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New Clover Offers Farmers An Alternative

A group of Canterbury farmers believes a tough clover they grow might be a viable alternative to the white and red clover that has been shown in a recent study to be in decline.

Clover is vital to stock farming, and a recent study in Northland has shown traditional clover growth has slumped by two-thirds in the past decade. In some areas, it has fallen by 35 percent in the past two years, prompting fears that New Zealand's historic farm advantage is at risk.

The Canterbury farmers grow the Caucasian clover that originated in the Caucasus, the harsh mountainous region between the Black and Caspian seas. The winters there are very cold; the summers are hot.

The 14 farmers - the Caucasian Clover Growers Group - and staff at Wrightson's Kimihia research centre, at Lincoln, have just finished a two-year research project that refined growing techniques and looked at how seed yield could be improved. The project received investment from Technology New Zealand, which helps businesses develop new products, processes or services.

Farmer Hugh Williams of Kirwee, west of Christchurch, says the new clover is hardier than the white and red clovers.

"It spreads underground, shooting up its flowers, and its roots go a lot deeper, too," he says. "Once established, it can withstand greater grazing pressure than other clovers. It withstands drought better. Up in the Bay of Plenty, for example, white clover practically disappeared in a drought, whereas the Caucasian kept an edible content of about 30 percent."

Mr Williams grows Caucasian clover for seed and believes there is potential for worldwide demand. "Pastoral farmers could sow it as a companion to grass. They could plant it for their stock," he says.

Clover is the factory for grass production and stock consumption, Agriculture NZ consultant Gavin Ussher says. It is rich in nitrogen, and this country's sheep and cattle depend on it for growth. He says it is important that New Zealand find new types of clover.

"They need to be more productive, more resistant and more persistent than the old clovers," he says.

Although Caucasian clover can take longer to achieve production than the other varieties, Mr Williams sees it as a viable alternative.


Caption: Canterbury farmer Hugh Williams with the Caucasian clover he grows at Kirwee.


* Hugh Williams, Caucasian Clover Growers Group, Tramway Rd, Kirwee. Ph: (03) 318-1780. Email:

* Tony Hadfield, Technology New Zealand (Christchurch office) at the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, (03) 377-9340 or 025 454 095. Website:

Prepared on behalf of the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology by ID Communications. Contact: Ian Carson (04) 477-2525,

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