Greener pastures for Australian sheep industry

Lebeckia pods

South Africa Lebeckia pods flowering

The poorest Australian soils can be turned into green farmable landscapes with a herbaceous South African plant that can provide ‘green feed’ for sheep over the dry summer months according to Perth researchers.

At the moment, sheep graze on pastures of legumes like clover and alfalfa, but these fail to supply a sustainable food source in summer, leaving our farmers to rely on wheat or barley stubble. This is a costly, extremely time consuming practice, and it limits the number of sheep on a farm.

“These pastures are water demanding and fail to provide enough feed in the sandy soils of Western Australia,” explains Dr Sofie De Meyer, a postdoctoral fellow at Murdoch University. “In the wake of declining rain fall and the increasing threat of climate change we need a feed stock that can thrive in the arid Australian landscape.”

Sofie is now trialling an alternative plant which has the potential to sustainably feed Australian sheep all year round.

“Lebeckia ambigua is a deep rooted, herbaceous plant found in the Western Cape region of South Africa,” says Sofie. “This plant has a low water demand and actively grows perennially.”

Providing an option for green feed all year can increase the number of sheep on a farm, reducing the costs for farmers and increasing their profitability, but also ensure that we can sustainably feed our population in the future.

Lebeckia, which has spent the past decade satisfying rigorous quarantine examination, is now undergoing field trials on Western Australian farms which have struggled to grow fodder for their stock and seed could be commercially available by the end of 2017.

Sofie presented her research at Fresh Science WA 2015. Fresh Science is a national program that helps early-career researchers find and share their stories of discovery. Over 20 early-career researchers nominated for Fresh Science WA, which was held at the Western Australian Museum (training) and the Brisbane Hotel (public challenge event) and was supported by the Western Australian Museum, Curtin University, Edith Cowan University, Murdoch University, the University of Western Australia and the University of Notre Dame, Australia.

Contact: Sofie De Meyer, Murdoch University, sofdemey@outlook.com

Farmers sowing Lebeckia

Farmers sowing Lebeckia

Lebeckia field site

Lebeckia field site

Lebeckia Root nodule

Lebeckia Root nodule

Lebeckia flowers

Lebeckia flowers

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