Grassland and Muck round up

Published 23 May 14

Grassland and Muck 2014

Over the last two days, Grassland and Muck has been taking place at Stoneleigh. We have seen many visitors on the joint DairyCo, EBLEX and BGS stand and are grateful to all those who spent time talking to us. Below we recap some of the key points from the stand.

Making the most of your soils

Dr Paul Hargreaves, SRUC was available on stand to undertake soil testing. “Getting your soil right is not something we can stress enough,” says Paul. With incorrect pH resulting in drops of crop yield of up to 30%, the wrong pH level can have large financial ramifications through reduced soil quality, lower uptake of nutrients in slurry, manures and purchased fertilisers, and poorer competition of grass and clover against weed species. “The chemical balance and the soil structure are key to getting the best out of the land you have,” said Paul.

He continued, “I’ve spoken with a number of farmers in the last two days and have seen some interesting soil samples. Some samples were from farmers who recently acquired land and were showing requirements for both lime and phosphorus. It is really important in these situations to test the soil early on to make sure you maximise the return on your investment. To address any deficiencies, consider what nutrients are present in your slurry before stepping in with chemical fertilisers’. For more information on nutrient requirements in grassland soils, click here 

Dr Paul Hargreaves

SRUC soil scientist Dr Paul Hargreaves shows farmers how to identify compaction in grassland soils.

Paul also discussed the impacts of compaction on sward productivity and soil health. Compacted land may show a reduction in water infiltration to and drainage from the compaction layer, increasing the risk of flooding. This reduction in water movement can also create anoxic conditions in the soil, restricting gas exchange, killing healthy soil biota and restricting the breakdown of organic matter into nutrients.

“In addition to this, our research has shown that compaction, whether caused by cattle trampling or tractor traffic, can reduce first cut yields by as much as 30%,” says Paul who is currently leading a three-year programme of research funded by DairyCo to investigate the impact of soil compaction on grass yields, soil structure and nutrient efficiency. Read more about this project here.

RGCL goes digital!

The new Recommended Grass and Clover Lists (RGCL) online database (available at www.dairyco.org.uk/rgcl) was also available on stand for visitors to test. The RGCL is a joint industry project which provides independent testing and recommendation of ryegrass and clover varieties. Varieties are tested at five sites across England and Wales for attributes such as yield, persistency, quality and disease resistance and evaluated by a panel of experts. This scheme is funded by plant breeders through the British Society of Plant Breeders and the ruminant levy boards – DairyCo, EBLEX and HCC (Meat Promotion Wales). As few as one in twenty varieties of ryegrasses tested make it to full recommendation on the list so this is an extremely valuable tool for farmers to consider when renewing swards.

This tool allows users to filter, select and compare the latest recommended perennial ryegrass varieties, which will help them in designing swards to suit their individual farm and field requirements.

RGCL digital

Dr Debbie McConnell, demonstrating the new RGCL online database to visitors to the stand. 

Dr Liz Genever, Beef and Sheep Scientist with EBLEX, says, “Within the RGCL there is a large difference in variety attributes and as such it is important to use these tools to help select the right varieties that suit your system and individual field requirements.”

 Lucerne – an alternative protein option?

Visitors also had the opportunity to discuss alternative forage options on the stand. “Research in the UK and overseas suggests lucerne is an excellent complement for maize silage and may be an option for those farmers located in drier areas of the country,” says Dr Debbie McConnell, DairyCo research and development manager. Approximately 13 million hectares of lucerne are cultivated globally, with the UK area estimated at around 22,000 hectares. Recently, interest in home-grown protein sources has increased as import costs rise. As well as being a source of protein, lucerne is thought to benefit ruminant digestion and productivity.

DairyCo and EBLEX have published a downloadable document: “Growing and feeding lucerne” providing best practice advice on the growing and feeding of lucerne for dairy cattle. The document is part of a programme of work funded by DairyCo which is undertaken as part of the DairyCo Grassland, Forage and Soils Research Partnership, a five-year research collaboration led by SRUC in partnership with Harper Adams University and the University of Reading. The study investigates the effect of: rate of inclusion, cutting date and chop length of lucerne silage in dairy cow diets. The document will be updated as more outputs are available from the current research, with particular emphasis on the effect of lucerne silage on the intake and performance of high-yielding dairy cows.