Focus on lucerne: Thirsty legume does OK in dry areas

Keith Devenish, AGWEST: lucerne can lower the watertable in drier areas too.

Although many are first-timers, the 200 farmers across WA's central, eastern and northern wheatbelt who last year planted lucerne are likely to back up research suggesting the thirsty legume can do well in dry areas.

Trials at Morawa, Mingenew, Yuna, Buntine and Merredin, for example, have helped dispel the myth that these areas are too dry for successful lucerne growing. The work is supported by growers and the Federal Government through the GRDC.

AGWEST lucerne researcher and member of the agency's Wheatbelt Pasture Group, Keith Devenish, says there has been a 10-fold increase in the number of farmers sowing dryland lucerne in the northern half of the wheatbelt.

"Farmers are beginning to see how lucerne has a good fit in a systems approach to managing dryland salinity,

particularly in its apparent positive impact on suppressing the watertable.

"Although there are only a handful of farmers sowing large areas, with one reportedly planting 1,000 hectares and another 250 hectares, this could change significantly as farmers adopt lucerne into their pasture and cropping systems."

The GRDC project is continuing, with additional sites being established at Dowerin, Bencubbin, Kellerberrin, Tammin and Merredin.

The next stage of lucerne's development in WA involves evaluating alternate row seeding methods, using large airseeder equipment, to help reduce sowing costs by integrating it with wheat or barley.

Program 3.5.3 Contact: Mr Keith Devenish, AGWEST 08 9690 2000