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MAF Scholarship Winner Puts Lucerne Back On the Radar

1 January 2009

MAF Scholarship Winner Puts Lucerne Back On the Radar

The farmer behind a recently released report on the future of lucerne believes the crop has a very important role to play in New Zealand pastoral farming.

The report was produced by Canterbury farmer David Ward, the inaugural winner of the New Zealand Farm Environment Award Trust and MAF Study Scholarship.

Open to Supreme winners of the Ballance Farm Environment Awards, the scholarship allows the winner to undertake major study of a topic relevant to sustainable and profitable farming in New Zealand.

David and his wife Hilary run a 425ha mixed cropping unit near Ashburton and were Supreme winners of the Ballance Farm Environment Awards for the Canterbury region in 2007.

Entitled 'Lucerne For The Future' the comprehensive report is now available on the New Zealand Farm Environment Award (NZFEA) Trust website.

NZFEA chairman Jim Cotman says it is a well researched and thought-provoking report that "should go a long way towards reviving interest in lucerne in New Zealand".

David Ward says the report was never intended to be a scientific publication. He says the aim was to produce a discussion document that puts the largely forgotten lucerne plant "back on the radar".

Indeed the report was prepared during a year when lucerne was already starting a come-back, something he attributes to drought-affected farmers looking for crops that can handle prolonged dryspells.

His report discusses the specific properties of the crop that may prove beneficial for farmers faced with rising fertiliser costs, changing weather patterns, restricted water use and issues surrounding the use of Nitrogen.

The study, which includes observations from his own experiences growing lucerne, focuses on the use of lucerne as a forage or greenfeed crop for dairy farms and dairy support blocks.

"When I first looked at lucerne for the dairy industry it became apparent the lack of understanding of how to grow, harvest and graze lucerne was a major issue for New Zealand pastoral farming."

Mr Ward says lucerne went out of favour in the 1980s "but with improved varieties, disease resistance and management, we now have a plant that is capable of producing up to 50% more drymatter than pastoral methods currently in place, in the same climatic conditions".

The report offers recommendations on the effective establishment, management and grazing of lucerne crops, and includes case studies on farmers who are successfully growing and utilising lucerne. The ability of lucerne to extract rather than leach nitrate is also discussed, and the report calls for more research into lucerne productivity, agronomy and its use for nitrate capture and effluent disposal.

"In New Zealand we have some of the world’s best scientists, experts and farmers who have the ability to show that with the best knowledge and practices, there is substantial potential for the use of lucerne in pastoral farming systems."

The report was prepared with assistance from agricultural journalist Sandra Taylor and Derrick Moot, Professor of Plant Science, Lincoln University.

Mr Ward says while preparing the report was a challenge, winning the MAF scholarship and completing the study was very rewarding. "I hope MAF and New Zealand farmers will be able to get something useful out it."

Jim Cotman says the NZFEA Trust is extremely grateful to MAF for the scholarship "because it provides top farmers with the opportunity to study and report on an issue that will add value, stimulate debate and promote the improvement of long term sustainability of New Zealand farms".

Farmers wanting to view the 'Lucerne for the Future' report should visit www.nzfeatrust.org.nz
For more information, contact Jim Cotman, phone (07) 826 7898, or David Natzke, New Zealand Farm Environment Award Trust, phone (07) 834 0400, email david.natzke@nzfeatrust.org.nz or visit www.bfea.org.nz