Alasdair Ralston, Grass Seed Manager at McCreath, Simpson and Prentice, offers some thoughts on grassland management with regards to establishing a successful grass crop.
Whether you are an arable farmer adding grassland into your rotation, a livestock farmer wanting to maximise grass yields for silage or wanting to establish a permanent pasture for your cattle or sheep, there are many aspects of grassland management that influence the establishment and productivity of that crop.
Yet it is widely agreed, that grass is the cheapest source of ruminant feed and, as such, is the mainstay for the vast majority of forage-based systems. It is one of the most important factors in livestock production. And, therefore, management of this input warrants allocated time and careful planning to ensure you maximise its potential.
From soil type, fertiliser, grazing management, variety to name a few, the performance of your grass crop will ultimately dictate the potential of your livestock.
To take full advantage of your grass crop, farmers need to maintain soil & sward productivity. Soil structure is incredibly important and when establishing a grass crop, make sure you consider the soil analysis – then look at appropriate fertiliser/lime applications to make sure the seed establishment has the best chance.
One example is persistent ryegrass mixtures – you would ideally have soil pH of 5.8 and above where to achieve the same from clover it would ideally be 6.3 and above – differentiation is not always stated.
Don’t be afraid to seek advice, there’s a lot of information online and specialist advisors can work with you to choose the most suitable mixtures and rates for your specific farm.
Once you have drilled the seed, make sure the fertiliser applied aims to have maximin availability to the new crop. What is worth keeping in mind is that the native/weed grasses are only 40-70% responsive to fertiliser N. So, having a ley that’s been down for longer than planned, or the productive grasses have been overcome with native/weed grasses, along with having a substandard pH ‘’P’’ & ‘’K’’ – all this would easily lead to unutilised/wasted fertiliser.
Other important aspects to the whole establishment operation is the cultivation process. We have been involved in some great results in influencing different techniques. The most common is that consolidation is underestimated.
The key is to differentiate between compaction and consolidation. We have seen results by highlighting the seedbed preparation to customers i.e. the number of cultivation passes carried out before the seeder (consolidation) even down the making sure the cultivator is actually taking out the tractors wheeling (compaction) which is common, now with less and less farmers/contractor using double wheels.
The post emergence stage can also throw up some different hurdles with weeds/pests never far away. Recent feedback from our agronomists about the Clovermax product is that it is showing good results in the new leys that has an option to include chickweed control. So, keep up to date with new varieties and address any specific weed issues you are experiencing.
We have a policy of only selecting 1st choice on either the SRUC or NIAB lists – individual figures on D-value, maturity, ground cover & winter hardiness are key. You will also have additional specifications depending on your requirements but its advisable to shortlist by proven and tested varieties that are suitable for your geographical area and productivity needs.
Grass, like any crop, is a continual assessment (and challenge!) of all variables to ensure the best outcome. Work with experts, neighbours and industry bodies to keep up to date and adapt your management to improve your results.
If you are considering establishing a new grass crop, or want advice with an existing crop, get in touch. We can help with all agronomy issues, mixture/variety advice and management options. Contact us.