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Lucerne adapted to adverse environments in China and Australia

Trevor Garnett1, Zhu Xu2, Zhaohui Liu3, Xinshi Lu4, Yanrong Wang5, Zhizhong Cao6, Linqing Yu2, Zhenwu Wei6, Qingsong Tian2, Lihua Jiang3, Dongfeng Zheng3, Ling Yu5, Jihua Sun5, Roy Latta7,8, Kathi Davies7, David Peck1 and Geoff Auricht1

1 South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI), Waite Campus, GPO Box 397, Adelaide 5001, Australia.
www.sardi.sa.gov.au
Email garnett.trevor@saugov.sa.gov.au
2
Grasslands Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Science, 120 East Wulanchabu Road, Huhhot, Inner Mongolia,
010010, PR China. www.caas.net.cn Email xuzhu@public.hh.nm.cn
3
Soil and Fertiliser Institute, Shandong Academy of Agricultural Sciences, 28 Sang Yuan Road, Jinan, Shandong, 250100, PR
China. www.saas.ac.cn Email liuzhaohui@saas.ac.cn
4
College of Grassland Science, Beijing Forestry University, Box 116, 35 Qinghua East Street, Beijing, 100083, PR China.
www.bjfu.edu.cn
Email luxinshi@sohu.com
5
Gansu Grasslands Ecological Research Institute, Lanzhou University, PO Box 61, Lanzhou, 730020, PR China.
www.lzu.edu.cn
Email yrwang@lzu.edu.cn
6
College of Grassland Science, Gansu Agricultural University, No. 1 Yingmen Village, Anning District, Lanzhou, 730070, PR
China. www.gsau.edu.cn
7
Great Southern Agricultural Research Institute, Department of Agriculture, Western Australia, 10 Dore Street, Katanning, WA,
6317, Australia. www.agric.wa.gov.au Email kdavies@agric.wa.gov.au
8
Current Address: Mallee Research Station, Department of Primary Industries, Victoria, PB 1, Walpeup, Vic 3507
www.dpi.vic.gov.au
Email roy.latta@dpi.vic.gov.au

Abstract

Lucerne (alfalfa) is a high quality, high productivity fodder crop grown around the world. In Southern Australia it is being widely promoted not only as a fodder crop but also as a way to reduce groundwater recharge. In China, lucerne is being widely promoted as a way of reducing overgrazing of natural grasslands by traditional livestock industries and also to supply high quality feed to the rapidly expanding new livestock industries. In Australia lucerne expansion is limited by environmental stresses such as salinity, acidity/aluminium and waterlogging. In northern and western China lucerne is limited by environmental stresses such as extreme cold, drought, and salinity. A diverse range of germplasm from around the world has been collected and is being characterised and the seed multiplied. This germplasm is being evaluated in field trials in Northern China: in Shandong; Inner Mongolia; Gansu and in Australia: South Australia; Western Australia. The best material identified in the field trials will then be the focus of either commercialisation and extension activities in the case of elite germplasm or further breeding in the case of stress tolerant but agronomically poorer germplasm.

Media summary

Australian and Chinese scientists are working together to acquire lucernes from around the world and testing their suitability for growing in harsh environments in both countries.

Key Words

alfalfa; aluminium; waterlogging; salinity; drought; cold tolerance.

Introduction

Lucerne (alfalfa) is the most widely sown perennial fodder legume in the world. In Australia it is grown over 1.8 million ha for both fodder and forage production. As well as being a valuable fodder and forage crop it also has an important role in reducing groundwater recharge and consequent dryland salinity (Cocks 2001). Although being widely adapted to southern Australian farming regions there are large areas where growing lucerne would be beneficial but its use is restricted because of environmental stresses such as acidity/aluminium, salinity and waterlogging.

