Early preparation is key to successful spring dryland lucerne establishment

Shaun Mahony, Stephen Pasture Seeds, Central & Southern Victoria

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As we approach spring now is the time to start thinking about what paddocks might be suitable for planting lucerne.

Our new Titan dormancy 5 lucerne will be readily available this coming spring and with parentage from Medicago sativa and Medicago falcata, is ideal for both dryland and irrigated farm systems. Titan 5 has demonstrated good grazing tolerance and can perform well in cooler climates. However, persistent and productive lucerne stands all depend on the best establishment.

This article will predominately draw on experiences and examples on establishing dryland lucerne for southern Victoria although the basic principles may apply for other parts of Australia.

For parts of southern Victoria and south eastern Australia, spring sowing dryland lucerne has proven most reliable due to the summer activity of the plant and its limited growth during the cooler months. Sowing dryland lucerne as the soil temperatures begin to rise in late winter and early spring allows for stronger establishment and gives more time to control weeds immediately prior to sowing.

Weed control is best initiated 2-3 years prior to sowing lucerne. This can be achieved as simply as cropping paddocks over this time with cereals, annuals or Italian ryegrass. Ranger forage barley, for example, makes an ideal transition into lucerne, as it provides quick feed, aggressive weed competition and will mature in late winter to early spring. Hard grazing or cutting for silage will remove the barley and allow enough time to sow dryland lucerne whilst there is still reliable rainfall remaining in the season. All weeds should be controlled and seed set avoided. Seed set of cereals and ryegrass should also be limited to prevent regeneration when the lucerne is sown. There are a number of chemicals registered for use in controlling weeds in this situation but it would be best to consult your local agronomist to make sure an effective option is implemented.

It is also important to get a current soil test completed in preparation for sowing. This allows you to assess the nutrient status of paddocks and assist with fertiliser decision making. Lucerne will struggle to grow in acidic soils and prefers soils with a pH (CaCl2) of 5.5-8.0. High levels of aluminum (Al) will also restrict root growth and nodulation of lucerne. Applications of lime can increase soil pH and is generally applied at 2.5-4.0 t/ha. This will depend on soil type, quality of lime and current pH status. A soil test will also be able to test for salinity levels and a saline level greater than 8 dS/m is not suitable for lucerne.

Titan 5 lucerne has performed well in trials and is performing well against existing varieties, with similar dormancies, that have been bred specifically for grazing. Pre-commercial release of Titan 5 on farms across Queensland, Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia in 2016 and 2017 has also provided some positive on farm results.

Titan 5 is currently in trials across a range of environments including Ballarat and is included in the independent Pasture Trial Network (PTN) series of trials. You can also find out more about Titan 5 at major industry events including the  Australian Fodder Industry Association Conference in Adelaide (29-31 July), Sheepvention Field Days, Hamilton (6-7 August), Lambex in Perth (5-7 August) and at the Elmore Field Days (2-4 October).

Further Reading

Titan lucernes

R
eference

Stanley M, Britton R, Christinat R (1994-2002) Success with Lucerne. Top Crop Australia

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