If leucaena pastures have such huge potential in northern Australia as cattle feed then why aren’t larger areas of Queensland’s Brigalow Belt planted with the legume?
That question was posed to a seminar at Beef 2018 in Rockhampton by Toowoomba-based Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries principal pasture agronomist, Gavin Peck.
Mr Peck said around 8.5 million ha were suitable for leucaena but only 125,000 ha had been sown with the plant.
He said the Brigalow Belt contained 15pc of the grazing land in northern Australia but ran 30pc of the cattle.
In contrast, down south sub-clovers had been established on 29m ha and medics on 20m ha.
Mr Peck said luecaena, a native of Mexico and Central America, had gone from being seen as a risky pasture plant in the early days to one of the most reliable today.
Some of the challenges in establishing leucanea in the Brigaloiw Belt included a challenging climate with moisture limited throughout the year and poor planting recommendations based on experiences from different climate zones, he said.
Young leucaena plants also faced stiff competition from grasses like buffel which had large root systems.
Trying to plant leucaena directly into buffel grass wasn’t a recipe for success, he said.
Mr Peak said perennial legumes “aren’t something we can magically throw out and they will look after themselves”.
Farmers had to select the right paddock, the right variety, the right seedbed and the right sowing method.
The best results were achieved when legumes like leucaena were sown into a good seedbed on fertile land and allowed to thicken up.
He shared the seminar panel with two Qld Department of Agriculture and Fisheries colleagues – principal economist, Fred Chudleigh, and principal research scientist, Maree Bowen.
The session looked at improving beef enterprise performance in northern Australia through the feed base and other interventions.
All three agreed on the value that leucaena could add to the northern Australia beef industry.
Dr Bowen said leucanea was the standout perennial pasture in the Fitzroy Basin which includes Rockhampton on its eastern edge.
She said the most profitable production strategy for the production of both feeder and slaughter steers running on buffel grass was to give them access to leucanea after weaning.
However, the potential negative consequence was the eight to 14 years to recover the cost of planting and establishment.