Lucerne has been grown in China for over 2000 years and is currently grown on more than 1.5 million ha across 14 provinces. The area under lucerne is rapidly expanding due to both government policy and commercial reasons. The government policy is to produce quality fodder so that overgrazing of natural grasslands and the resulting environmental degradation can be reduced. The commercial reasons are that high quality fodder is needed to supply the rapidly developing livestock industries (both dairy and meat) associated with the improving economic conditions in China. In north and northwest China, lucerne use is currently restricted by cold, drought and salinity. Where lucerne is grown it is often those local landraces of limited genetic base with little or no breeding for quality or pest and disease tolerance.

Lucerne has a long history of cultivation worldwide and it has shown wide adaptation to a range of environments. In a project funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) we are utilising this genetic diversity to find better lucernes with tolerance to the environmental stresses availing in target areas in Australia and China. Large collections of lucerne are held in genetic resource centres throughout the world and this is one source of material available to the project. Other germplasm for the project comes from a range of commercially available cultivars and breeders lines. The project also actively seeks new germplasm through participation in and support of collection missions.

The goals of this project are to gather and characterise a collection of germplasm that may be suitable for the prospective environments in both China and Australia. Subsets of this collection are being evaluated in field trials in those target areas. Based on performance in the field trials and using the information from characterisation activities we aim to identify high quality germplasm that will grow well in target areas or identify stress tolerant material that may be used in breeding programs to create high quality cultivars.

Methods

Germplasm collection

Germplasm was sourced from genetic resources collections and lucerne researcher collections throughout the world. This included wild lucernes, breeding lines, cultivars, and land races. A total of more than 200 accessions were included based on likelihood of success in at least one of the target environments. The full range of winter activity ratings were included from 1-11. The germplasm was mostly Medicago sativa subspecies sativa or falcata (but with some subspecies: varia; glomerate; and coerulea). For material with limited seed, seed was multiplied using small open-pollinated plots with accessions grouped according to winter activity rating. A germplasm collection mission to Kazakhstan was undertaken in 2002 and over one hundred lucernes (mostly ssp falcata) were collected.

Germplasm characterisation

Accessions are also being characterised at the SARDI Genetic Resource Centre (GRC) and pure seed will be produced as part of this process.

Field Sites

There are six field sites in China and two in Australia (Figure 1). The Chinese field sites are in: Inner Mongolia (Huhhot and Taipusqi); Shandong (Dezhou and Dongying); and Gansu (Lanzhou and Zhangye). The Australian sites are in Katanning in Western Australia and Tintinara in South Australia. The Chinese sites are generally characterised by having cold winters with summer predominant rainfall whereas the Australian trials have wet mild winters and dry hot summers. Basic information about the trial sites is presented in table 1.

(a)

(b)

Figure 1. Trial locations in Australia (a) and China (b).

Table 1. Trial site characteristics in China and Australia.

Location

Site

Soil pH

Mean max winter (C)

Mean max summer (C)

Mean Rainfall(mm)

China

Inner Mongolia

Huhhot

Alkaline

-11

30

150

   

Dairy region supplying feed for dairy cattle. Very cold winters the major stress. Low rainfall with flood irrigation from artesian supply.

 

Taipusqi

Alkaline

-19

26

401

   

Situated on a degraded grassland area. Grazing and forage production are the main activities in the area. Very cold winters are the major stress. For both the Inner Mongolian sites the cold winters are especially harsh because of a lack of snow cover.

Shandong

Dezhou

Alkaline

6

30

557

   

Salinity is main stress in this region. This region also has a burgeoning dairy industry.

 

Dongying

Alkaline

7

29

580

   

Salinity is main stress in this region. This site is on the Yellow River delta with the land recently formed by silt deposition from the river. Soils are saline with shallow saline watertable.

Gansu

Lanzhou

Alkaline

4

30

330

 

.

Dry region on the Silk Route with the main stress being drought. A plant that can yield well with minimal irrigation is sought for this area.

 

Zhangye

Alkaline

2

29

121

   

Very dry region on the Silk Route with the main stress being drought. A plant that can yield well with minimal irrigation is sought for this area.

Australia

         

Western Australia

Katanning

Acid

15

30

470

   

This area is typical of large areas in the Western Australian cropping zone that are under threat from dryland salinity. Lucerne use is being encouraged in this region to reduce groundwater recharge. Much of the area has acidic soils containing aluminium that are inhospitable to current lucernes.

