Sub clover industry push to modernise machinery

Sub clover grower workshop provides ideas for UWA project


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Sub clover and annual medic harvest can be painstakingly slow with up to 60-year-old machines travelling at just a few kilometres an hour.

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Sub clover and annual medic harvest can be painstakingly slow with up to 60-year-old machines travelling at just a few kilometres an hour.

But a new project is giving growers hope for the future of these varieties.

In October, the University of WA received $530,000 in funding from AgriFutures Australia to investigate a more efficient harvesting method to pick up the hard-seeded legume seed often buried in the ground and thresh it out of the pods.

The 3.5-year project will also tackle soil management, especially post-harvest.

In the 1980s Horwood Bagshaw ceased manufacturing the vacuum machines still used by most growers today and it is becoming increasingly difficult to repair and replace worn parts.

In a workshop at Naracoorte on Tuesday, growers shared their experiences and came up with a wish-list for modifying an existing machine or developing a new prototype.

The project is being led by plant scientist Phil Nichols but the team includes skills in agricultural engineering, pasture agronomy and breeding.

Associate Professor Nichols says they are keeping an "open mind" but have already gathered six case studies from growers from SA, WA and NSW.

The next step is a grower survey before getting into the design phase.

"We are confident we can make a big difference and will have something in place for growers in the not too distant future," he said.

According to Australian Seed Authority figures, sub clover makes up approximately half of the pasture legume seed grown annually in Australia, with about 1600 tonnes produced.

Kybybolite grower Andrew Shepherd's family pioneered sub clover seed growing in the region more than a century ago and he is hopeful he will not be the last generation to grow it.

He is grateful to AgriFutures for recognising the industry is at the "crossroads".

"We have got one go at this and there are lots of small pieces of the puzzle we need to get right," he said.

"Cost is a major factor in any machine so whether it is feasible to start from scratch to build a new machine I am not sure, or is building an adjustment to be fitted to a conventional header the answer? "

He says sub clover is too valuable to the grazing industry to be lost.

"In the last five to 10 years there has been a small push away from sub clovers in pasture seed mixes with grasses becoming more dominant, but producers are again recognising those pastures with clover have higher feed value and longevity," he said.

During the recent harvest Mr Shepherd said irrigated crops had yielded "quite well" but dryland paddocks had been disappointing, with most going 200 kilograms a hectare to 500kg/ha.

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