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Crop and Pasture Science


mineral nutrition, pasture decline, pasture productivity, root health, root rot


Subterranean clover (Trifolium subterraneum) is a key pasture legume across southern Australia and elsewhere. Decline in subterranean clover pastures was first recognised in Australia during the 1960s and manifests as an increase in weeds and a decrease in desirable legume species. While both root disease and poor nutrition contribute to subterranean clover pasture decline, the relationships between root disease and nutrition have not been determined. The objective of this study was to define these relationships. Field experiments were undertaken to determine the nutritional and pathogen status of soils and subterranean clover from three Western Australian field sites. Subsequently, controlled environment experiments were undertaken to determine the relative severities of tap and lateral root disease and growth of plants when soil cores taken from these three field sites were amended with a complete nutrient solution or a range of individual macro- or micronutrient treatments. Application of a ‘Hoaglands’ complete nutrient solution decreased the severity of tap root disease by an average of 45% and lateral root disease by 32%. Amendment with K alone reduced the severity of tap root disease an average of 32%; while the application of N alone reduced the severity of tap root disease by 33% and lateral root disease by 27%. Application of Hoaglands, K, N or Zn increased shoot and root dry weight, while Mo only increased shoot dry weight. This is the first report to show that mineral nutrients can substantially ameliorate root disease in subterranean clover. The results demonstrate that while root disease limits plant growth, improvement in the nutritional status of nutrient-impoverished soils can significantly reduce root disease. There is significant potential to incorporate nutrient amendments into an integrated and more sustainable approach to better manage root disease and to increase productivity of pasture legumes where soils are inherently nutrient deficient in one or more nutrients.