Limagrain UK’s grass seed manager Ian Misselbrook also adds that improving reseeding programmes and considering other forages will better prepare them for fluctuating weather patterns.
“The cold, wet spring in 2018 delayed turnout and grass growth,” he says. “Many livestock producers ran out of forages and were desperately hoping for a good grass growing season to replenish supplies. This didn’t materialise, then the dry, hot summer meant that they were dipping in to ‘new’ silage, putting pressure on the forthcoming winter.”
While we don’t know if conditions in 2019 will be a repeat of 2018, or wet like 2017, farmers should be better prepared and look to build up more of a buffer – or insurance – in forage stocks.
“A better reseeding programme and growing more productive grass with a high proportion of tetraploid varieties is an obvious route,” adds Mr Misselbrook. “And while there’s no strict rule, a well-run dairy unit that relies on home grown forage to support a grazing or housed herd will look to reseed – or rejuvenate – 20% of the grassland each year.”
A significant increased in the productivity of new reseeds compared with older leys means that reseeding costs can be easily justified.
“It will pay for itself in two or three years. A new ley will be around 30% more productive in its first full year then a six-year-old ley. A 10-year-old ley typically only yields 50% of a new ley.
Farmers can also use new advanced grass seed mixtures. Dry matter yields of these mixtures are 10% higher than the mixtures of 10 years ago and huge strides in nutritional quality in grass varieties are now being made,” he says.
There’s a lot to be gained from growing these advanced seed mixtures; mixtures that Limagrain adds its LGAN accreditation to and that have proven superior agronomic and feed value characteristics.
Livestock producers should also consider other forages that can help in managing dry conditions. Lucerne has deep roots and drought-resistant qualities and has proved to be successful during prolonged hot conditions in summer 2018 when grass mixtures showed little growth. Lucerne survives and grows in drier conditions, but it can withstand wet weather providing the soil is free draining.
A lucerne crop will typically give four years’ continuous production of high protein, high mineral forage with a dry matter content around 30% and digestibility of 70. With a lower cell wall content than grass, lucerne is highly digestible and intakes tend to be high. New varieties like Mezzo are more winter hardy than the older varieties, adding to the crop’s attractiveness in harsher UK conditions.
Fine-tuning the grazing system can boost forage supplies too. “It might be worth closing off a field or two and taking a silage cut, even in mainly grazing systems, to give that extra ‘buffer’ that will provide a cushion through poorer growing periods.”