Over 600 grassland farmers and industry specialists attended a highly successful “More from Grass” event at the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), Loughgall this week.
AFBI staff demonstrated that grass gives Northern Ireland farmers a competitive edge, with the potential for high yields of grass across the province (15t DM/ha or 6 t DM/acre). However AFBI research shows that very few farms are achieving this yield in practice, with the average dairy farm typically achieving 7.5t DM/ha and beef and sheep farms around 4.1t DM/ha. AFBI research has shown that improving grass utilisation on dairy farms by 1t DM/ha can increase profit by £334/ha/year (£135/acre) and on beef farms this is worth £204/ha (£82/ha).
To achieve these increases in profitability requires attention to detail across a range of factors and the key messages from the event are highlighted below.
One of the many farmers to attend the event, Co Down grassland farmer Crosby Cleland, commented: “This was a great event for farmers to help them understand the importance of measuring grass, the stages of growth involved, how to measure and understand grass growth as well as how altitude of the farm can affect growing performance. I also learnt that grazing ground on beef and sheep farms can be greatly enhanced through the use of mixed species swards using new varieties, e.g. the long leaf meadow fescue, timothy and cocksfoot varieties. It was interesting to find out that such mixtures have the potential to reduce the need for inorganic fertilizer on mixed livestock enterprises.”
The event complemented ongoing work by AgriSearch and the long running GrassCheck service delivered in conjunction with AFBI. Commenting on the event, Jason Rankin of AgriSearch said: “Through our enhanced GrassCheck programme AgriSearch has been endeavoring to put grass back at the top of the agenda for Northern Ireland’s ruminant livestock sector. The AFBI “More from Grass” event clearly illustrated the very significant impact that improved grassland management can have on a farm’s bottom line, regardless of their system or location.”
The ‘More from Grass’ event reset the focus on grass as a way of reducing production costs in dairy, beef and sheep systems. Presentations and exhibitions spanned advice and information on soil structure and nutrient level, the impact of climate, the best varieties for different systems and the management of grass growth and utilization by cattle and sheep.
In summary the key take home messages were:
· Identify if soil compaction is an issue on your farm and examine options to mitigate and avoid.
Soil fertility (efficient use of manures and fertiliser)
· Soil test regularly to identify fields where lime, P and K are needed.
· Make the most of manure nutrients by applying to match (but not exceed) crop P and K requirements across all fields.
· Routinely apply Sulphur-containing fertilisers for 1st cut silage crops, and manure and/or K-containing fertilisers to match the potash requirements of 2nd and 3rd cut crops.
Sward type (ensure the correct species and variety mix within the sward)
· Ensure grass swards contain productive grasses.
· There are a wide range of perennial ryegrass and white clover varieties available to suit most farm situations – if planning to reseed, choose the varieties best suited to your farming system.
Manage grazing platforms
· Walk paddocks and assess quality regularly.
· Measure grass cover regularly and manage the wedge for best utilisation of grass.
· Act promptly when a surplus or shortfall of grass is identified.
Efficient utilisation (grazing and cutting at the correct stage)
· Improving grass utilisation by 1t DM/ha and grass quality on an average dairy farm can add profit of £334/ha/yr or £204/ha on beef farms.
· Visit GrassCheck to help manage grass utilisation
The ‘More from Grass’ booklet, which details the presentations and take home messages from the event is available on the AFBI website here: https://www.afbini.gov.uk/publications/more-grass-afbi-loughgall