They're new, they're annual pastures and they're coming your way by Cathy Nicoll

Rebecca Lloyd examining a productive stand of Frontier balansa at 'Brundilla' near Lake Grace.

The National Annual Pasture Legume Improvement Program (NAPLIP), supported by growers and the Federal Government through the GRDC, has brought under one umbrella all aspects of research and development on annual pasture species. Following, and in the next issue of Ground Cover, we present a roundup of recent releases from the program. Farmers now have many more choices to tailor pastures to environmental conditions.

"The NAPLIP team is aiming at providing solutions for problem soils, while other components are targeting tolerance to specific pasture pests, or to providing varieties better adapted to modern farming systems," says Andrew Craig, South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI).

New frontiers

Frontier balansa clover was the first commercial release from NAPLIR and by all accounts the performance of this low-rainfall clover is surpassing all expectations.

Selected for its moderate salinity tolerance and excellent waterlogging tolerance, scientist Andrew Craig, of the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI), says that Frontier balansa has more than proven its capacity to significantly improve the productivity of saline and waterlogged soils.

"In addition, Frontier has also performed extremely well in non-saline situations and provides producers with a low-cost alternative to the traditional subclover and medic cultivars in the 350-500 mm rainfall zone," says Mr Craig.

Self-seeding impressive

Grower Michael Lloyd of 'Bundilla', near Lake Grace in Western Australia, has already taken advantage of Frontier's mid-July growth spurt to supply extra feed for his stock at an otherwise tough time of year.

"Frontier is ideal for the low-rainfall, salty country here," says Mr Lloyd. "As well as the mid-winter growth, it flowers about 25 days earlier than other clovers we use, which gives it the chance to mature before salt levels accumulate in the plant's leaves in late September," says Mr Lloyd.

He found the capacity of Frontier to self-regenerate impressive, with more than 250 kg/ha of seed produced from an initial sowing of 6 kg/ha. The high level of hard seed means the pasture will be able to withstand the false breaks characteristic of inland south-western Australia and elsewhere.

(Western readers can learn more about Mr Lloyd's innovative salinity management on p1 of the western edition.)

The focus of NAPLIP has recently turned toward the release of 'alternative' pasture legumes, a move that recognises the vast array of pasture legumes maintained in Australian Genetic Resource Centres. These plants offer enormous genetic diversity, which can be used to provide solutions to producers' pasture needs.

Over the next 24 months growers can look forward to new varietal releases including French serradella, Biserrula, Trigonella, subclovers, annual medics, and even Burgundy beans.

The program is also looking at:

  • new legume varieties better suited to phase farming systems
  • pasture legume options for waterlogged and/or saline soils
  • subclovers with tolerance to red-legged earth mite, temperate Australia's principal pasture pest
  • pasture varieties with improved winter productivity.

Program 3.6.1 Contact: Mr Andrew Craig 08 8762 9193 (SARDI) Mr Graeme Sandral 02 6938 1850, 0409 226 235 (NSW Agriculture)