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Potential of some annual pasture legumes as fodder crops in the wheatbelt of Western Australia

Anyou Liu1 and Clinton Revell2

1 Centre for Cropping Systems, Department of Agriculture Western Australia, PO Box 483, Northam, WA
6401.www.agric.gov.au Email aliu@agric.wa.gov.au
2
Pasture Science, Animal Industries, Department of Agriculture Western Australia, Locked Bag 4, Bentley Delivery Centre, WA
6983. www.agric.gov.au Email crevell@agric.wa.gov.au

Abstract

Several annual pasture legumes were tested in five field trials in the southwest of Western Australia during 2003 to compare their potential as fodder crops (e.g. hay and silage). Species varied considerably in their potential as fodder crops and a strong interaction between species and sites was evident. However, some species, such as French serradella and crimson clover, showed wider adaptation than others. Balansa clover and Persian clover appeared to be exceptionally well adapted to the high rainfall and waterlogging prone areas. Some of the species including arrowleaf clover, crimson clover and serradella appeared to have potential for use in a mixture with a forage cereal crop. Some of these issues will be further examined as the project continues.

Media summary

French serradella and crimson clover showed potential as fodder crops under a broad range of conditions, while Persian clover and balansa clover were best suited to areas prone to waterlogging. Mixtures of cereal and legumes appear worthy of further consideration.

Key Words

Pasture legumes, fodder crop, sustainability, farming system.

Introduction

High value fodder crops provide farmers with a capacity to diversify their production systems and are an integral part of strategies to intensify animal production. Recent history has seen a steady increase in fodder production in Australia (Stubbs, 2000). Legume based fodder production systems can also play important roles in the integrated management of weeds, improvement of soil fertility, efficient use of water and nutrients, and better management of pastures (Evans, 1999, Doonan et al, 2003). During the last few years, a number of alternative annual pasture legume species, such as serradella (Ornithopus spp.), crimson clover ( Trifolium incarnatum) and arrowleaf clover (Trifolium vesiculosum), have been commercialised that have the potential to suit fodder cropping systems ( Michalk and Revell, 1994, Wiley et al, 1994, Carr and Paterson, 1998, Ewing, 1999, CLIMA, 2004). However, there is limited information to support their use in the Western Australian wheatbelt.

A project was started in 2003 with the aim to examine the potential of some of the annual pasture legumes to be conserved as fodder crops. Issues to be considered include (1) investigation of the agronomy of these species in relation to fodder production (hay and silage), (2) impact of pasture management on feed quality and (3) how to sustainably and profitably incorporate them into existing farming systems. This poster paper will summarise the results from the first stage of this three-year project on the performances of species tested at different locations in the Western Australian wheatbelt.

Methods

Sites, treatments and design

Five field trials were established in 2003, which included two replicated trials and three on-farm trials that were unreplicated (Table 1a).

The two replicated trials with some common treatments were established at York and Mingenew (Table 1a). At the York site, ten different treatments were evaluated using a randomised block experimental design with three replicates. Plots were 7.2 m by 40 m in size and were sown on 28 May 2003. The soil was a red loam and the previous rotation had been wheat. At the Mingenew site, ten pasture legume species/varieties were examined, also using a randomised block design with three replicates. Plots were 1.54 m by 20 m in size and were sown on 29 May 2003. The soil was a deep yellow sand and the previous rotation had been wheat.

The three on-farm trials were established at Capel, Brookton, and Gillingarra with ten treatments each. At each site, one variety was used as a control and was repeated three times. All other treatments had only one replicate. The control varieties used were Caprera at Capel, Cadiz at Brookton, and Cefalu at Gillingarra. Although the same species were included at each site, different cultivars for some species were used where they were thought to be better adapted to a particular site. Treatments, including the controls, were randomised at each site.

Large plots were established at each of the on-farm sites but varied depending on the setup of the seeding equipment and paddock size. At Gillingarra, plots were 9.6 m by 60 m in size and were sown on 19 May 2003; at Brookton, the plots were 11 m by 150 m in size and were sown on 19 May 2003; and at Capel, the plots were 18 m by 80 m in size and were sown on 26 May 2003. Pasture legumes were sown at 15 kg/ha, except Cadiz French serradella which was sown at 30 kg/ha pod segments. Oats were sown at 100 kg/ha and vetch at 50 kg/ha. The mixtures consisted of the normal seeding rate of oat and of the normal seeding rate of the legume used. The sites were treated with a bare earth insecticide spray after seeding. No fertiliser was applied at the time of seeding. Soil samples were taken at the time of sowing and analysis data plus growing season rainfall (May-Oct) are given in Table 1b. The Mingenew site was low in organic matter, while the Gillingarra site had a low pH compared with other sites. Both sites were also low in phosphorus. The Capel site had some waterlogging problems for most of the season.

