Betting on lucerne by Denys Slee

THERE ARE now an estimated 2 million hectares of land sown to lucerne in Australia and the number of producers who have recently planted lucerne, or are thinking about it, is increasing rapidly.

Growers and the Federal Government, through the GRDC, have invested significantly in lucerne research. (The GRDC will invest some $2.5 million in a range of lucerne research projects this financial year alone.) A quick line-up of these developments follows.

  • Lucerne-breeding programs are trialing new varieties better suited to changing farming systems and those better adapted to graingrowing areas.
  • Disease-resistance work is underway, including the search for molecular markers for diseases such as root and crown rots.
  • Research is testing the ability of imported bees to increase pollination in lucerne and hence improve seed yields.
  • Trials are mapping the areas where lucerne is likely to have the biggest impact on watertables.
  • Studies are investigating how lucerne develops its root system in friendly and hostile soils and how management processes, such as haycutting and grazing, can influence plant growth.
  • Trials are reviewing ways to improve lucerne establishment and removal.
  • The role of lucerne in overcoming waterlogging by improving soil structure is the focus of other research.
  • Various participatory projects with grower groups and state agencies aim to increase the perenniality of landscapes prone to waterlogging andlor increasing salinity.