Lucerne is a deep-rooted, fast growing temperate, perennial legume that is suited to dryland and irrigation systems on a range of soil types across variable climates. It provides excellent quality feed and hay and will also increase organic matter and improve soil structure.
2-5kg/ha alone in low to medium rainfall
4-5kg/ha in higher rainfall regions (500mm+)
Choosing a Variety
When deciding on a variety you need to decide what is its main suited purpose, for example, grazing or cutting or both. Certain species of lucerne are suited to certain options. The level of activity is directly related to the growth pattern of the plant, the higher the activity the higher the growth during the winter months, therefore the lower the number the more summer growth, subject to moisture availability.
Preparation, Sowing and Germination
For a successful lucerne crop the establishment phase is crucial to its success.
It is best grown on free draining soils with a pH greater that 5.0 in (CaCl2) or 5.8 (H20). It will not tolerate water logging, aluminium toxicity and is best sown into a weed free, well prepared seed-bed.
To achieve good germination and emergence of seedlings, lucerne should be sown with some form of nitrogen fertiliser such as DAP/MAP, sowing should be shallow into a moist seed-bed (5-15mm) with good seed to soil contact.
Losses are mainly due to fungal and insect attack, moisture stress and deep sowing. Therefore, during the germination and seedling stages careful monitoring of potential problems needs to occur and be dealt with accordingly.
Lucerne does not compete well with weeds in its first year, and it is better to delay sowing to get good weed control.
Establishment and first grazing
Allowing lucerne to flower before the first grazing helps plants to establish stronger roots and enables faster recovery and quicker establishment. It also gives the plant a much better survival in its first autumn, especially if it is a dry one.
When first grazing make sure that the plants are strong enough not to be pulled out or damage the plant’s crown. Cattle are preferred over sheep when grazing the year after establishment. If grazing sheep remove them as soon as they have taken the tops of the plant, ideally leave 5cm of the plant above ground after grazing.
Sheep can kill lucerne if it is not 12 months old or older and the roots are not firmly anchored in the ground.
Grazing management and maintenance once established
As far as practical, spell paddocks for a period of five to six weeks, this can be extended over winter.
Grazing time should be in the range of 7-14 days to maximise persistence and production, rotational grazing or strip grazing is essential to maximise utilisation.
Allow 28 days (winter actives) and 35 days (winter dormant) between the cutting and growing in relation to bloat, red-gut and infertility etc. Bloat can be avoided by careful management, prevention is better than cure although treatment can be through the use of bloat capsules, selective grazing and adequate supplementary dry feeding.
The ideal time to cut for hay is early flowering (10-30% of stems are in flower, 60% budding on crowns), cutting at an immature stage will weaken the life of the established stand whilst hay quality is compromised when in full flower.
Fertilising should be based on the nutrient removal from cutting or grazing stand. Maintain visual observations and undertake a soil test or tissue test to monitor possible deficiencies.