Choosing seed mixes containing varieties from the Recommended List is the first step towards producing great grassland, according to Wynnstay’s grass and root seed product manager Adam Simper. He says: “Grassland farmers need to ensure they are choosing varieties from the Recommended List which provides the most up-to-date varieties available, and will allow you to specify whether you are looking at better yield, increases in D value, disease resistance, good cover, or winter hardiness.
“The main thing is to specify they come from the Recommended List and to challenge your supplier to ensure you are getting the best possible varieties and mix for your needs. There are varieties being sold which have been dropped from the Recommended List and that Adam Simperhas happened for a reason, they may be a few pounds cheaper, but they are not going to give you a return on your money.
“You wouldn’t get an arable farmer using varieties which are not on the Recommended List. They are always looking for new varieties to keep boosting production. “You need to be aware that even on the Recommended List there is quite a big difference between the lowest and highest yielding varieties. Ultimately this can make quite a lot of difference in pounds per hectare to your productivity.
“At Wynnstay we ask key questions to the farmer to ensure we suggest the most suitable mixture, such as are they cutting, grazing or both; is the soil type heavy or light; how long do you want the ley to last; do you require early spring growth; do you want clover in the mix? These answers then allow a recommendation to be given which will suit the farm needs.”
Mr Simper says it all fits in with having an overall plan and understanding your needs. “You have to make sure the mixture you are getting is ‘fit for purpose’,” he says, “if you want something long-term which is going to last you seven to eight years then you need a mixture which has got mainly late perennial rye-grasses. You can get cheaper mixes, but they will include early and intermediate rye-grasses which are not suitable.
He adds: “By identifying the fields which need re-seeding and then looking at the way each is managed, you can decide exactly what you need. For instance, if it’s a field which is some way from the farmyard and it is only going to be used for cutting, then you need a designated cutting mixture. On the other hand, fields closer to home will need seed which takes into account a mixed regime of cutting and grazing.” Choosing the right mixture for the right fields comes from having an in-depth knowledge of your pasture which can only come from walking the fields on a regular basis, according to Mr Simper.
“An intimate knowledge of the performance of each field will help farmers to develop a plan and to determine which ones need re-seeding,” says Mr Simper.
“If the silage cut is quite a bit lower than other fields, or if there’s a lot of docks, thistles and other weeds then it is worth considering reseeding. The same applies if there are a lot of weed grasses such as Yorkshire fog, annual meadow-grass, etc. These grasses are lower yielding, lower quality and they don’t respond to artificial fertilisers as well as perennial rye-grasses.”
Like a lot of contributors Mr Simper believes grassland farmers need to take an approach much more akin to arable farmers in order to get the most from their pastures.
He says: “Increasingly the top grassland farmers are taking an approach which is closer to that adopted in arable farming – walking fields, monitoring soil and grass growth and checking on quality. When you consider 50-60% of the energy requirement in dairy farming is coming from grass, then you can see how important it is.
“If you are not monitoring and measuring and investing in re-seeding when it is necessary, then you can’t expect to make the returns when it comes to productivity. There is sometimes a reluctance to invest in re-seeding given the cost at around £240 per acre, particularly when the milk price is low.
“People tend to see it as a cost rather than an investment. If you invest in re-seeding when the milk price is lower, then you have newer, higher yielding grasses when the price goes back up, and you can capitalise on this.
“If you put off re-seeding, you may be having to add extra fertiliser and, even then, not get the results, which means you are wasting money on other inputs. You may not be getting the quality of grass. So the cost of re-seeding has to be considered as part of your overall budget. It may represent value for money and a good investment as part of an overall plan.
“As a rule, farmers should be looking to re-seed around 10-15% of their grassland every year. By doing this, you will be reseeding the whole farm within six years. After five to six years with poaching and other degradation, research shows you are only left with around half the original grass species. So that kind of cycle of reseeding makes sense.
“If you look after your grass and treat it like a crop and manage it carefully, you may be able to extend these cycles and make the leys last longer. Equally you can use the best possible seed mixture, but if you don’t manage throughout the cycle, you won’t produce good grassland. “By and large this 10-15% per year rule will provide a safety net and make sure you keep on top of the quality of your grassland.”