On a beautiful Armagh day, more than 600 farmers, advisors and agri-food industry representatives came to the “More from Grass” event at the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), Loughgall.
Improving the production and utilisation of our best and cheapest feed was the motivation behind this event. Even though Northern Ireland has the ability to grow high yields of grass – up to 15t DM/ha- at relatively low cost, the average levels of grass utilisation are relatively low, with dairy farms typically achieving 7.5t DM/ha and beef and sheep farms around 4.1t DM/ha. AFBI research has shown that improving grass utilisation on dairy farms by 1t DM/ha can add profit of £334/ha/yr.
The following key messages were highlighted by the event:
This event reset the focus on grass as a way of reducing
production costs in dairy, beef and sheep systems. Efficient grass
production involves producing and utilising high yields of grass through
attention to detail on:
Soil fertility (efficient use of manures and fertiliser)
- Soil test regularly to identify fields where lime, P and K are needed.
- Make the most of manure nutrients by applying to match (but not exceed) crop P and K requirements across all fields.
- Routinely apply S-containing fertilisers for 1st cut silage crops, and manure and/or K-containing fertilisers to match the K requirements of 2nd and 3rd cut crops.
- Identify compaction by digging 30cm (12”) inspection pits.
- Remove compaction if identified and check again regularly.
Sward type (ensuring the correct species and variety mix
within the sward)
- There are a wide range of perennial ryegrass and white clover varieties available to suit most farm situations.
- There are several alternative grass and legume species which have particular merit either in monoculture or in mixtures. Choose the variety best suited to your needs.
- AFBI plans to produce a financially-based grass variety evaluation tool which will be tailored to meet local conditions and needs.
Manage grazing platforms
- Walk paddocks and assess quality regularly.
- Measure grass cover regularly and manage the wedge for best utilisation of grass.
- Act promptly when a surplus or shortfall of grass is identified
Efficient utilisation (grazing and cutting at the correct stage)
- Average levels of grass utilisation on Northern Ireland farms are disappointingly low – typically 7.5t DM/ha on dairy farms and 4.1t DM/ha on beef and sheep farms. However, there is significant scope to improve grassland productivity.
- Improving grass utilisation by 1t DM/ha and grass quality on an average dairy farm can add profit of £334/ha/yr.
- Visit GrassCheck to help manage grass utilisation:
AgriSearch and also on AFBI
The More from Grass booklet can be downloaded here
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