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Beyond the Bale : December 2014
50 ON FARM During October, farmers and scientists inspected a field experiment at Werong near Yass in NSW as part of an AWI and MLA co-funded research effort that is showing it may be possible to substantially reduce the phosphorus (P) fertiliser costs for pasture production. Soil P fertility drives pasture legume growth and nitrogen fixation in most pastures, and it remains a critical input for grazing enterprises. However, producers are acutely aware that P fertiliser costs have doubled over the last decade. A research team from CSIRO, NSW Department of Primary Industries and The University of Western Australia has been testing a range of alternative pasture legumes in glasshouse experiments and field trials searching for legumes that can grow as well as subterranean clover but with less P fertiliser. Although the work is still in an early research phase, there are some promising results. Graeme Sandral, Research Officer with NSW DPI at Wagga Wagga oversees the field trial component of the project. “We have tested a number of alternative legumes and only a small number have the ability to grow well when in low P soil. The most promising for permanent pastures have been serradella species,” he says. Yellow serradella and French serradella have been tested so far. “It is very clear that many of the alternative legumes do not have the wide adaptation range we are used to with subterranean clover. French serradella is already noted for its growth in crop-pasture rotations in WA and the Riverina. It has also grown well in pure stands in the Yass area at substantially lower soil test P concentrations than required for equivalent production by subterranean clover. However, yellow serradella which we know does the same in some districts in WA and NSW, for example, did not yield as well in the Yass area and had relatively slow winter growth.” Ed Storey, who is the operator of the family property that is hosting one of the research trial sites, said, “We have been quite surprised to see French serradella yielding so well in low P soil compared to sub-clover. If the serradella can do as well in a grazing situation with grasses, we could really be on to something.” Senior Principal Research Scientist at the CSIRO in Canberra Richard Simpson who leads the national research project, says: “We have good evidence that pastures growing with low soil test P concentrations accumulate (“fix”) less P in the soil and this reduces the amount of P fertiliser that is needed every year. Our research indicates that the way to gain high production with lower P fertiliser costs could be to use alternative pasture legumes that yield well, but at lower soil test P concentrations than are presently needed.” The next step in the development of low-P pasture options is to test whether the most promising legumes continue to produce well and require less fertiliser when grown in mixed pastures under grazing. The research team has also researched how the low-P legumes can grow so well with lower soil test P concentrations. “They have long fine roots with long root hairs, compared to sub-clover, which allow them to efficiently explore the soil for P. This shows us a clear path for selecting and breeding other low-P legumes,” Dr Simpson says. REDUCING FERTILISER With the cost of phosphorus (P) increasing at approximately twice the rate of inflation in Australia, there is growing interest in developing grazing systems that require less P fertiliser. MORE INFORMATION Dr Richard Simpson, firstname.lastname@example.org; Graeme Sandral, email@example.com. RESEARCH SHOWS EARLY PROMISE FOR At the family property of Ed Storey at ‘Werong’ near Yass, CSIRO and NSW DPI research scientists discuss with producers the most promising pasture type tested in the Yass area, French serradella (inset), which yielded as well as subterranean clover and required significantly less phosphorus to achieve these yields. Further studies under controlled laboratory conditions have confirmed the ability of the serradella species to grow well compared with sub-clover, especially in soil with low rates of phosphorus application. Research co-funded by AWI has tested a number of alternative legumes, with a small number identified as having the ability to grow well when in low P soil. French (pink) serradella is highly productive at much lower available soil phosphorus levels than are required for species like subterranean clover.