New chairman for Grassland Society

James Murphy (left) the newly elected Chairman of Fermanagh Grassland Club, with outgoing Chairman Derek Saunderson.
James Murphy (left) the newly elected Chairman of Fermanagh Grassland Club, with outgoing Chairman Derek Saunderson.

The new chairman of Fermanagh Grassland Club is James Murphy, a dairy farmer from Ballyreagh,Tempo.

James was elected at the recent annual meeting and succeeds Derek Saunderson from Church Hill. The new vice-chairman is Robert Graham.

James Murphy said he was honoured to take on his position in the Club in its 52nd year and especially following in the footsteps of his late father, Michael and grandfather.

The first meeting of 2015 will be next Tuesday, January 13 when Mark Blelock, a dairy farmer from Aldergrove, will speak about his high input, high output system using high quality forages.

Fermanagh Grassland Club is now on Twitter @GrasslandClub

The other officers elected were: Secretary - William Johnston; treasurer - Philip Clarke; committee - Harold Hamilton, David Brown, Trevor Dunn, John Egerton, Albert Foster, Ivan Henderson, Barry Read and Alan Warnock.

At the annual meeting, members were addressed by David Johnston, plant breeder at AFBI’s Loughghall Grass Breeding Station and by Rien Louwes, Forage Product Manager with Barenbrug, which part funds the Loughgall establishment.

David Johnston said grass had the potential to produce up to 22 tonnes of dry matter per hectare on Northern Ireland farms which is higher than in many other parts of the British Isles and Europe.

In his address entitled, “Grass is King,” Mr Johnston, who is the president elect of the Ulster Grassland Society, outlined why grass is so important to livestock farmers in Northern Ireland.

Looking ahead to the 2015 season, he said the aims of the AFBI grass breeding programme was to improve grass forage through yield, persistency, disease resistance and adaptability and he outlined the different needs of farmers for seeds mixtures as farmers in milder areas such as Cork were looking for grazing mixtures because of their relatively short winter while many in Northern Ireland were looking for specialist silage mixtures for winter fodder.

The AFBI grass breeding programme has 4,000 plots and 25 acres of trials with sites in Aberdeen to test varieties in colder, winter conditions and Worcestershire, where there are more severe winters and summer droughts.

He remarked on one of the most exciting varieties due to be released commercially in 2016 called Fintona, which has the potential to be one of the highest yielding varieties in the UK.

Looking back over a 25 year period, he said newer grass varieties were continually improving with higher yields.

He also told farmers of risks of more diseases with warmer climatic conditions such as crown rust in drier parts of the Province and leaf spot in wet summers, especially in autumn.

Rien Louwes in his presentation, looked at grassland farming across Europe where there are big differences in management techniques.

On the very large farms of eastern Europe, legumes and lucerne are mostly grown and where Tall Fescue and Timothy are grown to counteract hard winters.

One of the farms he visited had 120,000 hectares producing beef where they grow all their own concentrates and winter fodder. The farm has a huge fleet of tractors and machinery with up to 30 round balers alone.

Establishing grasses differs across Europe too with ploughing favoured in most western European countries and mostly discing in Eastern Europe.