Effects of contrasting seasonal growth patterns on composition and persistence of mixed grass-legume pastures over 5 years in a semi-arid Australian cropping environment

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Abstract

Perennial grass-based pastures are uncommon in phased cropping rotations in south-eastern Australia, where rainfall often limits production and persistence. The high reliance on pure legume-based pastures limits overall pasture productivity and has adverse effects on environmental parameters such as weed incursion and ground cover. A field experiment was monitored over 5 years to examine the relative productivity of the temperate perennial grasses, phalaris (Phalaris aquatica) and cocksfoot (Dactylis glomerata) and determine whether contrasting seasonal activity enhances their persistence when grown in mixtures with lucerne (Medicago sativa) and annual legumes. Phalaris swards were shown to increase cumulative aboveground biomass by up to 96% and 32%, and in year 5 reduce annual grass emergence by between sevenfold and threefold compared to annual legume and lucerne/annual legume mixed swards, respectively. Only swards that included phalaris maintained ground cover above 70% in each autumn of the experimental period. Swards based on the highly summer dormant cocksfoot cultivar, Kasbah, were generally less productive over all, despite the cocksfoot showing a high level of persistence and good recovery following drought. Grass-based swards that included lucerne were observed to produce ~35% greater legume biomass than a sward sown only to annual legumes. Cumulative legume biomass was greatest in lucerne swards in the absence of perennial grasses. The experiment was unable to demonstrate a consistent benefit in production and persistence associated with contrasting seasonal growth patterns. However, mixtures containing a range of functional types were consistently shown to enhance productivity over the duration of the experiment compared to less diverse swards. The potential to substantially increase forage productivity and ground cover, while reducing incursion by annual grass weeds, by including well-adapted perennial grasses in mixtures with lucerne and annual legumes should be utilized.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)228-242
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Agronomy and Crop Science
Volume204
Issue number3
Early online dateJan 2018
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2018

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