by Advanced Seed

Seeds and feeds

The importance of planting lucerne

Lucerne has a high nutritional value

Lucerne is a vigorous perennial legume with a well-developed taproot system that boasts a high nutritional value for numerous types of livestock. While Lucerne is relatively easy to farm with, it must be sown correctly and also well managed.

There is however a misunderstanding amongst farmers that as there are less coated seeds in a 25kg pocket than there are in a 25kg pocket of uncoated seeds, meaning that establishing stands that have the required population is compromised.

Looking at the maths there are approximately 400 000 seeds in a kilogram of uncoated Lucerne seed, whereas there is an approximated average of 220 000 seeds in a kilogram of coated seed.  This may vary slightly depending upon the size of the original seed before coating.

Generally speaking, 25kg of uncoated Lucerne seed is recommended to establish a 1ha field or stand.  This equates to approx. 10 000 000 seeds, broken down at 25 bags x 400 000 seeds per kg.

However what is important to note, is that three – six months after sowing, a well-established Lucerne pasture will present approximately 60 – 90 plants per square metre with a total of 600 000 – 900 000 actual plants per ha.  The balance will have been crowded out or would have died due to natural causes; in addition to this approximately 5% of seeds simply don’t germinate. The point here is that a final stand of 60 – 90 plants per square metre is more than sufficient to achieve optimum yields.

When sowing 25kg of Agricote coated lucerne seeds, the actual number of seeds sown totals approximately 5.5 million per ha. 

The coating provides a more sustainable seedling during the germination phase, as the nutrients it requires are in the coating. As a result, the final population of plants, three to six months after planting, will also be at 60 – 90 plants per square metre.

It has proven, through qualified research, that there is simply no need for a farmer to plant more than 25kg of seed per ha, whether the seeds are coated or not.  Having said this, the following needs to be taken into consideration these include: seedbed preparation (fine tilth), depth of planting and the availability of moisture throughout the germination phase.

Where any of the above are, for whatever reason not achievable, then, and only then, should consideration be given to seeding at rates in excess of 25kg per hectare, for both coated or uncoated seeds.

Soil temperature during germination is critical.  Lucerne will germinate at low soil temperatures and ideal temperatures vary between 10 - 18°C. Seeds bedded in soil at temperatures between 1 - 5°C will take longer to germinate (three to four weeks). During this period seedlings are subjected to unnecessary stress, and it is in such instances that coated seeds have an advantage.  

One should however avoid planting at these temperatures, if possible. Accurate and even placement of seed is critical to ensure a suitable final stand. Good seed to soil contact is enhanced when using Agricote seed; something that rolling after sowing can also improve significantly.

Other agricultural practices that are important in order to maximise yields are weed control, correct soil fertility, insect and disease control.

There is no doubt that lucerne is a good nutritional supplement in any livestock ration. The question should not be asked if you should plant it but rather when.

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Issue 46


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