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Beyond the Bale : December 2013
39 39 ON-FARM December 2013 BEYOND THE BALE Western Australian sheep producers battling a mysterious clover disease are seeing potential in alternative legumes – such as serradella, biserrulas and bladder clovers – to fill feed gaps and lift stocking rates, but extensive trials are still needed to quantify benefits. ASHEEP executive officer Jan Clawson said the Esperance area’s dominant pasture legume has been subterranean clover, but in recent years a previously unknown root disease, now called red clover syndrome, has decimated sub clover stands. 33 per cent of farmers surveyed said their pasture was affected, with some experiencing up to 95 per cent loss. About 80 ASHEEP members farm about 264,000 hectares in the Esperance area, of which 60 per cent is cropped with about 284,000 sheep. The area’s rainfall ranges from 300mm-600mm across deep sand to loam clay soils. Ms Clawson said red clover disease is now spreading throughout the state. “At this stage these alternative legumes are not getting the disease.” She said the self-funded ASHEEP trials were about finding what alternative legumes suit the various soil and rainfall conditions, and cropping-pasture system needs in the area. Ms Clawson said farmers sowing the alternative legumes are starting to see some benefits, but within very different systems to the previous sub clover base program. “They are having to learn a whole new system incorporating new seed set conditions.” At the third annual ASHEEP field days on 25-26 September this year Professor John Howieson launched the Free Nitrogen Farming concept in collaboration with AWI, Meat and Livestock Australia and Murdoch University. The concept refers to the ability of high quality leguminous pastures to provide the on-farm nitrogen needs in a mixed farming system. Legumes and rhizobia achieve this through symbiotic nitrogen fixation, while producing high quality sheep feed. Case studies in the AWI/MLA funded project “Pasture legumes in the mixed farming zones of WA and NSW: shifting the baseline” have recently highlighted how adoption of well-adapted pasture legumes and inoculants developed specifically for WA conditions have allowed some producers to greatly reduce their dependence on fertiliser N. For example, eight tonnes of legume biomass produced over the winter, following summer sowing in February, contains 240 kg of N, which is equivalent to 500kg of urea. This free N becomes available to rotational cereals and canola crops over the next several seasons. To produce 500kg of urea would require the combustion of 500kg of fossil fuels, with the attendant release of many tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. Ms Clawson said although the ASHEEP members were aware of the carbon farming benefits of homegrown legumes they were really having to persevere to change their farming systems to get the new alternative legumes to fit into their programs. The alternative legumes have the potential to provide heaps of benefits but there is still a lot of work to be done, especially on herbicide use in the new systems, she said. “We will probably put a big emphasis on summer sowing in our trials this year to fill the autumn feed gap to maintain condition scores in sheep and reduce supplementary feed costs.” More information: ASHEEP executive officer Jan Clawson, 0407 990 497, firstname.lastname@example.org Red clover syndrome: alternative legumes trialled FAST FACTS l Red clover syndrome is devastating subterranean clover stands around the Esperance area of Western Australia, but farmers are experimenting with alternative legumes to fill feed gaps. l So far, the alternative legumes are not affected by the disease but further trials are needed to quantify the benefits. l Changing from their previous sub clover base program can be challenging for farmers, especially in regards to the use of herbicides. At Simon Stead’s farm near Cascades, the touring farmers on the annual ASHEEP field days saw summer sown pink serradella variety Margarita and bladder clover Bartolo sown as unscarified seed. The almost pure sward of legumes was hard grazed through the winter and although production comparisons between the improved and unimproved pastures on Simon’s farm revealed little difference because of the outstanding seasonal conditions, red clover syndrome rapidly deteriorated sub clover stands in spring while the serradella still actively grew. It is likely the seradella pods could replace the supplementary lupins normally provided in this region to animals grazing senesced sub clover residues.