Research to improve profitability and productivity of southern pastures

19 August 2016

Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) has welcomed a $3.81 million Australian Government grant to improve profitability and productivity of our southern pastures through a focus on phosphorus efficient pastures.

The research project will specifically focus on the use and development of pasture legumes that are high yielding at lower levels of soil phosphorus fertility.

Legumes are critical to Australian pasture systems.  They provide feed quality and contribute nitrogen to the soil which promotes grass growth and leads to high pasture yields.

While phosphorus is the primary nutrient input that drives legume nitrogen fixation, many Australian soils are naturally low in available phosphorus. Applying phosphorus fertilisers to pastures with a legume base has been consistently shown to increase pasture production and significantly increase carrying capacity. However the efficiency of converting applied phosphorus into pasture growth is low. Improving efficiency presents a great opportunity to get more production from all phosphorus applied.

MLA General Manager, On-farm Innovation & Adoption Dr Matt McDonagh said this research provided an opportunity to help future proof the red meat industry given the increasing costs and tightening supply of phosphorus globally.

“This project has the ability to deliver a transformational change in the utilisation of phosphorus fertiliser in southern production systems. This is not about putting less fertiliser on, rather getting much more production from that applied” Dr McDonagh said.

“This project will deliver low phosphorus pasture systems based on highly P-efficient legumes, the serradellas, suited to the cereal zone and the southern high rainfall zone by addressing the inefficiencies in phosphorus use. These systems will also reduce the risks of phosphorus loss to the natural environment.

“If implemented, reducing phosphorus inefficiency will also give Australian producers an opportunity to improve their competitiveness on global markets.”

Previous research funded by MLA and Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) has shown that pasture legumes with lower critical phosphorus requirements can be used to slow the process of phosphorus becoming locked by soils and therefore unavailable for use by plants.

It is estimated these pasture legumes will reduce the need for phosphorus fertiliser by approximately 30 per cent and in turn decrease the cost of production.

“This project involves industry and research collaboration – something that is critical in increasing prosperity across our industry,” Dr McDonagh said.

This project is supported by MLA, through funding from the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources as part of its Rural R&D for Profit programme, AWI,  Dairy Australia, CSIRO, NSW DPI, Murdoch Uni, University of WA and 8 farming system groups across southern Australia.

To find out more about the Federal Government’s Rural Research for Profit programme, visit

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