Grassland & Muck helps livestock farmers boost profits

 New varieties, new equipment and new advice are three pillars to improving grass yields and efficiencies, and can add up to significantly boost farmers’ profits.

There was plenty of each on offer at the Grassland & Muck event this week, which attracted visitors from all over the world. AHDB launched the new Recommended Grass and Clover List, which featured 12 new varieties boasting improved yield, quality and durability. This year the list is available online with interactive tables allowing farmers to input key preferences and identify the most suitable varieties for their land and system.

“Reseeding is cost-effective, but to get the most out of this investment, it’s essential to use the best quality seed mixtures available,” said Rachel Jones from Wynnstay. Visitors were able to compare different varieties and mixtures in the 100 growing plots, and also explore the benefits of rotational grazing in the new mob grazing feature.

Drought tolerance and home-grown proteins were hot topics at the event, with Germinal recommending red clover, forage brassicas and Lucerne to drive down costs of production.

According to Germinal’s Ben Wixey less than a third of UK livestock farmers were growing forage brassicas, and only one in five included red clover in their leys. “Legumes can fix around 150kg/ha of nitrogen, reducing the amount of artificial fertiliser required,” he said. “Clovers and deep-rooted plants such as perennial chicory also help to improve soil structure.”

DLF used clear growing tubes to demonstrate the rooting abilities of different plants, with festuloliums boasting both drought and flood tolerance due to their deep rooting abilities. “Following the dry spring some pastures will be damaged, so farmers might consider over-seeding to replenish grass at minimal cost,” said director of agriculture Chris Gamble. “Using a ProNitro seed coating ensures the developing seedling receives the full benefit of the additional nutrition, not the surrounding plants.”

When it comes to harvesting the grass, there was plenty of new equipment taking part in the working displays, from balers and wrappers to mowers and rakes. Kverneland launched its new 15m GEOrake at the event, which maximises efficiencies through raking precision.

The 97150C, with a 15m working width, had pivots at the front, unlike other rakes, said Dan Crowe, Kverneland product manager. “This means instead of lowering and lifting, farmers can bring the arm back which is great for tapered fields.”

The rake uses GPS to locate field boundaries and lifts rake arms in response to the field and swath type for optimum grass production. “For the most efficient foraging, raking needs to create longer, straighter lines,” said Mr Crowe. “The GEO system enables this, meaning farmers are optimising their rake and effectively reducing labour costs.”

Whether feeding ensiled grass or grazing cows, there was plenty of scope for farmers to produce more milk from forage, said Kingshay’s Richard Simpson. Speaking in the forum theatre, he explained that producing a litre of milk from grazed grass cost just 3.5p against 9.5p from concentrates.

“It’s often assumed that good milk from forage is only for low input herds but it can be achieved across all herds.” Well-managed rotational grazing was essential, to maintain quality at 11.5-12MJ/kg of metabolisable energy throughout the season, and boost grass yields by up to 45%, he added. “A typical 200-cow herd yielding 8000-9000 litres could save 2.6p/litre by making more from forage – that’s £44,000 a year.”

Of course, producing good quality grass relied on healthy soils, and ADAS’s soil clinic was well attended, with Dr Paul Newell-Price using demonstration soil pits to explain how to assess soils and choose the right management options to improve them.

Good grass management techniques and equipment were not just applicable to the UK market, with the event attracting visitors from across the globe, including journalists from a range of European countries. Gertjan Zevenbergen, managing editor of AgriMedia in the Netherlands, said Grassland & Muck was the only event in Europe to offer such a wide range of working machinery demonstrations. “If you want to know everything about grassland management and machinery, this is the place to do it.”