Prime 'primer' candidates

A list of plants with rccognised ahility to penetrate heavy clay subsoils or tolerate other soil conditions hostile to crop root growth is being put together by CSIRO Plant Industry and the Victorian Department of Natural Resources and Environment. Labelled 'primer crop candidates', plants under consideration include lucerne, sulla, chicory, fescue, phalaris, tall wheat grass and a US native perennial, Eastern gamagrass, which is tolerant of acid soil conditions. "The idea is that one or more of these plant species could be used by farmers in preparing difficult-to-manage land for cropping by improving soil structure and water intiltration," according to Mark Peoples of CSIRO Plant Industry.

Researchers are assessing the desirable attributes and growth characteristics of each species in glasshouse conditions and CROPS some of the best-bet primer candidates could be sown in the field for evaluation in 2003. Plants selected were largely palatable to stock and therefore suited to incorporation in a farming system.

"Preliminary data collected from a duplex soil near Temora indicate many more root channels in the soil, reduced risk of waterlogging and enhanced water cxtraction by wheat sown after lucerne," Dr Peoples said. "Species will need to be grouped according to the kind of subsoil constraints they can overcome, as not all the species selected will be tolerant of all the subsoil constraints being considered."

Contact: Dr Mark Peoples 02 6246 5244