ing on pas­tures re­gen­er­at­ing af­ter crop,” he said.

“When grow­ing ser­radella, you can’t use any sulphol­ny­lurea-based or clopy­ralid-based her­bi­cides in pre­vi­ous years, be­cause it can com­pro­mise the growth of the ser­radella.”

Var­ley farm­ers Craig and Anna-Lisa New­man are half­way through a Wheat­belt NRM trial in­ves­ti­gat­ing soil fer­til­ity and weed man­age­ment in pas­ture and chem­i­cal fal­low strat­egy.

They have also in­cor­po­rated ser­radella into their man­age­ment strat­egy, opt­ing to trial a 2:1 ro­ta­tion with two crops fol­lowed by a ser­radella pas­ture phase.

Cally Dupe

Pic­ture: Cally Dupe

Brook­ton farmer Anna Butcher, with kelpie Mor­gen, in a pad­dock of ser­radella.

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