Dryland legume pasture systems: legume adaptation


Research organisatons
Funding sources

Trial details

Researcher(s) Fiona Tomney (SARDI)
Year(s) 2018
Contributor SARDI Minnipa Agricultural Centre
Trial location(s) Site 14, Minnipa Agricultural Centre, SA
Related trials
Dryland legume pasture systems: legume adaptation locations

Legume pastures have been pivotal to sustainable agricultural development in southern Australia. They provide highly nutritious feed for livestock, act as a disease break for many cereal root pathogens, and improve fertility through nitrogen (N) fixation. Despite these benefits pasture renovation rates remain low and there is opportunity to improve the quality of the pasture base on many low to medium rainfall mixed farms across southern Australia. A diverse range of pasture legume cultivars are currently available to growers and new material is being developed. Some of these legumes, such as the annual medics, are well adapted to alkaline soils and have high levels of hard seed, which allow them to self-regenerate from soil seed reserves after cropping (ley farming system). Other legume cultivars and species are available and being developed that offer improved seed harvestability, are claimed to be better suited to establishment when dry sown and/or provide better nutrition for livestock. Regional evaluation is needed to determine if they are productive and able to persist in drier areas (<400 mm annual rainfall) and on Mallee soil types common to the mixed farming zone of southern Australia.


The Dryland Legume Pasture Systems project will both develop and evaluate a range of pasture legumes together with innovative establishment techniques, measure their downstream benefits to animal and crop production and promote their adoption on mixed farms.

Key messages
  • This is a component of a new five year Rural Research and Development for Profit funded project supported by GRDC, MLA and AWI; and involving Murdoch University, CSIRO, SARDI, Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development; Charles Sturt University and grower groups.
  • This trial aims to assess a diverse range of annual pasture legumes in order to determine whether there are more productive and persistent options for the drier areas (<400 mm) of the mixed farming zone of southern Australia.
  • Several new legume species established well under very difficult conditions, but in general were not as productive as the medics or vetch. 
  • In the 2018 growing season, Caliph barrel medic was the best adapted pasture legume species to the conditions at Minnipa.
  • Astragalus was the best adapted alternative legume species, although it was poorly nodulated.
  • Zulu arrowleaf clover also performed well, however its peak dry matter production and flowering time may be too late for SA conditions.
Lead research organisation South Australian Research and Development Institute
Host research organisation SARDI Minnipa Agricultural Centre
Trial funding source GRDC RnD4Profit-16-03-010
Trial funding source AWI RnD4Profit-16-03-010
Trial funding source MLA RnD4Profit-16-03-010
Trial funding source AGRR&D RnD4Profit-16-03-010
Related program Dryland Legume Pasture Systems (Rural R&D for Profit)

This project is supported by funding from the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources as part of its Rural R&D for Profit program; the Grains Research and Development Corporation, Meat and Livestock Australia; and Australian Wool Innovation. The research partners include the South Australian Research and Development Institute, Murdoch University, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, the WA Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, and Charles Sturt University, as well as 10 grower groups. Project code: RnD4Profit-16-03-010.

Other trial partners Murdoch University, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, the WA Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, and Charles Sturt University
Download the trial report to view additional trial information


Crop type Mixed species
Treatment type(s)
  • Crop: Type
  • Variety: Type
Trial type Experimental
Trial design Replicated

Minnipa Agricultural Centre 2018

Sowing machinery

The trial at Minnipa in paddock S8 was arranged in a fully randomised block design, with four replications. Similar trials have been established at Loxton (SA), Piangal (Vic), Kikoira (NSW) and Condobolin (NSW). Data was analysed using Analysis of Variance in GENSTAT version 19. The least significant differences were based on F probability = 0.05.


Thirty different pasture legume species (Table 1) were sown to provide a broad range of legume species and attributes. The chosen species are a mixture of old varieties, new varieties, pre-releases, legumes with new traits, and pasture gene-bank selections based on their likely adaptation to rainfall and soil type. Some legume cultivars developed in Western Australia have also been included. These have performed well in WA and more recently in NSW, on their acid-dominant soils, but have had limited evaluation in South Australia where neutral to alkaline soils prevail.

Sow date 27 June 2018
Harvest date 3 December 2018
Plot size 5m x 1.5m
Plot replication 4
Plot blocking fully randomised block design
Plot randomisation fully randomised block design

The trial site was sprayed before sowing with 1.5 L/ha Weedmaster (Glyphosate) + 80 ml/ha Nail and 300 ml/100 L of LI 700, to kill any naturalized medic plants that had germinated.


The trial suffered two pest attacks. Firstly by Cowpea aphids which appeared on all lines but at higher density on the vetches, and then by Native Budworm. Fortunately both of these pests were brought under control and did not appear to have caused any lasting damage.

Inoculant All seed was inoculated with the best available strain of rhizobia and lime pelleted before sowing.
Download the trial report to view additional method/treatment information
Trial source data and summary not available
Check the trial report PDF for trial results.
Observed trial site soil information
Trial site soil testing
Site Depth Type pH EC P K N A OC CAT
Site 14, Minnipa Agricultural Centre, SA 0 - 10cm 8.40
Soil conditions
Trial site Soil texture
Site 14, Minnipa Agricultural Centre, SA Red sandy loam
Derived trial site soil information
Australian Soil Classification Source
Trial site Soil order
Site 14, Minnipa Agricultural Centre, SA Anthroposol
National soil grid Source
NOTE: National Soil Grid data is aggregated information for background information on the wider area
Actual soil values can vary significantly in a small area and the trial soil tests are the most relevant data where available

Soil properties



Site 14, Minnipa Agricultural Centre SA 2018

Observed climate information

Rainfall avg ann (mm) 325mm
Rainfall avg gsr (mm) 242mm
Rainfall trial total (mm) 269mm
Rainfall trial gsr (mm) 208mm

Derived climate information

Site 14, Minnipa Agricultural Centre SA


Some data on this site is sourced from the Bureau of Meteorology

SILO weather estimates sourced from https://www.longpaddock.qld.gov.au/silo/
Jeffrey, S.J., Carter, J.O., Moodie, K.B. and Beswick, A.R. (2001). Using spatial interpolation to construct a comprehensive archive of Australian climate data , Environmental Modelling and Software, Vol 16/4, pp 309-330. DOI: 10.1016/S1364-8152(01)00008-1.

Trial report and links

2018 trial report

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Trial last modified: 13-12-2019 14:23pm AEST