Agriculture Victoria is currently evaluating 47 different lucerne cultivars for ‘grazing preference’ of sheep.
Agriculture Victoria Senior Research Scientist Meredith Mitchell said this project was evaluating all currently available commercial lucerne cultivars, as well as pre-release material from seed companies and some material from China.
“These experiments will help identify traits, for producers to potentially take advantage of,” Dr Mitchell said.
“Lucerne is a highly diverse species with large variation in traits and restrictions, such as seasonal growth variations, growth patterns, and tolerance to stresses such as grazing, heat and drought.”
The experiment is being conducted in small plot experiments at Agriculture Victoria Rutherglen and Hamilton sites.
The locations represent contrasting grazing districts in Victoria and the experiment sites were sown in spring 2015.
“The varieties in this experiment represent the full range of winter dormancy ratings available in Australia.
“Also included are several grazing-tolerant varieties, two that have a rhizomatous habit, which means the plant will grow runners across the soil surface, plus several with a degree of waterlogging tolerance.
“This project will explore the large diversity of traits within the lucerne species, once identified, could provide the opportunity to exploit them.”
Dr Mitchell said observations are being recorded at six week intervals.
“Grazing preference is being assessed using sheep in each plot area. The sheep are on the plots for 27 hours, and the plots are rated on how much plant is eaten at 3, 6, 24 and 27 hour intervals.
“We are trying to correlate grazing preference with plant form (upright verses prostrate), pasture height, forage quality and leaf:stem ratio.
“We will be repeating this grazing preference experiment at both sites during winter,” Dr Mitchell said.
A field day, “How we can manage lucerne better“, will be held in early April 2017.
Specifically the field day will discuss tactical grazing management of lucerne to maximize productivity along with preliminary analysis of animal grazing preference experiment. Agriculture Victoria livestock and animal health officers will also be presenting.