Growing profit from the ground up

Lucerne (Medicago sativa)

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Lucerne offers year-round, high-quality green feed and can respond quickly to out-of-season rainfall

A highly-productive, highly-nutritious perennial legume, which performs year-round and provides green feed during summer, responding quickly to out-of-season rainfall. Suitable as pasture and for hay production.

Key features

Common name: Lucerne

Scientific name: Medicago sativa

Minimum average annual rainfall:

  • Subtropics: 500 – 1200mm
  • Southern regions and Western Australia: 250 – 800mm

Optimal growing temperature: 10 – 25ºC (frost tolerant)

Preferred soils: Lucerne requires deep, well-drained soils (sands to moderately heavy clays) with a slightly acid to alkaline pH. It will not tolerate high levels of exchangeable aluminium and even short periods of waterlogging.

Suitable companion species: Lucerne is often sown as a pure sward. It is competitive but if sown at a low rate it will grow with species such as early-flowering sub clover, annual medics, phalaris and Mediterranean types of tall fescue to boost winter production. It also can be grown with chicory and a range of tropical grasses.

Sowing rates:

  • Single species: dryland 1–3kg/ha (up to 8kg/ha in high-rainfall areas); irrigated 12–15kg/ha
  • Mixed species: dryland 0.5-3 kg/ha; irrigated 2-5 kg/ha.

Sowing time: Early autumn to early winter. In southern Australia districts with an eight-month or longer growing season, lucerne is best sown between late August and October, ideally on a winter fallow. Late Spring sowings are dictated by wet years. Seed must be freshly inoculated with Group AL rhizobia and lime coated

Benefits

  • Perennial, year-round production
  • Deep rooted — extracts water and nutrients from depth, restricts water table recharge
  • Moderately tolerant of saline and sodic soils
  • Responds quickly to spring and summer rainfall (or irrigation)
  • Dual purpose (grazing and hay)
  • Highly productive
  • High nutritive value

Challenges

  • Short-term persistence in some regions (mainly due to disease susceptibility)
  • Susceptible to waterlogging
  • Does not tolerate high levels of exchangeable aluminium
  • Requires rotational grazing
  • Can cause bloat in cattle.

More information

Websites

Currently-available cultivars can be found on the Australian Seed Federation Pasture Seed Product database

Lucerne Australia

Factsheets and publications

Managing dryland lucerne — growers’ handbook (DEPI)

Growing and using lucerne (EverGraze)

Lucerne PrimeFact (NSW DPI)

Lucerne Guidelines for Western Australia (DAFWA)

Lucerne Prospects (FFI CRC)

Case studies and articles

Nick and Jane Trethowan, Western Australia (mixed farming)

Vicki and Tony Geddes, New South Wales (mixed farming)

Peter Harper, New South Wales (mixed farming)

A range of case studies about farmers successfully incorporating lucerne into their farming systems can be found on the EverGraze website

Flexibility the key to capitalising on lucerne (PDF 235kb)