Boosting early grass growth using a natural growth regulator is helping a Yorkshire farming business maximise milk yields from forage.
Getting grass off to a strong start is vital to help optimise early grazing or first-cut silage yields and reduce bought-in feed bills.
However, achieving a good result can be a lottery, given the UK’s variable climate, especially when swards are stressed.
John Houseman, who farms 200 hectares (500 acres) of grass from his base at Prospect Farm, Lindley Moor, near Otley, knows the challenges all too well.
The farm sits on the 230-metre (750ft) contour and much of his land runs up to 300m (1,000ft).
The land supports 160 Holstein Friesians plus followers, 150 beef cattle and about 200 Mule breeding ewes.
John says: “We have lot of stock for the area we farm.
It is a wet spot and can also be very cold in spring.
That makes it difficult to achieve a good early bite and achieve a reliable first silage cut, even though we rarely mow before the last week of May.”
Over the past few seasons, John and his parents Nick and Julie have been pushing milk yields.
The herd averages 8,700 litres and the ultimate aim is for 10,000 litres.
The Housemans have recently installed a robotic milking parlour to help improve the milking process and raise yields.
In addition, high-yielding cows are housed.
John says: “Our focus is on maximising the use of home-grown feed, so we need to maximise high-quality grass production to help drive those yields and provide cheaper milk off grass from our late lactation cows.”
Following a conversation three years ago with his agronomist, Sam Luty of Agrovista, John started using a natural plant growth regulator called Smartgrass to kickstart grass growth.
It contains gibberellic acid which helps leaves grow faster and longer for three to five weeks after application, particularly in cool conditions.
Sam says: “At the time Agrovista had just started looking at Smartgrass in detail.
It had been used successfully around the world, notably in New Zealand, where a series of 52 replicated trials resulted in a 30-60% increase in pasture dry matter three weeks after application.
Our own grower trials have shown some excellent results.” In 2017, John agreed to try the product on one half of a 2ha field.
The treated area yielded about 50% more fresh weight when cut three weeks later, mirroring another similar trial carried out near Richmond and reflecting typical manufacturer findings.
John says: “You could see the difference walking past the field.
The crop was four inches taller when we came to cut it, and had a bigger broader leaf.
We have also found treat- ed grazing land seems to be more palatable; cattle go straight for it.
“We now regularly treat 30-40 acres a year, and have done up to 60 acres, mostly older leys which are coming up for reseeding, but also younger leys or areas of permanent pasture when they need a push.
It is a no-brainer for me.
“It brings back old leys in line with the rest and really helps stressed grassland.”
Sam believes more farmers could benefit from Smartgrass this season: “If this unsettled weather carries on, we could be in for a slow, cold spring.
“I shall be recommending Smartgrass on its own or, if required, with TerraSorb Foliar Plus, our premium amino acid product which helps stressed plants mobilise nutrients.” In trials in the east and west of England during 2017 and 2018, applying Smartgrass at 20g/ha and TerraSorb at two litres/ha increased grass dry matters by 20% on average after 24-28 days.
Sam says: “That equated to an overall uplift of 874kg/ha, a return on investment of more than £117/ha.”