Planning for a dry summer – forage crops and grassland

Local agronomist, Neil Woolliscroft, shares his advice on planning for a dry summer.

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Forage stocks coming out of Winter 2018 were low to non-existent and low reserves continue to be a concern as we head into Summer 2019.  There has been some success however with those growers who took a little risk and established new grass seeds last autumn and are currently in the process of taking a large first cut.  So what can be done to improve your prospects of a higher return from your land?

·         Always start with the basics; up to date soil analysis particularly checking the pH status with adequate P and K.

·         How long has your grass ley been down – is the ley predominated by weedy and low output species?

·         Are weeds competing with your pasture or hindering establishment of your ley?  There are many herbicide products offering cost effective solutions to weed control.

·         Nitrogen delivers the best return on investment. Are you correctly implementing a nitrogen management plan?

Both livestock and arable farms should be looking at opportunities from neighbouring farms and how their farming enterprises could complement each other. Combinable crop farms continue to battle with blackgrass and many would gladly give up growing OSR – grass leys or forage maize offer a valuable break to the arable farmer. For the livestock farmer, grass re-seeds have become more difficult since the revocation of chlorpyrifos leading to uncontrolled wireworm and leatherjackets.  Combinable crops grown between re-seeds would offer a valuable break. 

Incorporating forage crops into an arable crop rotation is not as scary as you may think! Many growers are already using spring cereals to combat autumn germinating blackgrass.  A crop such as stubble turnips established after a winter cereal harvest offers a cheap source of overwinter feed for grazing.  Many arable farmers are also growing overwinter cover crops ahead of spring sown cash crops. The best cover crops are those that can be utilised with the nutrients returned to the field via grazing!  Growing maize in rotation with combinables can be made a success. Recent breeding developments have meant many varieties are now sufficiently early maturing, and without yield penalty, to enable wheat to be easily established in October. 

Try not to focus solely on your own farms limitations and consider what opportunities for mutual benefit exist in your locality.

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