Use of fertiliser phosphorus for increased productivity of legume-based sown pastures in the Brigalow Belt region – a review

The Use of fertiliser phosphorus for increased productivity of legume-based sown pastures in the Brigalow Belt region – a review project investigated responses by pasture legumes to phosphorus fertiliser on Brigalow soils.


The Brigalow Belt bioregion of southern and central Queensland supports a large percentage of northern Australia’s sown pastures and beef herd. The Brigalow soils were widely thought to have adequate phosphorus (P) for cropping, sown pastures and grazing animals, which has led to almost no use of P fertiliser on sown pastures. The majority of pastures established in the region were sown with tropical grasses only (i.e. no legumes were sown). Under grass-only pastures, nitrogen (N) mineralisation rates decline with time since establishment as N is ‘tied-up’ in soil organic matter. This process leads to a significant decline in pasture and animal productivity and is commonly called ‘pasture rundown’. Incorporating pasture legumes has been identified as the best long-term solution to improve the productivity of rundown sown grass pastures. Pasture legumes require adequate P to grow well and fix large amounts of N to increase the productivity of rundown sown grass pastures.

Producers and farm advisors have traditionally thought that P fertiliser is not cost-effective for legume-based improved pastures growing on inland areas of Queensland despite there being little, if any, data on production responses or their economic outcomes. Recent studies show large and increasing areas of low plant available soil P and large responses by pasture legumes to P fertiliser on Brigalow soils.
The economic analysis in this scoping study indicates potential returns of 9–15% on extra funds invested from the application of P fertiliser, when establishing legumes into grass pastures on low P soils (i.e. lower than the critical P requirement of the legume grown). Higher returns of 12–24% may be possible when adding P fertiliser to already established grass/legume pastures on such soils.

As these results suggest potential for significant returns from applying P fertiliser on legume pastures, it is recommended that research be conducted to better quantify the impacts of P fertiliser on productivity and profit. Research priorities include: quantifying the animal production and economic impact of fertilising legume-based pastures in the sub-tropics for currently used legumes; quantifying the comparative P requirements and responses of available legume varieties; understanding clay soil responses to applied P fertiliser; testing the P status of herds grazing in the Brigalow Belt; and quantifying the extent of other nutrient deficiencies (e.g. sulphur and potassium) for legume based pastures. Development and extension activities are required to demonstrate the commercial impacts of applying P fertiliser to legume based pastures.

When: 1 June 2013 to 28 Feb 2015

Contact: Gavin Peck

Collaborator: Department of Agriculture and Fisheries

More information

For more information, please read the final report summary and download the final report (B.NBP.0769) (PDF, 2.1 MB) from the Meat & Livestock Australia website.