THE rain received in central Queensland areas has been better than I thought but many areas in southern Queensland are still fairly ordinary for soil moisture levels.
The summer growing legume-type crops are not large in number and basically the main three annuals are soybeans, cowpeas and Dolichos lab lab.
Some may be surprised I have included a usual grain crop of soybeans in this column. But my family farm experience lends a lot of weight to cattle readily consuming soybeans.
Feed quality is good and its heavy soil suitability, phytophthora root rot tolerance and leaf disease tolerance all make this an ideal choice, especially in coastal areas or areas where moisture may not be limiting.
Sure, it has some weak points of poor post-grazing recovery and when these very upright plant structures are driven on or trampled over, they do not recover well. But when it comes to grazing or hay production, it has plenty of bulk of up to four tonnes per acre and undertaking hay production at mid pod set will ensure a quality feed article.
Many a time, I have observed failed soybean crops being baled as dollar returns for the hay outweighed the returns from potential grain production.
So, have some faith in soybeans, especially if seed availability is tight or expensive for the two other options of annual cowpeas or lab lab.
Many of us have experience growing lab lab or cowpeas for livestock grazing over the years and we recognise these similar legume plants provide a high quality feed.
Cowpeas may be slightly better on lighter soils and in grain production (especially after grazing); but lab lab is superior in drought tolerance, heavy soil suitability and root rot resistance.
Combined with fodder production levels, particularly at the back end of summer, before feed oats becomes available and Dolichos lab lab is my preferred choice of an annual grazing legume. The biggest drawback with lab lab is invariably the cost of planting seed.
Due to its sensitivity to frost and long flowering habits, seed production of lab lab is usually done in north Queensland and, in some years of a frost free long autumn, in central Queensland.
So, when it is 50 cents a kilo, you should invest in lab lab for this year - and possibly future years planting supplies, if you have suitable cool storage areas.
Many a year it is $2/kg to more than $3/kg and at a minimum planting rate of 10 - 20kg per hectare in dryland conditions, you would need to lock it up for at least two months of good growth for a significant production of dry matter. While it takes a fair bit of dry weather to kill this tough twining legume, it certainly likes good subsoil moisture levels for active growth. Cowpeas also handle heat and moisture stress fairly well but do not have the dry matter production levels of lab lab.
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