South Australia

Tintinara

Alkaline

15

30

470

   

This region has large areas of lucerne and is an important lucerne seed production area. There is a shallow saline watertable so salinity is a problem but the major stress is associated with waterlogging events in winter that can last from 3-6 weeks and do major damage to lucerne crops.

Field Trials

The Chinese field trials consisted of 1 x 5 m, 3-row plots sown by hand. Trials were hand weeded. The Australian trials consisted of 1 x 5 m, 5-row plots machine sowed with weeds controlled chemically using local practise but generally consisting of good pre-seeding weed control and winter cleaning. Sowing depth was 0.5-1 cm at all sites. Plots are being assessed for persistence by measuring the increase in the number of 15 cm gaps between plants. Gaps were measured yearly from planting. Biomass is being assessed by sub-sampling trial plots 3-4 times throughout the growing season. In China this is through spring summer and autumn whilst in Australia it is year-round dependent upon rainfall. The entire plots are mowed or grazed following sub sampling. Heights are being measured 2-3 weeks after the last biomass sampling at the start of winter. This minimum dataset is being collected at all sites but quality characteristics and disease/pest tolerance are being evaluated at some of the trial sites.

Results

Germplasm

The germplasm collection thus far has resulted in over 200 lines being collected from a range of sources and basic information has been collated on this material. Material that has had limited characterisation is being characterised in conjunction with the SARDI GRC.

Field results

At this stage results are only preliminary given that performance over at least three years is important for a lucerne to be suitable for a particular site. With this point in mind the top 5 lucernes at each site based on one years biomass harvests are presented in table 2. Some lucerne accessions, especially in the colder sites of Inner Mongolia, had no plants surviving after the first winter. The majority of the material that was found to yield well at the Chinese sites were local landraces or old cultivars that are poor quality compared with modern cultivars from Europe, Australia or the US. Vertebrate pests (rabbits and prairie dogs) were found to be a problem at some sites and one trial (Dongying) was completely destroyed.

Table 2. Top 5 performing lucernes at each field site in China (a) and Australia (b) based on preliminary yield results.

(a)

 

Inner Mongolia

 

Shandong

Gansu

 

Location

Huhhot

Taipusqi

Dezhou

Lanzhou

Zhangye

Ranking 1

YL-3

Caoyuan 2

Wugong

Sitel

Gongnong 1

2

Dayushan

Gannong 2

Prime

Xinjiang Daye

Bear 1

3

Ladak

Yuxian

Altai

Prime

Gongnong 1

4

Gannong 1

Wudi

Beijiang

Derby

Alfalfa Queen

5

USSR36

Algonquin

Sanditi

WL323

Gongnong 2

(b)

 

Western Australia

South Australia

Location

Kattaning

Tintinara

Ranking 1

L 124

L 60

2

L 125

L 124

3

SA 35093

L 262

4

Eureka

L 289

5

L 113

L 90

Conclusions

The germplasm collection of the project is now quite extensive and the information collected from the field evaluation and characterisation will make this collection a considerable resource for future work. The results thus far have shown the type of germplasm that is suitable for each site and future work will more closely target this germplasm for breeding for quality and pest/disease tolerance whilst more elite germplasm can be directly commercialised. Other work being carried out is developing techniques which will allow us to rapidly screen material for tolerance to stresses (specifically acid/aluminium, salinity and waterlogging) in glasshouses and in this way we will have more targeted material for future field trials.

Acknowledgements

This collaborative project is funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) (Project AS1/1998/026).

References

Cocks PS (2001). Ecology of herbaceous perennial legumes: a review of characteristics that may provide management options for the control of salinity and waterlogging in dryland cropping systems. Australian Journal of Agricultural Research 52, 137–151.

Humphries AW and Auricht GC (2001) Breeding lucerne for Australia's southern dryland cropping environments. Australian Journal of Agricultural Research 52, 153-169.

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