Plant samples were taken at flowering time to estimate biomass and the quality of hay or silage. Several sampling trips were made to accommodate the differences in flowering time for different varieties. Four 100 cm by 50 cm quadrats were taken from each plot (cut to ground level), two were dried to estimate dry matter production and two were made into silage (2-litre plastic bottles tightly packed with chopped plant material containing about 35% dry matter). Both the dried and silage samples will be analysed for quality indicators including crude protein content and metabolisable energy (data not available at the time of writing).

Regrowth after the flowering-time cut and the whole plot cut at selected sites (York and Gillingarra) was visually estimated. Although most of the legume species showed some ability for regrowth, only one at the York site (arrowleaf clover) had enough dry matter for a quadrat cut.

Table 1a. Treatments (species and varieties) tested as fodder crops at different sites in Western Australia during 2003.

Treatment (seeding rate)

Varieties used at each site

Replicated trial (3 reps)

On-farm trial (1 reps each)

York

Mingenew

Gillingarra

Brookton

Capel

Arrowleaf clover (15 kg/ha)

Cefalu

--

Cefalu1

Cefalu

Cefalu

Balansa clover (15 kg/ha)

Frontier

Frontier&Paradana

Frontier

Frontier

Paradana

Crimson clover (15 kg/ha)

Caprera

Caprera

Caprera

Caprera

Caprera

French serradella (30 kg/ha)

Cadiz

Cadiz

Cadiz

Cadiz

Cadiz

Yellow serradella (15 kg/ha)

--

Santorini&King

--

--

--

Mixture2 (oat+legume)

Carrolup&
Cefalu

--

Winjardie&
Cefalu

Carrolup&
Cadiz

Vasse&
Caprera

Oat (100 kg/ha)

Carrolup

--

Winjardie

Carrolup

Vasse

Persian clover (15 kg/ha)

Prolific

Prolific&Red Gully

Prolific

Prolific

Lightning

Purple clover (15 kg/ha)

line

line

line

line

line

T. dasyurum (15 kg/ha)

line

line

line

line

line

Vetch (50 kg/ha)

Morava

--

Morava

Morava

Morava

1 Varieties in bold were used as control varieties and replicated three times at the on-farm site where they were grown.

2 of the normal seeding rate of oat plus of the normal seeding rate of the legume involved.’

Table 1b. Major soil properties and growing season rainfall at each fodder crop site in Western Australia during 2003.

Soil property

Trial sites

Replicated trial

On-farm trial

York

Mingenew

Gillingarra

Brookton

Capel

Nitrogen_nitrate, ppm

16

13

28

33

29

Nitrogen_ammonium, ppm

1

1

7

11

2

Phosphorus, ppm

44

18

20

56

41

Potassium, ppm

626

88

142

190

104

Sulphur, ppm

7

5

4

14

7

Organic_C, %

1.15

0.66

1.24

1.59

3.80

Fe, ppm

642

263

434

1007

203

Conductivity, dS/m

0.084

0.056

0.080

0.172

0.100

pH (CaCl2)

5.9

5.7

4.4

4.9

5.34

Texture (sand 1, loam 2, clay 3)

3.0

1.5

1.5

2.0

1.5

Rainfall (mm, May-Oct, 2003)

277

368

452

287

7761

1 Including April rainfall.

Statistical analysis

Statistical analysis (AOV) was conducted using GenStat (Release 6.1, Lawes Agricultural Trust) or Excel in simple calculations.

Results

There were considerable variations in biomass production among species at flowering time (Table 2).

At the York site, arrowleaf clover, crimson clover, and purple clover produced the greatest biomass. Aphid build-up during flowering stunted T. dasyurum more severely than the other species. The mixture produced more biomass than when oat and arrowleaf were grown in pure stands. It was also observed that arrowleaf remained green longer than the other species. Cadiz French serradella looked impressive early in the season, but did not go on to produce the greatest biomass. It also suffered from lodging late in the season.

At the Mingenew site, crimson clover and French serradella produced the greatest biomass at flowering time, while both balansa and Persian clover performed poorly. Yellow serradella and T. dasyurum were intermediate in performance.

The best performing pasture legume species at Gillingarra were arrowleaf clover, crimson clover and purple clover (Table 2). Cadiz also performed well before flowering and was visually impressive but it again suffered from lodging late in the season. In some patches, volunteer oats appeared to reduce this problem. Dry matter production of the mixture (arrowleaf clover and oats) was somewhere between the two species when they were sown as pure stands. Commercial-size small square bales were also made at this site using on-farm machinery with satisfactory results.

The Brookton site was affected by a weed problem (Cotula spp.) early in the season and was strongly competitive with the legume seedlings. However, some of the species such as balansa clover, French serradella and crimson clover were able to outgrow the weeds and still produced a modest biomass. Vetch was the best performing legume at this site.

At Capel, the best performing species were balansa clover and Persian clover. Cadiz French serradella produced a reasonable stand early in the season but not in spring. Arrowleaf clover performed poorly and was not sampled.

