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Maximising grassland productivity

Regardless of beef breed or location, all UK beef farmers have one thing in common: the need to provide their animals with grass to eat – whether grazed or silaged. In beef production, where margins can be tight, high-quality grass can be the key to profitability, and keeping a constant supply in front of livestock makes sound financial sense.

Essential to the production of meat, grass is a cost-effective form of feed that can be utilised all year round – in spring and summer by grazing livestock; and in winter as silage. Well-managed grassland can supply almost all of the energy and protein requirements of a beef herd. This year a number of other factors have added to the list of challenges beef farmers face including increased fertiliser costs.

With record N prices, failing to apply nitrogen to a grass sward is a false economy. Grass needs nitrogen to grow! It is a major nutrient required by the plant and is key to achieving high dry matter yields and good protein levels. If you spend £650 per tonne on fertiliser, you want to make sure you use every kilo you apply efficiently. Old swards containing 50% weed grasses will only use 30-40% of any N applied which means 60-70% is being lost and wasted.

Silage and grazing fields should be inspected regularly to assess their condition. Inspect each field using the Barenbrug Good Grass Guide. Look for the percentage sward content of productive ryegrasses and score the sward from one to five where one is the worst with <25% sown species and five is the best with >80% sown species, an even sward with very few weeds.

Swards scoring five might just need some nitrogen fertiliser and minor weed control whereas those scoring one would benefit from a reseed. For swards scoring at three or four, over-seeding can improve productivity by up to 50% for 4-5 years.
A complete reseed costs an average of £900 per hectare (£360/acre) and the seed accounts for around £150 of this cost. The return on this investment will more than pay for the cost of the reseed in the first year in extra dry matter yield.

Attention to detail is key to successful grassland management and paying particular attention to soil health and fertility is crucial for nutrient cycling and grass productivity. Always start by soil sampling poor-performing fields and look for compaction. Plan to correct any imbalances and problems before reseeding.The introduction of clovers into a sward is one way of mitigating the high fertiliser price. A 30-40% cover of white clover is required to see the real benefits of nitrogen fixation in grazing swards. Red clover performs better when seeded into a new seed bed, between May and August and can fix up to 250kg of nitrogen/ha, it is more suited to cutting.

White clover is more resilient and can be broadcast or direct drilled into an existing sward but it is important to graze it down first to reduce competition to the clover seedlings while they establish. White clover will take around six months to establish fully and then can fix up to 150kg of nitrogen/ha/ year depending on temperatures.

For further information on maximising your grassland performance, speak to your local NWF Sales Specialist or view our grass seed range.

By Roger Bacon, Barenbrug Agricultural Key Accounts Manager

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