Pas­ture and Fer­tiliser

North East & Goulburn Murray Farmer - - FRONT PAGE -

THE sheep herds of Aus­tralia are be­ing asked to cast their vote, by teeth, to let re­searchers know just what type of lucerne crop is their favourite.

Agri­cul­ture Vic­to­ria is cur­rently eval­u­at­ing 47 dif­fer­ent lucerne cul­ti­vars for ‘graz­ing pref­er­ence’ as de­ter­mined by sheep.

Se­nior re­search sci­en­tist and project leader, Mered­ith Mitchell, said the tests were about eval­u­at­ing all cur­rent avail­able com­mer­cial lucerne cul­ti­vars, as well as pre­re­lease ma­te­rial from seed com­pa­nies and some ma­te­rial from China.

“These ex­per­i­ments will help iden­tify traits, for pro­duc­ers to po­ten­tially take ad­van­tage of,” Dr Mitchell said.

“Lucerne is a highly di­verse species with large vari­a­tion in traits and re­stric­tions, such as sea­sonal growth vari­a­tions, growth pat­terns, and tol­er­ance to stresses such as graz­ing, heat and drought.”

The ex­per­i­ment is be­ing con­ducted in small plot ex­per­i­ments at Agri­cul­ture Vic­to­ria’s Rutherglen and Hamil­ton sites.

The lo­ca­tions rep­re­sent con­trast­ing graz­ing dis­tricts in Vic­to­ria and the ex­per­i­ment sites were sown in spring 2015.

“The va­ri­eties in this ex­per­i­ment rep­re­sent the full range of win­ter dor­mancy rat­ings avail­able in Aus­tralia,” Dr Mitchell said.

“Also in­cluded are sev­eral graz­ing-tol­er­ant va­ri­eties, two that have a rhi­zoma­tous habit, which means the plant will grow run­ners across the soil sur­face, plus sev­eral with a de­gree of wa­ter­log­ging tol­er­ance.

“This project will ex­plore the large di­ver­sity of traits within the lucerne species which, once iden­ti­fied, could pro­vide the op­por­tu­nity to ex­ploit them.”

Dr Mitchell said ob­ser­va­tions are be­ing recorded at six week in­ter­vals.

Graz­ing pref­er­ence is be­ing as­sessed us­ing sheep in each plot area.

Sheep are on the plots for 27 hours, and the plots are rated on how much plant is eaten at 3, 6, 24 and 27 hour in­ter­vals.

“We are try­ing to cor­re­late graz­ing pref­er­ence with plant form ( up­right verses pros­trate), pas­ture height, for­age qual­ity and leaf to stem ra­tio.

“We will be re­peat­ing this graz­ing pref­er­ence ex­per­i­ment at both sites dur­ing win­ter,” Dr Mitchell said.

A field day, “How we can man­age lucerne bet­ter”, will be held early this month look­ing at tac­ti­cal graz­ing man­age­ment of lucerne to max­imise pro­duc­tiv­ity along with pre­lim­i­nary anal­y­sis of the an­i­mal graz­ing pref­er­ence ex­per­i­ment.

CHOICE: New re­search by Agri­cul­ture Vic­to­ria is look­ing at which lucerne crops sheep like best.

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