Legume BMP in the Brigalow Belt project

The Legume Best Management Practice in the Brigalow Belt (Legume BMP) project was targeted at improving the productivity, profitability and sustainability of beef enterprises through reliable and successful use of pasture legumes. The project involved coordinated research and extension to improve the knowledge and skills of graziers and industry advisors in using pasture legumes.

Cattle grazing on a productive buffel grass and Caatinga stylo pasture in central Queensland.
Cattle grazing on a productive buffel grass and Caatinga stylo pasture in central Queensland.

Why focus on the Brigalow Belt?

The Brigalow Belt is a critically important region for beef production in northern Australia. This region carries a high proportion (>30%) of the northern Australian beef cattle herd on 15% of the grazed land area and supports high animal performance (reproduction and growth rates). Such carrying capacities are largely possible due to the extensive areas of sown pastures growing on relatively fertile soils with moderate rainfall.

Geographic extent of the Brigalow Belt and Darling River Plains bioregions (Thackway and Cresswell 1995). Queensland Government bioregion mapping includes the Queensland portion of the Darling River Plains as part of the Brigalow Belt.

Pasture legumes are the best long-term option to increase the productivity and returns from sown grass pastures and native pastures across the Brigalow Belt.

Studies comparing grass-only pastures or native pastures to grass-legume pastures demonstrate that the productivity increases from legumes are significant, for example:

  • On-farm research studies in central Queensland (Wandoan to Capella) reported a 60–160% increase in live weight gain per hectare and a doubling of gross margins with legumes (leucaena and butterfly pea) compared to grass only pastures (Bowen et al. 2015).
  • On-farm research sites in buffel grass pastures recorded a 40-100% increase in annual pasture production (dry matter per hectare) with legumes (Caatinga stylo near Moura; desmanthus near Wandoan) compared to grass only pastures approximately 15 years after establishment on low phosphorus soils (Peck et al. 2013). These grass-legume pastures also responded strongly to phosphorus fertiliser application with an additional 50% increase in kilograms of dry matter per hectare.
  • 10–30% increases in pasture production were reported with native pastures augmented with legumes (McIvor and Gardener 1995). Stylos in native pastures increased live weight by 30–60kg per head per year (Hall et al. 2004).

Despite impressive results from legumes in trials and some commercial pastures, adoption levels remain low in the Brigalow Belt. Leucaena is one such example. Leucaena is one of the most widely grown pasture legumes, however it has only been successfully adopted on about 3% of the area of pasture land that it is adapted to in Queensland (Peck et al. 2011; Beutel et al. 2018). These low successful adoption rates mean there is a huge opportunity to increase beef production, and potentially enterprise profitability, for decades to come.

Key project components

The project included an integrated suite of participatory research, development and extension activities which brought together the knowledge and experience of scientists, graziers and advisers. Extension and development activities used past research to help graziers establish and manage pasture legumes to increase productivity and resilience on their own farms. At the same time, research confirmed the most persistent and productive pasture legume varieties for the region, and research continued into the outcomes of fertiliser application when establishing legumes.

The Legume BMP project had four main components and activities:

  1. Extension and testing legume options with industry: this was achieved by engaging with 29 grazier groups in workshops and field days, plus 105 on-farm demonstrations and nine detailed on-farm trials testing legume varieties, establishment methods and long-term management.
  2. Persistence and comparative productivity trials of commercially available legume varieties were conducted on six sites in southern Queensland near St George, Goondiwindi and Allora.
  3. The nutritional requirement of legumes during establishment and early growth was trialled on two sites near Wandoan and Goondiwindi.
  4. Methods of establishing legumes into existing grass pastures was investigated at five sites across southern Queensland.


The Legume BMP project ran for five years and was completed in 2022. The project success has been used to develop part of the Queensland Pasture Resilience Program.

Key findings

  • The research trials indicated that current (available) varieties of Caatinga stylo (Stylosanthes seabrana) and one of the desmanthus species, Desmanthus virgatus, are likely to persist long term in southern inland Queensland.
  • The research trials also showed that establishment methods developed for and recommended in other climate zones (such as the monsoonal north) fail to produce successful results in the Brigalow Belt… however, using good agronomic practices dramatically improves the success and reliability of pasture legume establishment.
  • The project engaged with 412 graziers and advisors through workshops and field days over five years.
  • These participants collectively sowed 40,000ha of their paddocks with pasture legumes after attending the events and reported having intentions to sow more legumes in the future.
  • Rates of adopting and using good agronomic practices to establish pastures remains low and should be the focus of future pasture extension projects.
  • Additional research and extension efforts are recommended to further support the beef industry to realise the production benefits from widespread and successful adoption of legumes.

Project partners

This project was jointly funded by the Queensland Government Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and Meat & Livestock Australia.

Case studies with beef producers

Project final report and other useful publications

News articles

Helpful resources

Contacts for the Legume BMP project

DAF, Toowoomba, Queensland

Gavin Peck Gavin.Peck@daf.qld.gov.au

Louise Walker Louise.Walker@daf.qld.gov.au

DAF, Rockhampton, Queensland

Stuart Buck Stuart.Buck@daf.qld.gov.au

Further reading

Beutel, TS, Corbet, DH, Hoffmann, MB, Buck, SR, Kienzle, M (2018) Quantifying leucaena cultivation extent on grazing land. The Rangeland Journal 40, 31-38. Available at https://www.publish.csiro.au/RJ/RJ17085.

Bowen, M, Buck, S, Chudleigh, F (2015) ‘Feeding forages in the Fitzroy: A guide to profitable beef production in the Fitzroy river catchment.’ (Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Queensland.

Hall, T, Glatzle, A, Chakraborty, S (2004) Cattle production from Stylosanthes pastures. In ‘High-yielding anthracnose-resistant Stylosanthes for agricultural systems. ACIAR Monograph No. 111.’ (Ed. S Chakraborty.) pp. 51-64. (Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research: Canberra)

McIvor, JG, Gardener, CJ (1995) Pasture Management in semi-arid tropical woodlands – effects on herbage yields and botanical composition. Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture 35, 705-715.

Peck, GA, Buck, SR, Hoffman, A, Holloway, C, Johnson, B, Lawrence, DN, Paton, CJ (2011) Review of productivity decline in sown grass pastures. Meat and Livestock Australia No. 9781741916416, Sydney. Download a copy of the B.NBP.0624 Review of productivity decline in sown grass pastures – final report (PDF, 2MB).

Peck, GA, Buck, S, Johnson, B, O’Reagain, J (2017) Improving productivity of rundown sown grass pastures. Volume 1: Project overview, key findings and recommendations. Meat and Livestock Australia, Sydney, Australia. Download a copy of B.NBP.0639 Improving productivity of rundown sown grass pastures – Volume 1: Project overview, key findings and recommendations (PDF, 798KB).

Peck, GA, Walker, L, Bloomfield, L, Dunbar, I (2022) Legume best management practice in the Brigalow Belt bioregion. Meat and Livestock Australia. Sydney. Download a copy of the B.PAS.0354 Legume BMP in the Brigalow Belt bioregion – final report (PDF, 9MB).