Leucaena, the miracle livestock crop and invasive weed that chokes streams, adding to fire risk

What about a plant that is both a very invasive pest and a miracle crop for the cattle industry?

Susan Cunningham’s property backs onto a stream in Rockhampton and leucaena is running wild on her property.

“It’s always been a problem, but it’s gotten really bad in recent years,” she said.

“When we moved here, we had to work very hard to get rid of it.

“It’s really demoralizing and scary to see the amount of work ahead of me.”

Established stands of leucaena form dense thickets, hampering wildlife.(Supplied: DAF)

Rockhampton planning and regulatory adviser Grant Mathers said leucaena was a challenge along the Queensland coast.

“We are hearing reports in Townsville, Whitsundays and also in Gympie,” he said.

“When it enters our urban areas … it chokes our waterways.

“We have major issues with localized flooding, and the other issue we have is fire danger, as leucaena burns quite easily and burns quite hard.”

Cr Mathers said the plant was not an invasive species in Rockhampton as it provided benefits to ranchers.

“It’s a bit difficult because it’s still allowed to be grown as livestock fodder, so it can’t be something that’s classified as invasive,” he said.

Leucaena has spread into streams and streams along the east coast.(Provided: Susan Cunningham)

So what makes Leucaena a miracle plant?

Bron Christensen is the Managing Director of the Leucaena Network, a producer group that advocates the use of leucaena as a forage crop in the beef industry.

She said leucaena has grown in popularity in recent years, particularly since the University of Queensland released a psyllid-resistant variety of the plant known as Redlands in 2019.

“It’s a legume, so it fixes nitrogen, it can increase liveweight gain, and it also allows you to increase your stocking rate up to four times.

“It has a lot of productivity benefits.”

Cattle graze on leucaena near Rockhampton, Queensland.
Leucaena’s benefits to ranchers include its ability to survive in dry conditions.(Provided: DEEDI)

Ms Christensen said the plant’s ability to grow in harsh conditions was particularly beneficial in Queensland’s unpredictable climate.

“It has a very deep taproot and it’s very hardy,” she said.

“It has the ability to hold up through prolonged drought or dry conditions.”

North Queensland breeder Greg Brown, former chairman of the Cattle Council of Australia, said Leucaena’s ability to survive was a big plus for growers.

“It’s a plant that will be green 365 days a year and it can double your annual weight gain,” he said.

The rural code

But Mr Brown said leucaena can be a problem when mismanaged.

“You have to put a lot of effort into it to get the ultimate benefits and also to make sure you’re not creating a problem for someone else.

“Most people do, but not everyone is so conscientious.”

Leucaena Field Day
Leucaena has gained popularity after years of developing pasture varieties of the plant.(Rural ABC: Matt Brann)

Ms Christensen said while there were around 150,000 hectares of plants on pasture across Queensland, the leucaena creeping into towns was not the result of rural expansion.

“A lot of the problems you’ll see in waterways and metropolitan areas are [they’re] actually planted with common leucaena – a different variety than what growers plant for pasture,” she said.

“I had a bit of resistance from people saying farmers should go into the rivers and clean the streams, but as a grower group, given that it’s common leucaena, it There’s not much we can do or should require our breeders to do.”

She said the breeders adhere to a strict code of practice.

money for management

Cr Mathers said Rockhampton Regional Council was doing its best to manage the factory’s rapid expansion, but jurisdictional and funding issues were hampering efforts.

A tree with brown pods.
Leucaena is native to Central and South America.(Supplied: Business Queensland)

“A lot of people don’t understand that the waterways that we have throughout our region are actually controlled by the state government,” he said.

“It’s really difficult for the local government; we can’t go into those waterways and work on the issue until we have permission from the state government.

A spokesperson for Biosecurity Queensland said leucaena was not an invasive plant banned or restricted under the Biosecurity Act.

“A private landowner is responsible for the management of wild leucaena on the banks and beds of streams within or on his property,” they said.

“Local governments may declare wild leucaena a pest under local laws and require control measures to be taken.”

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