Looking for a break crop? Why not forage legumes?

Bulgary farmer Vince Lenehan (left) and NSW Agriculture officer Greg Scott examine vetch, which is being trialed as a green manure.

NSW Agriculture, with support from growers through the GRDC, is testing a series of forage legumes to broaden the range of rotation possibilities.

The three years of testing will give growers information on the benefits of forage legumes in terms of cereal and canola yields, soil nitrogen, water use, weed and disease control and as a stock feed. Under the microscope are peas, vetch and clover mixes.

Looking at forage alternatives to pulse (grain legume) crops has been prompted by farmer resistance to growing pulses in some areas due to poor yields, low prices and disease problems. However, the values of a legume option in the rotation are widely acknowledged.

Initial farmer trials are already demonstrating the benefits of using vetch as a green manure. Soil nitrogen is up, weeds are down, and direct-drilling is easier.

An alternate approach is winter or early spring grazing of clover mixes with a subsequent hay silage cut. Regrowth may be grazed if seasonal conditions permit.

Savings on imported nitrogen and herbicides for the subsequent grain crop are two major incentives for this program.

"Not only can farmers increase available nitrogen and reduce the weed burden using less chemicals, but they also value-add to their farm profits through livestock production or the sale of the crop as hay or silage," said trial manager Greg Scott.

(Consultation with an agronomic adviser is a good idea where soil acidity is present or threatening — Ed.)

Program 3.5.2 Contact: Mr Greg Scott 02 6938 1931