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Lemon Grove Research Farm is an exciting new venture for the Clover Hill Dairies team.

Part of the development of Lemon Grove Research has been directed towards establishing a site suitable to conduct research trials.

A key part of the strategy will be to document the agronomic base of the farm in terms of soils, fertiliser and plant cultivars.

Livestock records will be electronically recorded, incorporating full details on animal health and reproduction. This data will form a key base for trials that will be conducted on agronomic and pharmaceutical products.

Our staff will be fully trained in best clinical practice, in addition to their current skills in HACCP. These capabilities, together with our attention to detail allowing high levels of milk production, will ensure that we are an attractive site for future studies.



Traditional coastal dairy pastures are heavily based on grasses such as annual ryegrass in winter and spring and kikuyu or paspalum in summer and autumn. These species are both well adapted to the local environment and climate and capable of responding quickly to rain when it falls. However, these species do have limitations. Growth of annual ryegrasses is limited to between the months of late April and early December in most years, while the summer grasses go dormant in the cooler months.


This has made a year-round perennial grass species very challenging to find and grow in our region for 3 reasons. Firstly early attempts with perennial rye species met with poor results due to attacks by pasture pests, hot dry summers, poor grazing management and summer grass weed invasion. Some of the fescues looked promising but their slow establishment and inability to compete with summer grass weeds basically made them impractical in coastal environments. The second limitation of grass based pastures is the shallow root systems they have, meaning that if rainfall is not regular, growth can be severely limited as they are unable to access the deeper moisture that may accumulate in many of the low land soils following the heavier rainfall events we get in the Illawarra.
The third major drawback of grass dominant pastures is heavy reliance on nitrogen based fertilisers. Grasses such as kikuyu and ryegrass are certainly very efficient at converting these fertilisers into pasture and milk, however, the recent price spike in nitrogen fertilisers and some of the green house gas implications of their use encouraged us to look at pasture mixes that are less reliant on nitrogen based fertilisers to drive their productivity.


In conjunction with our farm consultancy SBScibus we have been looking at new pasture mixes based on perennial legumes and herbs rather than grasses to help counter these issues. These pastures utilise mixes of lucerne, red and white clover (the legumes) and chicory and plantain (herbs). These species and cultivars within have been selected for very strategic purposes. The lucerne is a tap rooted perennial legume that if managed correctly can persist for many years. Once established, it is able to access moisture from well below a metre depth and subsequently is able to utilise moisture and nutrients that may have been lost below the reach of common grass species.

Added benefits include mitigation of nutrients reaching the water table and extending the growing season into drier periods when compared to the grasses. The red clover is also capable of extracting nutrients from over 50 cm deep and grows rapidly in the first year while the Lucerne establishes itself. While not as deep rooted, the white clovers we selected are spreading cultivars that move across the soil surface filling spaces left by other plants that die out.


The herbs are also very deep rooted and can access moisture and nutrients from up to a metre deep. Again, this extends the growing season and allows for better nutrient and moisture extraction from deeper in the soil profile keeping ground water safe and further extending the growing season into drier times. The herbs do respond to nitrogen and will be able to utilise the nitrogen fixed by the legumes in these pasture mixes.

These pastures also respond well to nutrient supplied by dairy effluent and are very useful for recycling this valuable pool of nutrients. In well drained soils that are prone to heavy rainfall events, they may offer coastal farmers some very exciting options as part of a "pastures portfolio" that allows us to manage climate variability and will hopefully allow us to reduce inputs as well. We will see how they perform in year 2 but to date, things look very promising!