Shrub could resurrect arid land

A SHRUB with the potential to turn a million sandy hectares into arable land has captured the imagination of researchers in Western Australia.

After a decade of research, scientists are excited by a perennial South African shrub legume – Lebeckia – which they say has the potential to turn poor soils into profitable areas suitable for farming.

Professor John Howieson from the Centre of Rhizobium Studies at Perth’s Murdoch University said scientists had been searching for a something to treat deep sandy soils for 20 years and that Lebeckia has had the most exciting results to date.

Professor Howieson is working closely with the South West Catchments Council (SWCC) to find a perennial legume that might be adapted to poor soils in Western Australia and to changing climate conditions.

“There are a lot of soils within the SWCC council area that have limited options for use and are not able to be used for farming.”

Four years ago Murdoch researchers established three trial plantings of Lebeckia of one hectare each in Tincurrin and Harrismith in the wheatbelt region of WA and the results have been promising.

Professor Howieson discovered Lebeckia in South Africa with the help of Professor Ben-Erik Van Wyk from the University of Johannesburg, and said the plant has huge potential. “This could close the feed gap and assist communities worldwide,” he said.

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