Following a summer of prolonged dry, hot weather which has proved challenging for many native grass species, farmers are being encouraged to include drought-resistant varieties in their grass mix.
According to Tim Kerridge, DLF Seeds, during periods of drought conditions festuloliums will benefit from their deeper rooting system, disease resistance, persistence and drought tolerance.
“The grasses- a cross between drought-tolerant fescues and high-quality ryegrass- were originally bred for the south European climate, but have become increasingly popular in the UK,” he says.
Recent improvements in the quality, density and persistency of many festulolium varieties mean they are now more suitable for inclusion in long-term grazing leys rather than just cutting.
Mr Kerridge explains, selection for vigourous growth, extensive rooting and high quality and yields means they are not solely suited to droughty sites but can be used country-wide.
This is supported by Rod Bonshor, Oliver Seeds, who explains tired, older pastures with wild grasses and less resilient varieties may have died away during this summer’s drought conditions. He also suggests reseeding or over-seeding pastures with low yields with varieties such as an Italian or hybrid ryegrass and resilient festiloiums.
Mr Bonshor explains, there is also value in enhancing poorer grassland with species such as lucerne, red clover and cocksfoot to make the most of deeper root structures, providing high levels of dry matter when growth of other species has stalled.
As well as looking at grass varieties, farmers must be aware of any possible forage shortages throughout 2019 to allow for planning to take place now.
Mr Bonshor says: “Many dairy, beef and sheep farmers are already dipping into their forage stocks, be it hay from last year or silage made this spring.
“It is vital they monitor their winter forage stocks and secure enough to see them through the rest of 2018 and the start of 2019.”
He explains that demand for catch crop seed mixes has already increased and expects to see many fields planted with brassicas such as forage rape, stubble turnips and kale, forage rye and catch crop ryegrass once the rain returns.
The winter hardiness, palatability and high yields of many catch crops make them perfect for strip-grazing right through to February, securing forage for out-wintered livestock.
Ian Misselbrook, Limagrain, says recent rainfall in some parts of the country has created an opportunity for farmers to sow an ‘emergency’ forage crop to help ease the pressure on feed supplies over the autumn.
“It is worth taking advantage of an additional forage opportunity now to ease the pressure later on.”
Mr Misselbrook suggests using a grass-seed mix with a high proportion of fast-growing ryegrass to provide a crop by this autumn. This, combined with species of winter-hardy Italian ryegrasses ensures the new crop will get off to a good start in the spring too. Adding several tetraploid varieties of ryegrass will help to boost overall yields and feed value.