What you need to know for 2017 lucerne sowing

07 August 2015

Planning for pasture investment in a pasture/cropping farming system needs to start at least two years prior to the sowing of the pasture, NSW Department of Primary Industries Development Officer for Pastures Helen Burns told last week's MLA-sponsored Pasture Update at Collerreina, north-west of Tottenham in Central NSW.

Here are Helen's tips, based on industry research findings, for best practice preparation with a focus on establishing Lucerne:

Identify

Decide on the right paddock and establish a program for ensuring it is ideally prepared by:

  • Conducting a soil test
  • Identifying soil and landscape issues affecting pasture production
  • Selecting suitable pasture species

Control

  • Weed and pest management programs should start two years before sowing - check the plant-back period of residual herbicide
  • Implement the red-legged earth mite program in the spring before sowing using the Timerite ® program

Prepare

Absolute weed and pest control at sowing is crucial:

  • Allow full weed germination after the autumn break
  • Assess weed and pest levels
  • Use appropriate herbicides/insecticides at label rates

And when it comes to sowing the pasture, Helen suggested:

Quality

  • Use certified seed wherever possible
  • Use freshly inoculated and lime pelleted seed wherever possible. Inoculate legume seed with the correct strain of rhizobia
  • If pre-coated seed is used, ensure that every seed lot complies with the industry code of practice. Check the content of seed coat. For more information go to the Australian Seed Federation website: www.asf.asn.au

Nutrition

  • Use soil test results as a guide
  • Pastures do not respond to topdressing of phosphorus in low rainfall areas. Apply extra fertiliser with the cover-crop to cover the P requirement of the pasture

Seed placement

  • Ideally sow when conditions are best for germination and allow sufficient time for annual species to flower and set seed
  • Aim to sow 0.5-1.5cm and no deeper than 2cm
  • Use row spacing to optimise production, groundcover and weed management

When using a cover-crop

  • Recent research through the Future Farm Industries CRC has highlighted the need to reduce the sowing rate of a cover crop to reduce crop competition for moisture and to improve the survival of the seedling during the first spring and summer. Crop rates cut to one quarter of normal  rates (to 10kg/ha) at Ariah Park in south-western NSW increased lucerne plant density with a 73% in dry matter production and had little difference in grain yield compared to 20 kg/ha crop sowing rate
  • Do not reduce pasture sowing rate
  • Sow early in the crop sowing window
  •  If the aim is to establish a long-term lucerne stand (>4 years) consider sowing with no cover-crop

Tools and resources

CSIRO cover crop decision support  tool

NSW DPI pasture AgFacts 

The ‘pasture growth’ and ‘pasture utilisation’ modules in More Beef from Pasture 

The ‘grow more pasture’ module in Making More from Sheep

MLA pasture tools and calculators

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