Pasture legume to bring saline areas back to life

GAME-CHANGER: SARDI senior research officer Amanda Pearce and Seednet national production manager Chris Walsh in a messina plot at SARDI’s Conmurra site, which grew 6.5t dry matter a hectare during winter.A salt-tolerantpasture legume is set to make a big difference insaline and waterlogging-prone areas ofsouthern Australia.
Nanjing Night Net

SARDI and the Department of Agriculture and Food WA have spent more than a decade developing the messina cultivar and itsexclusive rhizobium, or nitrogen fixing bacteria.

Commercial partnerSeednet willmake 20 tonnes to 30t of seed available to growers in2017.

DAFWA senior research officer Phil Nicholssays the self-generating annual legume willoffera productivity boost forfarmers with salinity and waterlogging issues.

Messina came to the fore from more than 40pasture legumes collected from Mediterranean environmentsin aFuture Farming Industries CRC project.

Progress was delayed by the hunt fora rhizobium strain which could persist during summer in saline areas, after 70 per cent of early nodulation failed in the second and later years.

“A salt-tolerant rhizobiumhas been found, (and) it is criticalmessina is inoculated with it, otherwise regenerating plants will be yellow and stunted and unlikely to survive,”Dr Nicholssaid.

“Where evenbarley grass struggled to growwe have a nitrogen fixing legume to go with perennial grasses, such as puccinellia.”

Trials haveshown messina – a type of Melilotus –has similar protein and energy valueto clovers and lucerne.

Dr Nichols says sowing messina in a mix with salt-tolerant grasses orwith balansa clover and burr medics or even with saltbush was likely to be the best fit.

“You tend to find animals prefer messina when they also have access to other legumes, herbs and grasses,” he said.

“Once it starts floweringit is a little less palatable but the advantage is it can set seed without being grazed out.”

SARDI senior research officer Amanda Pearcesays it is a “game-changer”,especially with previoustrial sites regenerating for up to three years.

“It isreally exciting after such a long time to get to this point,” she said.

At Conmurrathis year itproduced6.5 tonnes dry matter a hectareand was impressive at a Cooke Plains saline demonstration site.

Grazing trials on non-saline land at Kybybolite haveshownliveweight gains in ewes grazing pure messina are slightly less than Monti sub clover, but animal production on saline land will be far superior from messina than barley grass alone.

Dr Nichols said a meat tasting panel also foundno difference in meat quality between lambs grazing messina and Monti subclover.

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