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Delays in reseeding are compromising grass production, warns leading forage expert

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Many leys that should have been replaced two years ago have fallen apart this year, leaving some ruminant livestock producers short of forage, according to a leading expert.

In terms of grass production, 2010 is turning out to be a year of the haves and have nots, and dry weather in many parts of the country during the early part of this year highlighted major problems on many grassland farms, explains Simon Broddle, Forage Manager for Nickerson Direct Livestock producers who replaced leys during the last couple of years generally have sufficient forage, but those who delayed reseeding because of the apparently good condition of older leys have had a sharp wake-up call.

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The autumns of 2008 and 2009 were relatively wet, so grass grew well almost anywhere, even on light land, which lulled many producers into a false sense of security. Many leys looked good due to the high rainfall, giving a false impression of their true condition. Under normal weather conditions meadow grasses and brome grasses would have seeded and consequently been much more apparent in the sward, while cattle would have found the ley increasingly unpalatable and unproductive.

Farmers who have found themselves in this situation should reseed now, because in most regions soil moisture and soil temperature are at high levels, providing ideal conditions for establishing new leys.

Mr Broddle emphasises that the need for timely reseeding is made even more critical by the increasing physical demands being placed on grassland, which is now being managed much more intensively on modern dairy farms to increase production and profit margins. He states:

Farmers rarely consider the implications of more intensive stock movements on the condition of paddocks, or the type of leys that are sown, but the combination of unusually wet weather and increased animal traffic at key locations has brought this issue to the fore. Historically, a typical dairy farmer with 40 cows would probably have grazed their entire herd in a three-acre paddock, but as these would have been small animals with a body weight of around 450kg the total herd weight passing through a gateway would only have amounted to around 18 tonnes.

In modern paddock grazing systems, 250 or more cows, each weighing over 700 kg, often pass through a similarly-sized gate into a day paddock, which equates to almost 200 tonnes of livestock passing across the same areas. An extended grazing season, in which cows are turned out earlier and kept out for longer in the autumn, places this relatively shallow-rooted crop under greatly-increased pressure and increases the potential for poaching.

A long-term ley relies heavily on tiller density to generate high yields, so every time a plant is removed through heavy wear it creates a hole in the sward and opens it up to infestation by non-sown species, such as meadow grasses. Theres no easy way to manage this situation, but providing a series of openings into the paddock will help gateways to repair themselves. Using a long-term mixture such as Nickerson Red Circle in this type of situation is critical because it offers a dense sward made up of late-heading perennial ryegrasses, which will maximise ground cover, protect the ground from drought situations and increase its resistance to poaching.

Farmers can find out more about Nickerson Directs extensive product range and details of their local Seed Specialist from Nickerson Direct on 01472 371471, by email:  direct@nickerson.co.uk or at www.nickersondirect.co.uk

 

  • Nickerson Direct (www.nickersondirect.co.uk) operates the UKs only national team of Seed Specialists who visit farmers all over the country advising them face-to-face on all aspects of cropping and delivering informed expert advice. The company supplies a wide range of seeds and dressings, including Original Cereals, oilseeds and pulses, Circle Ley grass mixtures, LG maize and Foundation potatoes, together with a number of complimentary products. As part of Group Limagrain, the largest seed company in the European Union, Nickerson Direct is uniquely positioned to offer farmers the full advantages of its huge resources and investment in research and development.

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