For many Australian red meat producers, incorporating legumes can significantly boost productivity and provide drought resilience and environmental benefits. This week, Meat & Livestock Australia has launched a new ‘Legumes Hub’, that showcases how industry can use legumes to benefit their businesses.
The Legumes Hub, to be housed here on the MLA website, has been created to help producers and advisors optimise their legume and pasture performance along with improving livestock productivity.
MLA General Manager of Research, Development and Adoption, Michael Crowley, said the hub would also provide helpful insights and troubleshooting tips for producers.
“The Legumes Hub will help producers assess their legume pastures, it can also help identify the leading reasons for possible legume decline and what management practices are available to address these limitations,” Mr Crowley said.
Specifically, the Legumes Hub will focus on five key ways that legumes could benefit the Australian red meat industry. Within these five themes, the Hub will contain a whole suite of resources for both northern and southern producers to access.
1. More feed, less fertiliser
Legumes form an important, symbiotic relationship with Rhizobium bacteria. This enables plants to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere through their root system and make it available to other pasture species.
“The nitrogen fixed by legumes boosts the performance of pasture grasses to produce higher quality and quantity of dry matter, providing a consistent, nutritious source of feed for livestock,” Mr Crowley said.
2. Faster weight gains and healthier animals
Another strong benefit for the red meat industry is that legume pastures provide palatable, digestible, high protein feed for livestock. Legumes in the pasture can extend the period of high-quality green feed when feed quality from grasses is lacking.
“This gives producers a more reliable and flexible feed for meeting market specifications year-round,” Mr Crowley said.
3. A more resilient feedbase
Incorporating legumes also bolsters resilience to climatic variations and seasonal changes. If looked after properly, some legume varieties can last up to ten years.
“Legumes will rebound quickly following drought-breaking rainfall. This is due to their deeper root systems and capacity to produce sufficient seed for regeneration, even under adverse growing conditions, a truly resilient arsenal for producers across Australia,” s Mr Crowley said.
4. An ally against dieback
Annual legumes like Arrowleaf Clover and Biserrula, as well as perennial forage legumes like Leucaena and Desmanthus, are resistant to dieback.
“Trials have shown that adding moderate rates of nitrogen and phosphorus fertiliser and then re-sowing dieback-affected areas with legumes reliably improved plant biomass,” Mr Crowley said.
“In addition, re-sowing with a combination of legume and pasture grass species can help in increasing feed available for cattle specifically.”
5. Towards carbon neutral 2030 (CN30)
Finally, legumes can play a pivotal role in capturing carbon and reducing emissions on-farm. They contain different levels of useful compounds such as condensed tannins that assist animal production and can reduce livestock methane emissions.
“Specifically, MLA has found that in northern Australia, Leucaena and Desmanthus have the potential to reduce enteric methane production whilst improving animal production,” Mr Crowley said.