The seed that stalled despite high value potential, and the project to unearth greater productivity
Despite the pasture seed industry in Tasmania being the state’s second largest non-food agricultural export, over the last two decades yields of one of the dominant high-value seed crops, white clover, have flat-lined. AgriFutures Australia is proud to be funding new research to advance the potential of this crop.
Australia’s pasture seed industry is vital to the productivity of Australian agriculture, providing the seed used to grow feed for livestock through some 45,000 tonnes of pasture seed supplied annually to industries including dairy, red meat and wool.
In Tasmania, ryegrass and white clover are the dominant pasture species grown over 5,000 hectares largely in the Northern Midlands, achieving an estimated farmgate value of over $37 million.
The Tasmanian Seed Industry Group (TSIG) is championing the industry as the peak industry body representing pasture and vegetable seed producers in Tasmania. Members of the not-for-profit industry organisation represent all levels of the Tasmanian seed industry, from farmers to agronomists, seed companies, seed testing, government and researchers.
Both TSIG and AgriFutures Australia believe that there’s more opportunity to be had with high value crops like white clover, so have partnered to uncover the crop’s true potential. This new project will investigate ways to increase the yield and profitability of white clover seed production crops in Tasmania and Southern Australia.
Increasing the yield potential of a high value crop
White clover is a high value forage, particularly popular for use in the finishing of lambs. It’s a perennial legume which experiences most of its growth in spring, summer and autumn. Being relatively tolerant of acidic soils, it’s suited to a wide range of soils and well-suited to short or medium‑term pasture and irrigated areas. Thanks to their creeping stems which take root, the plants spread after establishment. This is one of the reasons why white clover tolerates grazing with such resilience.
Certified white clover seed is not new to Tasmania. In fact, it’s been grown there as a commercial seed crop for more than 60 years. Today, Tasmania has approximately 1,000 ha of certified white clover seed crops planted this season, making it a major producer of domestic white clover seed.
Tasmania and Southern Australia ticks all the boxes when it comes to ideal growing conditions for white clover:
- Ideal environmental conditions
- Irrigation scheme
- Relative pest and disease-free status
- Potential to increase the growing area to meet an increasing local and export demand.
Despite this, white clover seed yields have stagnated over the past 20 years. Current low yield and profitability, compared to other commodities, sees growers reluctant to produce white clover seed crops.
Working with TSIG, AgriFutures Australia is committed to understanding best practice when it comes to current crop management and do a deep dive into the complex reasons behind grower reluctance.
Learning lessons from across the ditch
Similarities in climate, topography, and cultural and management practices between Tasmania and New Zealand means research on white clover conducted in New Zealand may be applicable to the industry in Tasmania.
Some of the agronomic management practices that have been successful in New Zealand will be tested in the Tasmanian environment during the project, focusing on ways to increase the yield potential of Tasmanian white clover seed production crops, with consideration also given to mainland production needs.
Results and outcomes of this project will be shared with the white clover seed industry to inform southern white clover seed producers, agronomists, and allied researchers.
Dedicated panel championing white clover seed sector
Advisory Panel members from AgriFutures Pasture Seeds Program visited the project team recently, working alongside driven white clover seed growers determined to advance the industry.
“There have been no jumps in the productivity of the industry over the last 20 years,” grower Tom Graesser said.
“But Tasmania’s favourable climate, land suitability, and irrigation means that it is a reliable seed production area with potential to increase further.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by the project team, spurred by research funding and industry support.
“In fact, the area has the potential to produce world-equalling yields through the professional nature of the group,” grower Bramwell Heazlewood added.
White clover is a complex crop to care for in terms of seed production. The crop requires manipulation as there has to be a trade-off between producing too much bulk for harvest and too little for seed production. However, one of the upsides of planting the perennial white clover is that just two or three weeks after seed is harvested, and the paddock is irrigated, it can be used for high quality grazing.
Collating farmer feedback on this complex crop
TSIG Executive Officer Suzanne Maier said crucial information will come from farmers within the next month, guiding the research ahead.
“A farmer survey will soon be undertaken to determine current crop management practices and look for any opportunities for improvement within the industry,” she said.
“These two pieces of work will determine what others are doing and what we can try here.”
Field experiments, repeated in several locations, will then be sown this year and next to test these ‘best bet’ options. The three year project will conclude in December 2025.
The AgriFutures Pasture Seeds Program focuses on certified seed of temperate pasture species including lucerne, sub-clover, other clovers, medics and serradella. The AgriFutures Pasture Seeds Program RD&E Plan identifies and balances the research, development and extension priorities and outcomes to promote industry productivity, profitability and sustainability.
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