Freezing Out Drought

Investigating the relationship between freezing and drought tolerance in lucerne to identify novel genes for drought adaptation.

Based on predictions from climate models, Australian agriculture is predicted to experience decreases in irrigation water availability and increases in the length and severity of droughts in the future. The Australian dairy industry is particularly exposed to these challenges due to its heavy reliance on irrigation water resources to sustain forage production. A reduction in irrigation water availability is already occurring in some dairy regions and a greater reliance on intermittent rainfall across the dairy regions has reduced the effectiveness of traditionally used forage species like perennial ryegrass and white clover and has increased the adoption of more water use efficient forages.

One such species proposed as an alternative forage source for inclusion into the forage base is lucerne (syn. alfalfa). The benefits of growing lucerne have traditionally been based on its growth pattern, superior forage quality and ability to fix and utilise atmospheric nitrogen. Recently there has been increasing interest in growing lucerne to 'drought proof' dryland dairy farming systems and increase the water-use efficiency of irrigated dairy systems through its efficient production of high quality forage. However, adaption to drought conditions by lucerne is poorly understood.

This project was funded through the Dairy Australia Ltd. and Ministers Awards of the 2011 Science and Innovation Awards for Young People in Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, and investigated the relationship between freezing tolerance, winter dormancy and drought tolerance in lucerne at whole of plant and cellular levels. This project identified the level of winter dormancy required by lucerne cultivars to attain maximum drought tolerance, while determining the extent that winter dormant/freezing tolerant germplasm can contribute to drought tolerance traits into Australian lucerne breeding programs.

For further information please contact Dr Keith Pembleton.

Lucerne winter dormancy (PDF 1.0MB)