Australia’s feedbase is underproductive due to a sub-optimal mix of species in pastures and the lack of persistence of sub-clover and annual medics. Therefore, there is low nitrogen (N) fixation, particularly in mixed cropping and livestock enterprises.
Low legume content reduces N supply to pastures and restricts response to applied phosphorus (P) and sulphur (S). Poor-performing pastures reduce livestock productivity.
By growing pastures with a sufficient legume component, producers can improve persistence and productivity, grow free nitrogen and extend the growing season.
Legumes, which include clovers and medics, are a family of broadleaf plants which, in association with Rhizobium bacteria, are able to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere and make it available to other pasture species. The nitrogen fixed by legumes then boosts the performance of non-legume species in the pasture and produces higher quality dry matter, providing a nutritious feedbase.
Common legumes traditionally grown in the mixed farming zones are subterranean or sub-clover, annual medics and lucerne. However, with sub-clover and annual medics failing to persist and climate variability impacting production, hard-seeded annual legumes such as arrowleaf clover, biserrula, bladder clover, gland clover and serradella are providing increased value.
MLA-funded research has found hard-seeded legumes present an opportunity for mixed farming enterprises to grow a more resilient, flexible, highly productive feedbase and are a suitable replacement for sub‑clover.