After nearly two decades of detective work by lecturer Chris Gardiner, JCU was recently granted Plant Breeders Rights, effectively a patent, on five strains of legume uniquely adapted to tropical environments and soils.
Tests show that adding the rich pasture legume to an animal’s diet can increase the average beef cow’s weight by 40kg.
Hundreds of different varieties of pasture plants were imported by the CSIRO and agriculture officials beginning in the 1960s, with many of the sites left to grow wild when research ended.
Mr Gardiner was tipped off to their existence by his lecturer, Dr Bob Burt, when he was undertaking his Master of Science at JCU.
In 1996 Mr Gardiner began work to find and survey the sites on farmland in northern and central west Queensland.
“They were all pretty remote and it was quite an effort to track them down. I didn’t have much to go on, but I eventually found them,” he said.
He found one variety of plant had thrived through the years – the genus Desmanthus.
“They’ve been through decades of grazing, drought, flood and frost, insect attack and fire. Only the fittest survived. There has probably been some genetic drift and these are the varieties that have been evaluated and selected and patented as new pasture legumes for the northern clay soils.”
He said the Desmanthus were all found in alkaline clay soils in dry environments. “There are millions of hectares of farmland on clay soil in northern Australia, and all the legumes currently growing there are either not as palatable or are actually toxic to livestock.”
The 5 cultivars (JCU 1 – 5) are being sold by JCU commercialisation partner Agrimix Pty Ltd as a blend under the brand-name PROGARDES (see www.progardes.com.au ).
The Progardes name recognises Mr Gardiner’s work, with Pro standing for protein, gar for Gardiner, and des for Desmanthus.
Research is ongoing with other varieties of Desmanthus. JCU 6 (not yet commercially available) may be used as a green manure in sugarcane rotations or as a new fodder crop.