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Beyond the Bale : Oct - Nov 08
Pastures BeyOnd the Bale 17 Hope lies in arid climate legume A new perennial legume originating in the Canary Islands holds promise to plant breeders as a feed source that will flourish and remain green in the driest conditions P erennial legumes that stay green in even the driest of years could hold the key to Australian farmers’ management of climate change, according to Uruguayan-born plant breeder Dr Daniel Real. With scientists predicting that annual rainfall will decrease by up to 40 per cent (relative to 1990) in Australia’s south west, and most of Australia experiencing up to 20 per cent more drought months by 2030, farmers are under pressure to find alternatives to the traditional annual subclover and grass-based pastures that are already under climate pressure. Dr Real says he may have an alternative. He and colleagues have searched worldwide for plants that will produce green feed in dry conditions. For more than six years that quest has taken them to Israel, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, the canary Islands and to Australia. Now, as a senior plant breeder with the part-AWI- funded Future Farm Industries cooperative Research centre (FFI cRc), Dr Real believes his team is close to selectively breeding a leguminous plant that will not only flourish in dry conditions, but will withstand repeated grazing and produce healthy sheep. Legumes are favoured because they help fix nitrogen in the soil and are usually highly nutritious. “We expect to have commercial versions of the plant available within the next five to six years,” Dr Real says. “We already have the breeding skills here at the FFI cRc and we’ve selected the best characteristics, which we’ll breed into a few cultivars. This will produce a new species that has never been planted in Australia.” Dr Real says breeding such perennials could be the key to sustainability and profitability, and to complementing crop and pasture production on farms with annual rainfall of 250 to 400 millimetres. These make up a massive part of the country, taking in all but the coastal areas of southern Australia. “The farming systems in these areas use annual plants – plants that die off in summer. Once the crop stubbles and remaining dry annual pastures run out, there’s little for stock to eat. “That’s when farmers start feeding hay and/ or grain to their animals. It’s expensive and time consuming, but they don’t have many choices. The work we are doing will provide new options.” Dr Real’s work started with the cRc for Plant-based Management of Dryland Salinity. However, from June 2007 he has been funded by the FFI cRc, a national alliance of Australia’s major agricultural R&D investors, agribusinesses, universities, farmer organisations and businesses, and state government agricultural agencies, which is working to give farmers a suite of crops and pasture species and farming systems that are well adapted to drought and climate change. Trials of the new legume, Bituminaria bituminosa PHOTOS: cOURTeSY cURRIe cOMMUNIcATIONS var. albomarginata, are already showing promise. At five sites in Western Australia the perennial legume survived the 2006-07 summer, one of the driest on record. At these sites sheep found the plants palatable and the plants recovered quickly after heavy grazing. Subsequent work has shown that some of these varieties germinate well and produce ample seed that can be harvested for further plantings. Dr Real says the legumes come from the canary Islands, in the Atlantic Ocean just off Africa’s north- west coast, where the climate can be very dry: “One of the varieties is cut for hay for milking goats on the islands. It is also native to Israel’s Galilee scrublands where it is grazed by sheep. In Australia the plant could easily be incorporated into mixed cropping and grazing systems.” He says Australia is one of the harshest environments for plant breeders to successfully work in. “We’ve successfully bred plants that grow when it rains, but breeding plants that grow well during the other six months when it doesn’t rain is another matter. “We can find plants that will survive, but Australian farmers want a plant that will add value to their farming systems. A reliable source of green feed that can be repeatedly grazed during summer will lift the productivity of all low-rainfall-area farms.” More information: www.futurefarmcrc.com.au eveRgRAze SITeS oPeN gATeS To THe PubLIC EverGraze ‘More livestock from Perennials’ proof and supporting sites will showcase results to producers in October and November. National coordinator Geoffrey Saul says the six proof sites are fully operational, with treatments responding well to improved seasonal conditions. “The Wagga Wagga (NSW), Hamilton (Victoria) and Albany (WA) proof sites were all hit badly by drought in 2006-07,” Geoff says. “However, improved rainfall this year has allowed us to make comparisons under what are typical conditions. “While the drought has restricted some of the research at the proof sites, the dry conditions have eveRgRAze PRoof SITe oPeN dAyS lOCATION Tamworth Orange DATE Wagga Wagga Albury–Wodonga Hamilton Albany Tuesday 25 November CONTACT Wednesday 19 November Greg lodge, 02 6763 1176, firstname.lastname@example.org Wednesday 15 October Warwick Badgery, 02 6391 3814, email@example.com Friday 3 October Michael Friend, 02 6933 2285, firstname.lastname@example.org Meredith Mitchell, 02 6030 4579, email@example.com Wednesday 12 November Ralph Behrendt, 03 5573 0979, firstname.lastname@example.org October (TBA) Paul Sanford, 08 9892 8475, email@example.com really tested the performance of our grazing systems, so we also have a good idea of what species and systems can cope with variable climatic conditions, which are likely to occur more frequently.” Good rainfall this year has already begun showing up the treatment differences at the Albury–Wodonga, Orange and Tamworth EverGraze proof sites, which only began last summer. Open days will also be held at supporting sites during October and November. More information: EverGraze, www.evergraze.com.au Plant breeder dr daniel Real is trialling a hardy perennial legume, Bituminaria bituminosa var. albomarginata (left), under Australian conditions. ú
Dec 08 - Jan 09
Aug - Sep 08