Gigi and Scott Robertson of Westwood, near Mitchell, with some of their leucaena.

Leucaena success in the south west

Mitchell producers Scott and Gigi Robertson have had early success with their leucaena crop not usually planted so far west.

MITCHELL producers Scott and Gigi Robertson are preparing more land to expand their leucaena crop after early success growing it in a south west location.

The couple operate the 3400 hectares property, Westwood, north of Mitchell, and planted 75 hectares of the Leucaena Wondergraze variety in January of 2015, after experimenting with a small trial plot of another variety, Cunningham.

Planting the leucaena on January 9. Picture: Gigi Robertson

Planting leucaena in the area was unheard of given the threat of frosting and unpredictable seasons but the couple were supported in knowledge from Roma based contractor, Andrew Richardson, and their son, Lachlan, who had worked on the MLA funded research programme to develop the Psyllid resistant variety, Redlands. 

Using the yetta wheels to break the surface crust to help the leucaena seedlings emerge. Picture: Gigi Robertson

They prepared the ground that had been previously used to grow forage crops and inoculated the scarified seed and water injected and fertilised at planting. A MaxEmerge disc planter was used with GPS tracking.

They planted one kilogram of seed to the acre during a good rainfall season, so good that the crop received two inches of rain during planting causing a crust layer to form over it. 

“We had to get yetta wheels to break the surface so that was a little bit of a glitch there but it worked brilliantly...and as you can see we have had people look at the germination of it and say it is better than some irrigated leucaena,” Ms Robertson said. 

In May of that year, once the leucaena was established, they inter row planted oats and later inter row planted buffel grass and silk for permanent forage. 

While at the time, planting oats beside the competitive crop was frowned upon, the Robertsons found the leucaena put nitrogen into the middle row crops, providing a buffer during the winter season.

Planting the oats beside the leucaena. Picture: Gigi Robertson

After switching from breeding to trading young heifers, they have seen daily weight gains of up to two kilograms off the leucaena at a stocking rate of about three head to the hectare.

Following establishment, frost has proven to be somewhat beneficial for the crop, causing it to be cut back but meaning they don’t have a problem of overgrowth like the tropics. 

The crop 12 months after planting it.

The couple have now turned their attention to fertilising their current crop through their own visual trials of VAM Grow Plus containing more than eight species of beneficial soil bacteria as well as DAP. 

Another 161 hectares (400 acres) has recently been stick raked and will be prepared in the hope of planting more leucaena within two years. 

Cattle feeding on the middle row oats.

Mr Robertson said he advised anybody looking to plant leucaena for the first time to take the time to research it and get assistance from people who had experience.

Soil preparation and pest management is extremely important to get a good strike rate as well, he said.

While the crop currently looks dried off, Gigi and Scott are still happy with its response to their climate.

They planted one metre twin rows with eight metre spacing everywhere else. 

“We had known about it 40 years ago and I was talking to Dad about planting it at our place at Glenmorgan but we had no understanding of it,” Mr Robertson said.

“So with (Lachlan) studying it at university, doing proper trials, we worked out what variety to put and how heavy to put it.

“We just got a really good strike and we kept stock off and pests off ‘till it was well established.” 

Mr Robertson said it was a 10 year project before he would safely call it a success but already it had survived the hot and dry conditions well and weight gains have been impressive. 

The crop at the moment.
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