A NEW cultivar of French Serradella suitable for broad scale agriculture in low to medium rainfall areas has been developed by researchers at Murdoch University.
The short season and hard-seeded legume, which has been named Fran2o, is set to increase the sustainability of Wheatbelt crop-pasture rotations and lower the carbon footprint of cropping.
Fran2o was developed by Murdoch University associate professor Bradley Nutt during his PhD studies and was created in response to requests from farmers for an early season French Serradella for their acid sandy soils.
French Serradella is normally a soft seeded legume and like most plants in cultivation doesn't have any seed dormancy, however Dr Nutt reverse-engineered the plant by selecting and cross breeding for the hard seed characteristic and early maturity.
The new cultivar follows the success of Margurita, which was the earlier notable result of the same research, in medium rainfall areas over the past 10 years.
Dr Nutt said farmers would be able to use the unique hard seed breakdown patterns of the pasture legume to sow seed in summer.
"After that the autumn rains germinate the plants to maximise nitrogen fixation and production through winter," Dr Nutt said.
"In a world first, the high productivity of Fran2o replaces the need for fertiliser nitrogen application in the subsequent cereal crop."
Fran2o was evaluated in 2019 in Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales in low-medium rainfall environments within the Dryland Legume Pasture Systems program, co-ordinated by Murdoch University pasture agronomy and rhizobiology project leader Ron Yates.
"It showed remarkable productivity, even in extremely difficult years in both Western Australia and New South Wales," Dr Yates said.
"Feed production was above expectations and we are assessing the amount of residual nitrogen (N) left in the soil from those Fran2o residues.
"Our hypothesis is that Fran2o residues, above and below ground, can provide most of the N requirements for following cereal crops."
It is anticipated that the new cultivar will be sown on more than one million hectares in WA by 2030 with a similar area under cultivation in the Eastern States.
Fran2o seed is 25 per cent bigger than other hard seeded cultivars, such as Margurita, which provides greater early vigour.
It also flowers about two weeks earlier than Margurita and may set hardened pods before the influx of native budworm later in the season, which normally reduces Margurita seed production.
Dr Nutt said like other French Serradella cultivars, Fran2o's flowering was indeterminate, meaning it can adapt to the unpredictable fluctuating seasons.
"It retains the 'kick-on' factor characterised by other cultivars of this species," Dr Nutt said.
"The combination of these adaptive qualities in Fran2o has indicated to researchers that it will be highly successful in any areas of low rainfall, deep acidic sandy soils across southern Australia."
Fran2o will be marketed by Murdoch University start-up company, LegumeN2, which will commercialise the legume and related products from Murdoch University's Centre for Rhizobium Studies.
LegumeN2 director John Howieson said the income from Fran2o would allow the company to fund the world's first dedicated Serradella breeding program.
"Given that Serradella is worth more than $100m annually to agriculture in Australia, this is a long overdue breeding initiative that will give some security to breeding activities for the aerial seeding group of pasture legumes," Dr Howieson said.
The name Fran2o was chosen to recognise the late Clive Francis, who inspired many of the current generation of WA pasture research scientists, with the new cultivar officially launched by WA Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan at a gala dinner at Murdoch University on Monday night.