New annual and short-lived perennial pasture legumes for Australian agriculture-15 years of revolution
Nichols, PGH and Loi, A and Nutt, BJ and Evans, PM and Craig, AD and Pengelly, BC and Dear, BS and Lloyd, DL and Revell, CK and Nair, RM and Ewing, MA and Howieson, JG and Auricht, GA and Howie, JH and Sandral, GA and Carr, SJ and de Koning, CT and Hackney, BF and Crocker, GJ and Snowball, R and Hughes, SJ and Hall, E and Foster, KJ and Skinner, PW and Barbetti, MJ and You, MP, New annual and short-lived perennial pasture legumes for Australian agriculture-15 years of revolution, Field Crops Research , 104, (1-3) pp. 10-23. ISSN 0378-4290 (2007) [Refereed Article]
Fifteen years ago subterranean clover (Trifolium subterraneum) and annual medics (Medicago spp.) dominated annual pasture legume sowings in southern Australia, while limited pasture legume options existed for cropping areas of subtropical Australia. Since then a number of sustainability and economic challenges to existing farming systems have emerged, exposing shortcomings in these species and the lack of legume biodiversity. Public breeding institutions have responded to these challenges by developing 58 new annual and short-lived perennial pasture legumes with adaptation to both existing and new farming systems. This has involved commercialisation of new species and overcoming deficiencies in traditional species. Traits incorporated in legumes of Mediterranean Basin origin for the Mediterranean, temperate and southern subtropical climates of Australia include deeper root systems, protection from false breaks (germination-inducing rainfall events followed by death from drought), a range of hardseed levels, acid-soil tolerant root nodule symbioses, tolerance to pests and diseases and provision of lower cost seed through ease of seed harvesting and processing. Ten new species, French serradella (Ornithopus sativus), biserrula (Biserrula pelecinus), sulla (Hedysarum coronarium), gland (Trifolium glanduliferum), arrowleaf (Trifolium vesiculosum), eastern star (Trifolium dasyurum) and crimson (Trifolium incarnatum) clovers and sphere (Medicago sphaerocarpos), button (Medicago orbicularis) and hybrid disc (Medicago tornata × Medicago littoralis) medics have been commercialised. Improved cultivars have also been developed of subterranean (T. subterraneum), balansa (Trifolium michelianum), rose (Trifolium hirtum), Persian (Trifolium resupinatum) and purple (Trifolium purpureum) clovers, burr (Medicago polymorpha), strand (M. littoralis), snail (Medicago scutellata) and barrel (Medicago truncatula) medics and yellow serradella (Ornithopus compressus). New tropical legumes for pasture phases in subtropical cropping areas include butterfly pea (Clitoria ternatea), burgundy bean (Macroptilium bracteatum) and perennial lablab (Lablab purpureus). Other species and cultivars of Mediterranean species are likely to be released soon. The contributions of genetic resources, rhizobiology, pasture ecology and agronomy, plant pathology, entomology, plant chemistry and animal science have been paramount to this success. A farmer survey in Western Australia has shown widespread adoption of the new pasture legumes, while adoption of new tropical legumes has also been high in cropping areas of the subtropics. This trend is likely to increase due to the increasing cost of inorganic nitrogen, the need to combat herbicide-resistant crop weeds and improved livestock prices. Mixtures of these legumes allows for more robust pastures buffered against variable seasons, soils, pests, diseases and management decisions. This paper discusses development of the new pasture legumes, their potential use and deficiencies in the current suite.