Back Winter lucerne management essential for summer success

Date: 25 May 2018

When a well-managed lucerne stand can last 5-6 years, it is a no-brainer to take time to learn and implement correct seasonal management practices. And winter – which means weed control - is right around the corner.

Lucerne is a superstar crop, able to produce 12-20 tDM/ha year under a wide range of soil and climatic conditions. Its superior nutritional value results in increased animal performance, and its versatile nature means it performs well as both a grazed crop or hay/silage.

Lucerne has a higher Water Use Efficiency (WUE) than pasture, as well as a deep rooting system that allows it to extract water that has dropped out of the root zone of pasture, lucerne is an ideal crop to consider on irrigated land.

To ensure your crop continues to produce high yields of top quality feed in periods of low rainfall and high temperatures, winter management is essential, and the majority of that pertains to weed control.

Early on in winter, a quick clean-up graze of the lucerne may occur to remove any overwintering aphids and set the stand up for better weed control. It is recommended to hard-graze the stand with a large mob of cattle or sheep from the end of May to early June. Avoid grazing the crop when ground conditions are wet.

Herbicide application should then occur once the weeds have freshened up, typically around June 25 to mid-July.

The accumulation of vegetative nodes during winter allows rapid stem elongation and dry matter production in spring, so you don’t want to be damaging these with late herbicide application; removal of the growing point during late winter/early spring will reduce the potential production of the lucerne for the entire spring period.

Winter is also an ideal time to take soil tests. As large amounts of nutrients are removed from the lucerne stand each season, it is important to monitor soil and plant tissue to ensure the requirements of base nutrients, such as potassium and lime, are being met.

While lucerne is one of the oldest forage crops on earth used to graze cattle, dating back more than 3,300 years, a strong global focus on lucerne breeding means that new varieties with improved yield potential and greater disease resistance will be available in the future. At Pioneer we continue to undertake Lucerne product development research in NZ. The main focus of this research is trailing Lucerne varieties, looking for new and improved options for NZ farmers.

With a Pioneer lucerne variety and a good winter crop management strategy, you can be confident you’ll develop a high-yielding crop of dense nutritional value, which will support your cattle through the summer dry for not one, but several seasons.

For more information on lucerne management contact us: https://www.pioneer.co.nz/contact-us/