8 March 2002

Lucerne has lower levels of nitrate leaching

LUCERNE could be the ideal grazing/conservation crop to use in Nitrate Vulnerable Zones because it has lower levels of nitrate leaching, compared with other legumes.

David Scholefield, soil scientist at IGER North Wyke in Devon, believes lucerne could improve the environmental sustainability of organic systems.

"Recent US studies have shown lucerne to be effective in removing nitrate from land heavily contaminated by fertiliser spillages. It has potential if we could grow it successfully," says Prof Scholefield.

Uptake of lucerne in the UK has been curtailed because of poor disease resistance and difficulties with managing the crop to achieve high yields.

But modern varieties, such as Vela, offer improvements in yield and persistence. "It is now timely to investigate these varieties and exploit the environmental benefits of lucerne," &#42