NRM South, in partnership with the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA), have been running a perennial legume trial at Milton, Cranbrook since 2017. The aim of the trial was to test legume varieties that can persist in the challenging dryland conditions experienced on the east coast. Legumes are an important component of perennial pastures. They can increase pasture resilience by boosting dry matter production (through fixing atmospheric nitrogen) and improving the nutritional quality of feed. This can lead to better groundcover, lowering the risk of erosion, improving soil health, and reducing weed incursions.
Throughout the trial, there were many challenges in getting legumes to grow and persist. However, the species that did successfully establish has provided insights into what can work on the east coast if successful establishment can be achieved.
The most important factor is the plants’ ability to persist during long periods of moisture stress. Cocksfoot and phalaris present the best options for grasses, while lucerne appears to be the best perennial legume option. While red clover is a more vigorous seedling than other perennial legumes, and presents an opportunity on areas with better moisture holding capacity, its capacity for long-term survival may be stretched in this environment.
Promoting subterranean clover through grazing management and appropriate fertiliser applications in combination with a perennial legume presents the best option for increasing legume content in dryland mixed pastures on the east coast.
Though this trial is wrapping up there are several pasture trials that are investigating pasture species persistence under a range of environmental conditions.
We are currently supporting the Derwent Catchment Project team on perennial pasture trials in the Derwent through the Derwent Pasture Network. A useful dryland pasture website has been developed as part of this project and updates on the trials will follow soon. https://www.pasturenetwork.org/
TIA are running a project that is testing methods for establishing legumes in new and existing pastures, jointly funded by TIA and Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA). https://www.utas.edu.au/tia/research/research-projects/projects/growing-red-meat-productivity-through-the-selection-and-establishment-of-perennial-legumes
TIA is also evaluating serradellas (an annual pasture legume) for new environments, collaborating with CSIRO, NSW DPI and MLA to develop agronomy packages for eastern Australia. https://www.utas.edu.au/tia/research/research-projects/projects/serradellas-for-new-environments
This initiative is supported by NRM South, through funding from the Australian Government and the Tasmanian Government’s core support for Natural Resource Management, and the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture.