Clover is friend as well as foe

Clover is friend as well as foe

Clare Varcoe

Most people view clover as an annoying weed in their garden, but clover is a natural fertiliser and vital for feeding livestock.

The natural bacteria that grows in its root system takes nitrogen from the air and puts it into the ground to feed other plants, but unlike artificial fertilisers, it doesn’t cause run off into rivers that damages the local ecosystem.

The University of Western Australia is researching ways to improve clover farming to produce greater yields and better seeds.

Doctor Phillip Nichols is leading the project to breed new varieties of clover and improve the harvesting of the humble plant and says its all about Aussie farmers:

“The main aim is to develop new varieties of clover species that will benefit farmers.”

The 10-year study involves growing patches of existing varieties of clover and cross breeding them to get the best qualities for commercial use.

The equipment used in harvesting clover has not changed since the 1960s and is extremely disruptive to the environment, disturbing vital topsoil.

“So, there’s a process where the farmer has to cultivate the soil, fluff it up and then they have these specialised suction harvesters which are big vacuum cleaners. And they get the seed up by they also make the soil very prone to erosion.”

Doctor Nichols has high hopes for the program and says he’s excited to see where it leads.