The triple bottom line of butterfly pea

By Bernie Reppel

Nothing succeeds like success, so they say. But sometimes, success brings new challenges. Maurie Conway, from the Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries (QDPI&F), has bumped into instances of that in Central Queensland in recent times.

Mr Conway started out on what looked like a relatively simple assignment: find a farmer with a paddock of butterfly pea who might be willing to allow the Central Queensland Sustainable Farming Systems Project (CQSFSP) team to put the paddock back under crop.

The widespread adoption of butterfly pea has been one of the notable successes of the CQSFSP.

Backed by the GRDC, the project links QDPI&F, Department of Natural Resources and Mines, private consultants and farmer groups.

A relatively new and easily established tropical legume, butterfly pea found its home in Central Queensland"s grain cropping paddocks thanks to its production of quality cattle fodder and simultaneous contribution to the restoration of degraded cropping soils.

According to Mr Conway, the CQSFSP team decided it needed to research butterfly pea"s contribution to fertility and soil nitrogen after a few years of growth on cultivation country.

It sounded easy. Find a farmer who would give up a paddock of butterfly pea - or part thereof - in the interests of science and have it put back under crop.

“I was looking for a downs soil, some of which are quite shallow and usually low in fertility, especially nitrogen,” Mr Conway says. “By recropping the butterfly pea pasture and comparing this with an adjacent area of continuous cropping we could determine how much nitrogen the butterfly pea pasture added.

“But the farmers I asked kept fobbing me off onto their neighbours.
“We discovered that growers thought too highly of their butterfly pea to see the land go back under crop. One said he didn"t want less area under butterfly pea, he wanted more.”

Mr Conway says he came to realise that butterfly pea in Central Queensland had become a major conduit for getting land out of farming, which farmers wanted to do for various reasons - marginal farming soils, either too shallow or low fertility or perhaps not wanting to invest in new machinery.

Significant areas of cropping land in Central Queensland have now gone under butterfly pea and seem likely to stay under pasture until the relative profitability of cattle and grain is reversed.

“For various reasons, a whole group of people have been able to take farmed country successfully into pasture, and that wasn"t possible in Central Queensland before,” Mr Conway says.

“In the past, grain paddocks no longer used for cultivation were not regrassed but left to revegetate themselves, which could mean a weedy, non-productive period of four or five years.

“With butterfly pea those paddocks can be under pasture in three to six months.

“The CQSFSP team believes it"s a good example of the triple bottom line. Butterfly pea is productive from the grazing point of view, it is environmentally friendly and it delivers a social benefit in providing a new option for farmers to change the balance of their enterprises.”

For more information: Maurie Conway, 07 4983 7414,

The pastures ute guide is available from Ground Cover Direct, 1800 11 00 44,

GRDC Research code: DAQ 00049, program 4

Region North