Long-term legumes providing options for Southern Qld mixed farmer

Eric Barker, 25/03/2024

Luke McDonald presenting on a tour of his property at the recent McIntyre Ag Alliance field day near Goondiwindi.

AS THE livestock industry works to learn about the value of legumes for nutrition and environmental health, the owner of a Southern Queensland mixed farming operation says they are likely to be part of the operation for the coming decades.

The McDonald family moved to the Goondiwindi district in the late 1970s, developing properties and helping the area move into the crop growing centre it is today. Luke McDonald is the third generation of the family in the area and owns Goondooee, Tiggabon, Balmoral Farm, Monte Cristo and Glenray.

Mr McDonald recently led a field day for the local McIntyre Ag Alliance at the Billa Billa Sports Club earlier this month, where he took 150 delegates through Monte Cristo and Goondooee and gave an insight into his strategy with incorporation of legumes into the operation. The family breeds and backgrounds cattle and grows a rotation of oats, sorghum, barley, chickpea, wheat and break crop.

“We had about 1000 breeders before the drought last year, but I decided to peel it back to 600 as the dry conditions continued – so we moved into trading cattle and backgrounding for feedlots,” he said.

Mr McDonald said he has been taking a long-term approach to legumes, with aims to capitalise on the nutritional benefits they provide to livestock and soil – along with environmental benefits.

“The focus is to get more perennials in the system, rather than annuals, so they are there for 10 to 20 years,” Mr McDonald said.

“That is working for us at the moment, I can see they are becoming stronger in our system and becoming a good mix with the tropical pastures. They have a good tap root, they access water deep in the profile, they stimulate nitrogen and soil carbon and they have a symbiotic relationship with other plants, microbes and the animal gut.”

Opportunities in soil carbon

With the concerted focus on improving soil health, Mr McDonald has committed one of his paddocks to a soil carbon project.

“We have about 320ha of our country under a carbon project at the moment, which is based on changing the system and bringing legumes in,” he said.

“We have been working on it for the past three years and details are currently being finalised.”

The plan is to see how the carbon project is going over the next five years, when another test is done. Mr McDonald said similar work is happening across the property and there is potential to expand the carbon project.

“Carbon is new and I want to be operating in that space to learn more about it and see if we can upscale it from there,” he said.

“We can’t judge something unless we can understand it and see what is going on.”

Mr McDonald said the Federal Government soil carbon program has potential and if it is regulated correctly it could be a big benefit to both production and the environment.

“Putting carbon in the soil is a good thing to do,” he said.

“It will be interesting to see where the regulation goes, I hope there is not too much regulation with Government procedures and recommendations and I hope the carbon market lets the industry get value out of it.

“I think it is a good thing that farmers are getting paid to build soil carbon and I have never seen a better way of encouraging producers to improve their soil health.”

Attendees of the McIntyre Ag Alliance field days looking at the legumes on Monte Cristo Station.

More shade on the horizon

While conditioning soil and adding more nutrition to the pasture mix has been a big focus of the McDonald’s in recent years, providing more shade on paddocks is also a priority. The paddocks have been historically cleared for crop production.

Mr McDonald said cattle were definitely grazing shaded areas and areas close to water troughs harder than they were on the unshaded areas.

“We are interested in providing more shelter belts on the property, for wind or shade, whether that is certain brigalow species or strategically grown leucaena,” he said.

During the tour of the Monte Cristo and Goondooee, Mr McDonald was asked if he was open to growing leucaena as part of the legume program. He said he was open to it.

“Although leucaena does not provide a lot of shade, there would be some shade for the pastures and it would provide a lot of protection for the farm from evaporation and wind erosion,” he said.

“I would really only do it to stimulate the system and we would need to make sure it doesn’t impact the rest of the cropping business. You would have to plant it on the ridges, in wide strips to provide shelter and give environmental benefits like slowing the flow of water.”

Doing more for the community

Talking on the success of the McIntyre Ag field days, Mr McDonald said he was keen to devote more of his time to helping the local community in the future.

“Farming can be a little bit of a solo game and anything we can do to help each other and connect more is a benefit,” he said.

“Events like the McIntyre Ag Field days are great for this, you see a lot of people getting very involved. We have monthly social nights at the Billa Billa recreation club with families from the region, not exclusively farmers, which I think are always important.



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  1. Lindsay Ward, 07/04/2024

    Can Luke tell us about grazing management to maintain the legume component?

  2. Narelle Kliese, 27/03/2024

    I am interested in the legume species utilised by Luke McDonald.

    Hi Narelle, part of the legume mix are Progardes desmanthus, Snail medic, Arrow leaf clover, Lucerne, Caatinga Stylo. Editor

  3. Bernie English, 26/03/2024

    What legumes have done the best on your properties ?
    What soil types in your area have given the best legume performance ?
    How have you planted the legumes-drilled into existing pastures or prepared a new seed bed and planted grass- legume mix?

    Just chasing up some answers Bernie, editor

  4. Lester Maclean, 26/03/2024

    I am interested in the legume species utilised by Luke McDonald.

    • Roger Clough, 27/03/2024

      I was also surprised ; there was no specific mention of any perennial legume spp, except for the response relating to the question on leucaena.

      Hi Roger and Narelle, just chasing up some answers to this question. Editor

  5. Glen wisely smith, 26/03/2024

    Our soil carbon has improved since encouraging legumes it has been testing up to 15% in th top 100milimetres

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