An evaluation of lucerne for persistence under grazing in New Zealand


  • B.M. Harvey
  • K.H. Widdup
  • B.A. Barrett



Abstract The on-farm use of lucerne (Medicago sativa) for grazing and conserved feed has increased in New Zealand over recent years, with new cultivars coming onto the market, including more winter-active ones. The extent to which the winter active types contribute to annual feed production, and the relationship to critical traits like persistence, has not been systematically tested. Two concurrent trials over a 4-year period were used to evaluate a range of lucerne cultivars and elite experimental populations ranging in dormancy from 2 (highly dormant) to 10 (non-dormant) under contrasting grazing regimes near Lincoln, New Zealand. More winter-active cultivars in the higher fall dormancy (FD) classes had similar growth to lower FD classes in all seasons except autumn, where they exhibited 18% greater yield than the lowest FD entry. However, these higher FD populations do not persist as well under heavy grazing, with a reduction in ground cover of up to 90% after four years, compared with only a 25% loss in lower FD classes. There was a negative correlation between FD and persistence measured as plant survival over 4 years (R2=0.73). However, one high FD entry showed increased survival under grazing, suggesting there is scope for selection of types with improved cool season growth and grazing tolerance. The concurrent lucerne trial subjected to a low-frequency grazing/ cutting regime showed faster recovery from defoliation than the adjacent hard grazed regime, suggesting stored underground reserves were more available for regrowth. We concluded that lucerne cultivars with FD ratings in the 3 to 5 range are most suitable for yield and persistence under grazing in these conditions. There is also scope for breeding to improve plant survival and dry matter yield within FD class. Keywords: Lucerne (Medicago sativa), grazing tolerance, persistence, fall dormancy







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