Regrowth after cutting was minimal for most species at nearly all sites. The exception was arrowleaf clover, which remained green longer than most other species and had an estimated regrowth of around 1.1 t/ha (s.d. = 0.14) at the York site.

Table 2. Biomass production (t/ha) at the flowering time cut for fodder varieties grown in Western Australia in 2003.

 

Biomass production (t/ha)

Treatment

Replicated trials (3 reps)

On-farm trials (1 reps each)

 

York

Mingenew

Gillingarra

Brookton

Capel

Arrowleaf clover

5.03

n/a

3.92 (n/a)

n/a

n/a

Balansa clover

3.61

1.59 & 1.98

2.83

2.50

8.63

Crimson clover

4.92

5.34

4.46

2.73

4.88 (1.58)

French serradella

3.16

4.02

3.70

2.21 (0.44)

1.66

Yellow serradella

--

2.41 & 2.80

n/a

--

--

Mixture (oat+legume)

7.13

--

6.34

6.24

7.50

Oat

5.70

--

9.53

7.06

8.99

Persian clover

3.25

1.44 & 2.06

2.32

--

7.44

Purple clover

4.53

3.73

4.05

1.54

3.31

T. dasyurum

3.30

2.70

1.33

--

1.74

Vetch

3.36

--

3.16

4.14

2.97

LSD (P=0.05)

1.81

0.72

--

--

--

1 Varieties in bold were used as control varieties and replicated three times at the site where they were used. Number in parenthesis indicates s.d. of the control variety.

Conclusion

No single species showed superiority across all the experimental sites, although crimson clover and French serradella showed broad adaptation. Persian clover and balansa clover have clear advantages in sites prone to winter waterlogging. Arrowleaf clover can be productive in the higher rainfall sites without waterlogging and its erect growth habit (similar to crimson clover) makes it attractive for fodder conservation.

At most sites, production from the annual legumes was considerably lower than the oat control. Perhaps the best way to use annual legumes in medium to low rainfall environments is in mixtures with an oat crop. This strategy showed a production advantage at one site and little or no yield penalty at three other sites. Additional benefits are likely to come from an improvement in the quality of conserved feed. Arrowleaf clover, crimson clover and French serradella appear to be suited for use in mixtures; for French serradella in particular the strategy will overcome the problem of lodging. Further work is required to define the best agronomy of species mixtures, including optimum sowing rates and sowing configurations to maximise feed production and quality.

Acknowledgment

RIRDC for financial support, Giles Glasson, John Titterington and Debbie Allen for technical support, PlantTech, Ballard Seeds, Rade Matic, Angelo Loi and Peter Skinner for supplying seed used in the trials, Rodney Field, Mike Ewing and Brett Thomson for advice at various stages of the project, Mario D’Antuono for discussions on experimental design and statistical analysis, Shane Kelly, Brett Whittington, Terry Bell, Tony Seabrook and Neil and Val Ballard for their help during the trial and/or providing land on their property.

References

Carr, SJ and Paterson, J (1998). Caprera crimson clover – an affordable pasture for high rainfall areas. Farmnote No. 31/98. (Department of Agriculture Western Australia)

CLIMA, 2004, Pasture cultivars. http://www.general.uwa.edu.au/u/climaweb/industry/pastures/cultivars.html

Doonan BM, Kaiser AG, Stanley DF, Blackwood IF, Piltz JW, and White AK (2003). Silage in the farming system. In ‘Successful Silage _ Chapter 1’. (Ed. A. G. Kaiser, J. W. Piltz, H. M. Burns, N. W. Griffiths) (DRDC and NSW Agriculture).

Evans J (1999). Economic and biological benefits of forage legumes for wheat production on acidic soils of SE Australia. GRDC project (DAN 318) report. www.grdc.com.au/growers/res_summ/Eureka/DAN318.htm

Ewing MA (1999). New pasture species. In ‘Proceedings of the 11th Australian Plant Breeding Conference’ (Ed. P. Langridge, A. Barr, G. Auricht, G. Collins, A. Grainger, D. Handford and J. Paull) Vol. 1, pp. 86-90. (CRC for Molecular Plant Breeding, University of Adelaide).

Michalk DL and Revell CK (1994). Serradella (Ornithopus spp.) research: An Australian overview. In ‘Alternative pasture Legume 1993’ (Ed. D. L. Michalk, A. D. Craig and W. J. Collins). Technical Report 219. pp. 39-46. (Department of Primary Industries South Australia).

Stubbs A. (2000). Atlas of the Australian Fodder Industry: outline of production and trade. RIRDC Publication No. 00/122.

Wiley, TJ, Snowball R and Craig, AD (1994) Arrowleaf clover (Trifolium vesiculosum) in Australia. In ‘Alternative pasture Legume 1993’ (Ed. D. L. Michalk, A. D. Craig and W. J. Collins). Technical Report 219. pp. 139-42. (Department of Primary Industries South Australia).

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