NOTE: The information in this Agnote must be read in conjunction with Introduction to selecting and using pastures in NSW, which covers information on areas of adaptation, sources of variability, species mixtures, and important issues related to animal health and the conservation of native vegetation.
Pasture type and usePerennial legume with main growth in spring/summer/autumn. Irrigated or dryland. Hay, grazing, silage, crop rotations.
Area of adaptationIrrigated areas, dryland areas in all regions except Upper and Lower Western.
Min. average annual rainfall350 mm (southern NSW) to 400 mm (northern NSW)
  • Contribution to feed supply throughout the year depending on district.
  • High production potential.
  • High quality grazing/fodder.
  • High potential livestock weight gain.
  • Responds to summer rain.
  • High potential nitrogen input to soil.
  • Uses soil moisture to depth.
  • Requires rotational cutting/grazing for best yield and persistence.
  • Increased management needed to reduce livestock health disorders.
  • Inferior to grasses for erosion control.
  • May deplete soil moisture for following crops.
  • Limited range of low-cost herbicides available.
Soil requirementsDeep, well drained. pH(Ca) > 5.2 (topsoil and subsoil). Soil aluminium less than 5%. Good layout and drainage are critical for irrigation to avoid disease and scald. Seedlings very sensitive to salinity; established plants moderately tolerant.
Varieties Select varieties on the basis of late autumn/winter growth; resistance to aphids, root rot, anthracnose, bacterial wilt and stem nematode; hay quality; productivity; persistence; and adaptation (e.g. to acid soils).

See the Lucerne varieties (Primefact 1306)

Sowing rates: 
- as only speciesIrrigated hay 12-15 kg/ha.
Dryland hay/grazing 1-3 kg/ha (up to 8 kg/ha in high-rainfall or high-soil-moisture areas), depending on moisture likely to be available.
- in mixturesIrrigated 2-5 kg/ha.
Dryland 0.5-3 kg/ha.
Sowing timeAutumn: all districts irrigation and dryland.
Early spring: irrigation, dryland in higher elevated districts.
Companion speciesCompatible in many mixtures; however, sensitivity to herbicides, grazing management requirements and competitive effects (especially for moisture) limit use.
InoculationGroup AL
Major nutrient deficienciesPhosphorus, sulfur, potassium, molybdenum; occasionally boron, zinc.
Main insect pestsSpotted alfalfa aphid, bluegreen aphid, redlegged earth mite, blue oat mite, lucerne flea, lucerne leaf roller, whitefringed weevil.
Main diseasesPhytophthora root rot, anthracnose, common crown rot, Stemphyllium leaf spot, leaf rust, pepper spot, common leaf spot.
ManagementRotational grazing important. Ideally spell before cutting or grazing until 10% of stems commence flowering, or crown shoots are 12 cm long on 50% of plants. Avoid cutting or grazing lower than 5 cm. Set stocking at moderate to high stocking rates reduces persistence.
Livestock disorders of particular noteFrequently bloat in cattle. Photosensitisation in horses, occasionally red gut in sheep. Infertility in livestock has been associated with ingestion of lucerne leaves stressed by leaf diseases or by insect attack.
Additional tips
  • Weed competition can severely reduce establishment of lucerne. Plan well ahead to reduce potential weed problems.
  • Irrigation scheduling can improve production and save water.
  • If pH(Ca) is 5.2 or less, consider using lime. (Responses can occur to pH 6.)
Further information
  • Lucerne varieties 2004-2005
  • Agfact P2.5.25 Lucerne for pasture and fodder.
  • Irrigated Lucerne A guide to profitable irrigated lucerne hay production in northern Victoria and southern NSW, 2nd edn, NSW Agriculture, Agriculture Victoria, and the Murray Darling Basin Commission.
  • Weed Control in Lucerne and Pastures, NSW Agriculture.


Advice on livestock health disorders was provided by Dr Chris Bourke, Principal Research Scientist, Orange. His contribution is gratefully acknowledged.

Photo: Warren McDonald, Former Technical Specialist (Pastures), NSW Agriculture, Tamworth.