Celebrating lucerne comeback: a 'how to' manual

Lucerne

Success with Lucerne - the recently published 140-page guide to the role, establishment and management of lucerne in Australian cropping and grazing systems - is reviewed here by Bruce Munday, the SA Communications Coordinator for the National Dryland Salinity Program and for the CRC for Plant-based Management of Dryland Salinity.

LUCERNE IS often presented as the 'king of fodders' and rigbtly so, as it is both highly palatable and nutritious, with the added virtue of fixing nitrogen in the soil. So it is ironic that the 'king' has had something of an image problem since the late 1970s when the Ubiquitous Hunter River variety was decimated by bluegreen and spotted alfalfa aphids.

Much R&D over the following years has brought us aphid-resistant varieties, but fanners have remained cautious. Management of lucerne has always been tricky; it has also always been fussy about acid and waterlogged soils. Combined with the widespread move into continuous cropping and away from grazing, lucerne has struggled to regain its earlier popularity.

One of the truly great attributes of lucerne has come to the fore only in recent years as Australian farmers have become aware of the impending threat of dryland salinity.

I came across the manual Success with Dryland Lucerne about 10 years ago and was immediately impressed with its easy style and comprehensive coverage.

Most of us reach for a manual when we want to know how to do it, or need to work out what is wrong and how to fix it. This new edition meets these needs, maintaining the economical style that again balances detail with accessibility and seamlessly knits the new knowledge into the old.

Success with Lucerne brings us up to date with new lucerne varieties (with performance characteristics provided by the seed companies) and agri-chemicals, and expands the cost-benefit analysis to include seed and livestock enterprises as well as hay.

The new edition gives much more space to the important role lucerne plays in natural resource management, illustrating this with several case studies from WA across to southern Queensland.

Clay spreading to assist lucerne establishment on non-wetting sands, phase farming, intercropping and integrated pest management are important developments over the past few years and are valuable additions to the manual.

Clear path to success

Success with Lucerne is everything I hoped it would be. This new edition has retained the clear language and logical layout of its predecessor, but is enhanced by improved graphics. The photos are of excellent quality, in both composition and reproduction, which is invaluable for identifying weeds, insect pests and disease symptoms.

Chapters are helpfully bookmarked with tabs, plasticised in this edition, and the font is larger. Both these features make the manual more adaptable to field use. All diagrams are numbered, but unfortunately they are rarely cited in the text. This diminishes their utility somewhat and I confess that I still cannot follow the apparently important representation of rotational grazing systems.

The authors are eminently qualified for their task. Mark Stanley is a Senior Consultant with Rural Solutions SA while Raymond Christanat is an consultant agronomist who daily confronts the reality check provided by paying clients. Ross Britton is a leader in SA of a major National Dryland Salinity Program/GRDC project 'A Million Hectares for the Future'. They should be commended for an excellent contribution to the lucerne industry and to sustainable farming systems.

Success with Lucerne at $55 (inclusive of GST) plus $10 for postage and packaging is available from:

TOPCROP Resource Centre Rural Solutions SA 2 Fourth Street, Snowtown SA 5520 1800652483; fax 1800 652 486 or Crop Monitoring Services Box 209, Keith SA 5267 0887551295; fax 08 87551713

Region North