Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Leuceana: Friend or Foe?

Leuceana rows on pastures

Leuceana (Leuceana leucocephala subspecies glabrata) is described as a high protein, highly palatable and productive forage legume that can put weight on cattle like no other forage plant. Its ability to fix nitrogen improves grass quality and quantity, encourages water infiltration and reduces erosion.

However, in Queensland, heavy seed production in ungrazed areas can allow it to spread and become an environmental weed.

Commercial cultivars are a different subspecies to Coffee Bush found around Darwin (subsp. leucocephala), which is not productive or used for grazing.

Chris Muldoon, who farms with his family in the Douglas Daly, is not sure whether subspecies glabrata will spread in the NT.

“We planted rows of Leuceana four years ago with a 20m buffer to the boundary. It hasn’t moved between the rows or towards the boundary.”

“It definitely needs to be managed, there’s no doubt about that. We are part of the Leuceana network based in Qld that has developed a code of practice to minimise the risk of spread.”

The network recommends that it not be planted within 10m of boundaries or near watercourses, and that vigorous grass growth should be promoted in these buffer zones to prevent recruitment and minimise the risk of acidification on lighter soils. Cattle should be fenced in and grazing pressure should be strategically managed or plants mechanically cut to ensure plants are kept within reach of cattle and grazed before flowering and any flowers or green seed is eaten. Also, any plants growing away from hedgerows, inside or outside the property, should be controlled by the grower.

The control of any escapee seedlings may be assisted by dense wallaby populations in the district looking for a source of protein. “Mustang Hill was planted to Leuceana about six years ago but it wasn’t fenced so the wallabies cleaned the lot up.” Cattle, if present, also relish young seedlings.

 “I just think if you want people to steer away from synthetic fertilisers you need something that’s going to fix nitrogen and put weight on cattle, and Leuceana is the answer to that.”

“It’s pretty temperamental to get established. You need everything to go right and you can’t take any shortcuts. And if the establishment is a bit ordinary it won’t improve. Weeds and grasses will choke it out at a young age so it’s usually grown on the least weedy country and best soils, and you need to spray a two metre wide strip and plant up the middle. But what it can do for cattle and country is amazing.”

“I’m not mad on fertilisers but I think to get something established in this country it needs a bit of help. After our first trial I think it needs double the Qld rate of fertiliser application to establish, and after 1-2 years give it more fertiliser to make sure it is nodulating.”

 “It’s really good for young cattle. If you weaned them straight onto Leuceana and left them there I reckon they would sell 12 months earlier.  

“Everybody needs to make money, especially to look after your country.”

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