UPPER SE lucerne seed growers are in disarray after seed wasp led to a poor lucerne harvest.
Kybybolite grower and Australian Lucerne executive committee member Mark Kester had 125ha of land in lucerne seed.
While they were damaged, his crops weren’t affected as badly as those of some local farmers.
“Maybe because we are more isolated,” he said. “We did have seed wasp here but not to the numbers where it’s expediential,” he said.
Mr Kester said farmers started the season positively, looking to gain a tonne of seed to the hectare.
An average of 600-700kg was collected during
harvest but, due to seed wasp, farmers lost an
average of 40-50 per cent when cleaned.
“It’s unheard of,” Mr Kester said. “In a normal year cleanouts are 10-25 per cent.
He said the problem started with poor management
of dryland lucerne paddocks being grazed with a lot of plants fl owering and setting seed, allowing seed wasp numbers to increase during the wet summer last year.
“Seed wasp built up in an abnormally wet year on unmonitored paddocks,” he said.
Agronomist James DeBarro did a study funded by RIRDC and found the wasp was eating the seed and leaving nothing in the pods.
Mr Kester said the seed wasp had emerged after Christmas.
“The amount of seed wasp took everyone by urprise,” he said.
Farmers said the crops looked good visually, but they were surprised when harvest started.
“The pods were there but there was no seed in it,” he said.
Mr Kester said growers would be put under financial strain and may be forced to sell land because of “poor harvest last year, poor prices the year before that and now another poor harvest because of seed wasp”.
Seed wasp was prevalent in the SE during the 1990s but decreased in the early 2000s due to good crop management.
Local growers and agronomists had a “very positive” meeting in Keith on April 19.
A local district management plan will be released this year to encourage better crop management to minimise future damage.
Mr Kester said it was “too late to look back now” and farmers needed to focus on minimising damage next season.