SPECTACULAR growth has resulted from the mixed sowing of pasture legume varieties on a Narrikup farm. The lush growth impressed 40 farmers who attended an informal field day on the 580ha farm of prime lamb producers Kelvin and Estelle Ridgway. They farm Moolabar, a property of light to medium soils that receives an annual rainfall of about 600-700 millimetres. "We're interested in pasture improvement," Mr Ridgway said. "We wanted to see how well some of the new legume varieties would do in our environment. In March this year, I visited Neil Ballard of Ballard Seeds at Tincurrin. He suggested a demonstration trial just to show how the 20 legume varieties might perform down south." Mr Ballard, his wife Val and sons Leigh, Jamie and Ryan had started Ballard Seeds in 1997, after several years of harvesting and selling sub clover and medic seeds. The family won the 1999 Centre for Legumes in Mediterranean Agriculture (CLIMA) Excellence in Legumes award for WA. Neil Ballard, who is on the University of WA's agricultural faculty advisory board, did more than simply suggest the trial at Narrikup ‹ he provided the experimental drill and supervised the June 26 sowing of the 20 legume varieties on the Ridgways' farm. The seeding went into a paddock perimeter site which measured 800m by one metre. "The elongated patch varied in soil type and soil moisture levels," Mr Ridgway said. "This seemed a more effective way of comparing their growth than seeding each variety into small separate plots." In total, the 20 species included serradellas, medics, arrowleaf, crimson, gland, persian and sub clovers, two lucernes, two balansas and Casbah biserrula. Seeding rates varied according to the vairety. It was purely a demonstration of the wide range of pasture legumes available in WA. Prior to this demonstration, Mr Ridgway had sown two paddocks in May, one of 20ha, the other of 10ha, down to a selection of legumes from Ballard Seeds. In 1999, the 20ha paddock had a typical ryegrass and subclover pasture, which had had 90kg/ha of superphosphate spread that year. A soil test in 1994 showed a pH reading of 4.7. On May 1, 2000, the 20ha was sprayed with Roundup at 1/ha. On May 14, a further spray of 75ml/ha of Telstar and 200ml/ha of Dominex was applied and on the same day Kelvin seeded a mix of legumes and barley through a Chamberlain combine fitted with a small seed box with light harrows following. His chosen pasture mix was Red Gully Persian 25kg, Casbah biserrula 8kg, Capreera crimson clover 8kg, Cadiz serradella 15kg, and 50kg of Onslow barley ‹ the total seed mix sown at 2.8kg/ha and 50kg/ha of Agras. The paddock was grazed until early September. Among those who inspected the resulting pasture on the October 24 field day was Agriculture WA farm adviser David Highman. "It was a magnificent pasture, very suitable for finishing prime vealers and lambs," Mr Highman said. "The seed used was said to cost no more than a few dollars a hectare. The Casbah biserrula and the Cadiz serradella were very impressive. It should make excellent hay or silage." Mr Ballard has grown Casbah biserrula for the past four years and believes it has a great future in WA pastures. "It's only drawback is its inability to thrive in waterlogged situations," he said. In a recent two-year grazing trial with wethers at 15 dse/ha the Casbah set an estimated tonne/ha of seed. At the Narrikup field day, visitors were keen to know which seeds would re-generate under continuous pasture and under cropping rotations. "With yellow serradella and Casbah, it may be better to crop the paddock in the second year which allows the hard seeded varieties to soften up," Mr Ballard said. He said Casbah was highly palatable in the dried off stage. The pre-emergence sprays need to be effective, particularly for the control of red legged earth mite where legumes are sown. Mr Ballard said it was important that the new pasture options are understood by farmers and when to graze them heavily and when to de-stock them. Balansa and Persian clover tended to dominate the other species in the Ridgway paddock. Balansa, in particular, needed to be grazed hard, Mr Ballard said. In late October, 110 round bales weighing an estimated 480kg each were harvested from 18ha of the 20ha mixed legume-barley pasture paddock inspected on the field day. Crops grown include hay varieties of seed oats, canola and Avilla serradella for seed production. The Ridgways run 2200 ewes on Moolabar ‹ 1200 of them Merinos, the remainder Border Leicester-Merino ewes which they've bred themselves. The crossbred ewes begin lambing to White Sufflok rams in late April and the Merino ewes to Border Leicester rams in late June. Top quality fodder is important in such a program, Mr Ridgway said.