Just what is the value of clover in our pastures, and is it worthwhile investing time and management to nurture it?
These are questions being addressed by TIA ‘s Extensive Agriculture Centre, on farm and in practice. Indeed, quantifying the value of managing for adequate legume composition in pasture based beef production is a key objective of the TIA grazing trial located on Peter Berwick’s Ringarooma property ”Daisy Banks”.
Situated in an idyllic valley of great pastoral beauty and on krasnozem soils of impressive fertility, the trial has pragmatic production and profit objectives. Towards 2000 refers to a target of 2000kg of live-weight gain per ha per annum, a target previously achieved using high rates of nitrogen applied as urea, and with irrigation, at a nearby site at Winnaleah.
At Ringarooma new pastures of Banquet II perennial ryegrass were sown with and without pasture legumes. Once established the pastures have been rotationally grazed and the live-weight gain of the cattle recorded.
We know that clover has the capacity to deliver high quality feed and fix its own supply of nitrogen courtesy of the rhizobial bacteria working away in nodules on the clover roots. However legumes often grow less total feed than grasses, particularly in the cooler periods. And of course we can buy nitrogen in a fertiliser bag.
The question of net value is one of trade-offs, costs and benefits. And it deserves some investigation.
So far one paddock containing Astred red clover as well as the ryegrass has stood out as being more productive than adjacent paddocks relying on the ryegrass alone and either the pre-existing soil nitrogen balance or modest maintenance applications of nitrogen.
Indicative results point to the red clover plot having a 25% advantage over the grass only plots in terms of measured live-weight gain. However the 2000 target remains unmatched, with a more modest 1052 kg of live-weight gain per ha per year being achieved.
The next steps are to compare the legume based pasture against higher rates of nitrogen applied as urea to grass only pasture. However the current dry season has hampered these dryland efforts for the time being.
This trial is a producer demonstration site funded by Meat and Livestock Australia and managed in cooperation with the NE discussion group, coordinated by TIA board member Leon Quilliam. The activity is a core component of MLA’s More Beef from Pastures program.