Agriculture Victoria is currently evaluating 47 different lucerne cultivars for ‘grazing preference’ of sheep.
Agriculture Victoria senior research scientist and project leader Meredith Mitchell said the 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 trials at Agriculture Victoria’s Rutherglen and Hamilton sites, with the locations representing contrasting grazing districts in Victoria.
‘‘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 (and) once identified, could provide the opportunity to exploit them.’’
Dr Mitchell said observations were 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 three, six, 24 and 27-hour intervals.
‘‘We are trying to correlate grazing preference with plant form (upright verses prostrate), pasture height, forage quality and leaf to stem ratio.
‘‘We will be repeating this grazing preference experiment at both sites during winter.’’
A field day, titled ‘How we can manage lucerne better’, will be held in early April.
Specifically the field day will discuss tactical grazing management of lucerne to maximise productivity along with preliminary analysis of the animal grazing preference experiment.
Agriculture Victoria livestock and animal health officers will also be presenting.
■For more information, phone Meredith Mitchell at Agriculture Victoria in Rutherglen on (02)60304579 or email [email protected]