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Salt-tolerant forages for irrigated saline land in central Iraq

Salman, I.S., Barrett-Lennard, E.G. and Kadhim, K. (2013) Salt-tolerant forages for irrigated saline land in central Iraq. In: 22nd International Grasslands Congress, 15 - 19 September 2013, Sydney, NSW



Salinity is a major problem in the irrigated zones of central and southern Iraq. We investigated biomass production from five salt-tolerant forage species, represented by 15 introduced accessions and 3 local accessions, during two successive summer growing seasons. Species included pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum), sorghum (Sorghum bicolour), guar (Cluster bean; Cyamopsis tetragonoloba), cowpea (Vigna unguiculata) and sesbania (Sesbania aculeata and S. sesban). The research site was located in the Al-Dujaila irrigation project area in Wasit. The soil had a silty clay texture with moderate salinity (ECe 10-20 dS/m). The site was irrigated with water (ECw 1.1 dS/m) from the Tigris River on a 3 to 8-day basis. We hypothesised that there would be variation in biomass production, salt accumulation and crude protein both between and within species. In addition, we thought that the legumes would be less productive than grasses as they tend to be more sensitive to salinity. Over 2 experimental seasons, the plants produced an average shoot dry mass of 12.1 t/ha with a range for accessions of 3 to 35 t/ha. There was significant variation both within and between species, supporting the first hypothesis. None of the plants accumulated excessive salt (ash < 12% DM); crude protein was variable (6 to 12%), but higher in two legumes – cowpea and sesbania. Furthermore, there was no evidence that grasses were more productive than legumes, with sesbania and cowpea achieving the highest mean biomass production across the years. We conclude that moderately saline irrigated areas of Iraq can sustain high levels of biomass production for livestock although protein may be limited.

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