Purpose-bred lucerne varieties are on the way, especially for graingrowers in areas where rising watertables and dryland salinity are problems.
Ten lucerne breeders' lines could be available at the end of 2001 for testing in the southern and western cropping zones.
This initiative, supported by growers and the Federal Government through the GRDC, is now underway in the labs and glasshouses of Geoff Auricht and Alan Humphries of the SA Research and Development Institute. Related work in WA has Roy Latta and Lisa-Jane Blacklow concentrating on agronomic issues, including lucerne establishment and removal before cropping.
But can it carry a tune?
Qualities sought in the new lucernes include high water-use capabilities; tolerance to a wide range of soil and climate conditions; ability to survive drought; suitability to phase cropping systems; resistance to major pests and diseases; and ability to provide good grazing and hay production.
According to Mr Auricht, current lucerne cultivars were developed primarily for animal industries but lucerne's status as a deep-rooted perennial is the reason for its new-found popularity in reducing groundwater recharge.
Program 3.6.1 Contact: Mr Geoff Auricht 08 8303 9498