Zinos rolling out lucerne

SOWING LUCERNE WITH ANDREW JOHNSTON

Andrew Johnston makes no apologies for being old-fashioned.

As one of eight field representatives at Luisetti Seeds, he is typically out in the field rather than in the office. He is on hand to inspect paddocks and help farmers with pasture renewal right from the very start, from selecting sites and cultivars through to grazing the feed.

One farming family that has a close relationship with Luisetti Seeds is the Zino family at Flaxmere and Kanuka Downs. Luisetti Seeds supplied seed to Sam and Mark’s father. Now the company is involved with the Zino’s lucerne expansion programme.

Zinos rolling out lucerne

Zinos rolling out lucerne

There has always been some lucerne on the stonier soils at Flaxmere. Recently Sam and Mark Zino have extended the area under lucerne to 50 hectares, shifting their focus to growing the legume on the heavier clay. This coming season six more hectares will be sown on the deer and cattle breeding unit, Kanuka Downs, and thirty hectares will go in on the deer finishing farm at Flaxmere.

Following the golden rule of planning, Sam and Mark have a clear idea for how the lucerne will fit in with stock feed demands. Last season Mark and Sam used lucerne for lighter ewes at lactation, lambing hoggets, lactating hinds and growing weaners. The new lucerne is earmarked for hinds during lactation and weaner deer in autumn.

As the brothers gear up for more lucerne, Sam says it has been great to be able to throw around ideas with Andrew Johnston.

“We go on Andrew’s advice.”

Sam’s been very happy with the cultivar selection and establishment, with Force Four being sown in the deer unit. Andrew has suggested another cultivar for further plantings, to offer diversity and spreading the risk in case of disease or climate issues.

In the wet season of 2011 Sam established the lucerne by first spraying the grass out three times. Typically he would spray only twice before direct-drilling. No crop phase was used before sowing the lucerne but Sam says the presence of some grass doesn’t worry him too much.

Growth rates for fawns were 160 grams/head/day higher when their mothers were grazing lucerne compared to grass. “Hinds were also heavier giving a double whammy benefit” said Sam.

Sam is targeting ten years from his lucerne and is pleased he got the winter sprays on early this year, before it got too wet. Andrew visits the lucerne about once a month. Sam suspects he knows where to get a good cup of coffee! Sam values the relationship and said that Luisetti Seeds quality is the best without a doubt.

“It runs better than other seed and there is no trash.” The service is good and you get the follow up advice when you ask for it.”

Luisetti-lucerneHigher altitude lucerne at the Stone Jug

Five hundred hectares of flats would make most farmers green with envy. Jeremy and Tina Johnston are making the most of this area of their high country station, the Stone Jug, Inland Kaikoura

With 12,000 stock units of deer and cattle to feed, the flats need to take the pressure off the high country and provide quality feed for summer and winter. The Johnstons have chosen lucerne to help do this, sowing 40 hectares in spring 2011. All lucerne is under irrigation and Jeremy said the first year has gone well.

The lucerne has been ideal for lactating hinds during summer. It responded well to water, needing less than grass. The nature of the tall lucerne plant means that deer have less chance of ingesting parasite larvae. The tannins help deer resist parasitism effects, he said.

The lucerne was fed directly to weaners in autumn. It was locked up for 45 days until 3500 kilograms of dry matter were on hand. Lucerne was also made into baleage as it makes an ideal complement for winter fodder beet, said Jeremy. The baleage makes up about 15% of the weaner deer’s diet.

Jeremy has appreciated the advice and service from Luisetti Seeds during the establishment process. He met Andrew Johnston three years ago when they were both on the Mendip Hills Deer Focus Farm committee. Jeremy asked Andrew to help with cultivar selection and establishment process and since then, Jeremy reckons Andrew has visited about twenty times.

“I think he likes our lunches.”

Jeremy likes the level of follow-up and knowledge about deer requirements.

“Luisetti Seeds is a one stop shop where you can get seed, chemical and grain.”

“They are very sharp on service and when Andrew writes it down, it arrives.”

Tips on growing/using lucerne

  • Be clear what you want the crop for (grazing, supplementary feed or a combination of both).
  • Seek advice from Luisetti Seeds to get the full range of cultivars. Be aware of dormancy ratings.
  • Best sites have deep soils but are free-draining.
  • Ideal pH is above 6.
  • Site preparation is key (eliminating competition weeds like mallow, thistle, horehound and grass before sowing is easier than after).
  • Let it flower in its first year.
  • Don’t set-stock it. Rotationally graze, allowing 4-6 weeks recovery time between grazings, depending on time of year.
  • Avoid irrigating when young to encourage deep rooting.
  • Hard graze after first frost then spray for weeds 10-14 days later.
  • Air temperatures above 4°C trigger growth in spring.

Benefits of lucerne

  • Fixes nitrogen.
  • Can recover from drought quickly, producing quality leaf.
  • Fantastic feed quality.
  • Withstands grass grub attack.
  • Perennial – lasts up to 10 years.