Factors affecting white clover persistence in New Zealand pastures


  • D.R. Woodfield
  • J.R. Caradus




Better persistence and reliability of white clover (Trifolium repens L.) is critical in achieving a more competitive New Zealand farming industry. To persist, white clover must establish well and withstand the accumulated stresses of competition from associated grasses, grazing, variable soil fertility, drought, plus pest and disease pressure. These factors vary markedly with environment and farming system, making the choice of appropriate grazing management, plant nutrition, companion species and cultivar difficult. White clover is particularly vulnerable to mismanagement and environmental stresses during spring when plant size is at its smallest. This vulnerability is further compounded by the current trend in dairying to apply high rates of nitrogen (N) which favours grass growth more than clover growth. A faster grazing rotation and/or higher stocking rates can offset the adverse effects of N on white clover by utilising the additional grass produced and reducing competition for light. Irrespective of N inputs, frequent defoliation during spring favours white clover persistence by increasing grass tiller density, resulting in better ground cover and in lower soil surface temperatures in summer. There is a threshold above which the density of associated grass suppresses clover growth. This is most prevalent in swards containing browntop, cocksfoot and kikuyu, which are more competitive against white clover than tall fescue, timothy and perennial ryegrass. Plant breeding efforts to improve persistence concentrate on increasing the rate of stolon formation and decreasing the rate of stolon death. These efforts include selecting genotypes that have better spread and persistence in association with different grasses, and genotypes that continue to grow with lower inputs of phosphate. Changes in root morphology have enhanced persistence under moderate drought stress, while significant improvements in resistance to clover cyst nematode, root-knot nematode and clover flea offer real hope in reducing the impact of these pests. Developing cultivars with higher stolon growing point densities at a particular leaf size should improve persistence while maintaining the greater yield potential. Keywords: climatic stresses, competition, diseases, grazing management, pests, plant breeding, plant nutrition, Trifolium repens L.







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