Rotations top list for northern pastures


More rotation options were at the top of the wishlist when 12 growers from the GRDC's northern region met scientists in Roma recently.

They were there for an Industry Linkage Group workshop canvassing their views on the progress and future direction of the National Annual Pasture Legume Improvement Program (NAPLIP) for the summer-dominant rainfall zone.

NAPLIP is providing the first opportunity for farmers to directly influence the direction of breeding programs for annual legumes.

All growers agreed on the urgent need for new types and/or varieties of pasture and ley legumes to improve rotation options. And on the need for NAPLIP to put more emphasis on the management side of legume development by developing management packages.

Since this was 'wishlist' time, growers also voiced the following views.

Leave nitrogen

Rob Anderson, 'Maneroo', Moree: "Farmers on the north-west slopes of NSW need legumes that will improve soil nitrogen levels. Although growers are increasingly including chickpea in rotations, the crop leaves virtually no residual nitrogen. You take chickpea nitrogen off with the grain.

"We want better legumes, with easy establishment, that are hardy, robust, flood-tolerant and cheap to plant. Summer clovers if you like, but they have got to be relatively easy to establish, manage and get rid of."

Green manure

Gordon Lummis, 'Wilga View', Curban: "Growers around Gilgandra need a green manure crop to replace field pea, which is too expensive a crop to grow just to plough in. We want something that will grow a big top, break up easily and with small seed, that you can plant at 20 kg/ha instead of 100 kilograms."

David Gleeson, 'Pampas', Walgett: "Farmers in the Walgett area, particularly to the east, are starting to push the boundaries of economics with their crop inputs, to the stage where they can't afford not to get a return. They are looking for an annual legume with high nitrogen content that they can plough in. While we have good levels of native burr medic, most people with stock don't have experience with bloat in cattle. They want a bloat-free legume pasture."

Economic evaluation of legume phases

Scott Chambers, 'Glenoria', Gulargambone: "The Coonamble Shire's cropping soils have deteriorated badly since being broken up for cropping in the 1950s, with the result that they are now producing more ASW wheat than anything else. There are virtually no rotations, although some farmers grow chickpea, faba beans and lupins, and more are using a simple rotation of three years wheat and three years lucerne.

"My wishlist for NAPLIP is for an economic evaluation of legume phases in rotations, under high and low dry matter production and high and low stocking rates. Growers also need to know the timing of legume removal for optimum available nitrogen for the following crop and the overall residual effect of legumes in the cropping phase.

"We need more economic evaluation of whole rotations, perhaps with the use of software to predict stocking rates and gross margins on a 'what if basis."

Rotation legumes for Central Queensland

Sam Morris, 'Thisisit, Baralaba: "About 30 per cent of farmers in Central Queensland raise cattle on permanent pastures, with their only cropping being for forage, while another 15 per cent are predominantly grain producers, growing sorghum, sunflowers and, occasionally, mungbeans, with wheat still the most important crop.

"This group is moving away from monoculture and towards rotations, while a third category of Central Queensland farmers is operating integrated mixed farms with grain, cattle and ley pastures of legumes where possible. This type of farming was considered to be the most productive and sustainable in Central Queensland and new, adaptable legumes would provide them with opportunities to diversify further." John Nolan, 'Bindaroo', Roma: "Cost pressures and the rundown in soil fertility are forcing changes in farming practices in Queensland's Maranoa (in the south-west), where much of the approach has been continuous wheat with 'drought-induced leys', forage cropping generally not integrated with cereal paddocks and mostly no legumes.

"Recent years have seen increasing acceptance of zero-till and controlled traffic, pulse crops of mung beans and chickpeas and experimental plantings of canola and faba beans. Some legume/grass leys are being introduced, with the need to change driven by financial pressure. No Prime Hard wheat was produced around Roma in 1998."

Region North, South, West