Volatile prices and uncertainties over future global wheat supplies are reasons why livestock farmers should include more grass in their feeding plans this spring, according to independent grassland expert Charlie Morgan.
Charlie Morgan (left) and Duchy College Farm Manager James Coumbe search for worms in the soil of a new reseed.
Speaking at Duchy College, Stoke Climsland in Cornwall this week at a meeting supported by Dow AgroSciences, he said that at this time of year grass has all the nutrients ruminants need to produce milk and to grow. Well-managed it also costs 6.5p to produce per kilo of dry matter, significantly cheaper than brought-in cereals which can be up to 26p/kg DM.
“All livestock farmers are affected by global events such as the switch to growing crops for fuel, traders playing the markets with cereals and abnormal climatic events,” said Mr Morgan.
“It is increasingly risky and financially unsound to rely on cereals to produce meat and milk and something farmers have no control over. Incorporating more home grown forages into their systems would reduce this uncertainty and cost.”
But he went on to say that grass has to be managed properly with a sound grazing and reseeding policy, to support the level of production expected. Surveys across Wales shows that the amount of grass grown on farms varies considerably from 4t DM/ha up to 18t DM/ha.
“Grass, like any other crop requires attention to detail to produce to its potential,” said Mr Morgan. “The soil must have good structure and show signs of microbial and worm activity; nutrient status needs to be spot on, and weeds need controlling or they will reduce overall yields and feeding quality.”
Plan weed control now
Walking some of the college fields, it was clear that grass and weeds are now growing quickly as soil temperatures rise. Weeds such as docks were taking hold in any bare patches of soil, along the margins of fields reseeded last autumn and around the slurry lagoon in the yard.
“A single dock can release 70,000 seeds which can live in soil for 80 years,” explained David Roberts, grassland specialist with Dow AgroSciences. “So it is vital to stop them setting seed.
“Spraying using a knapsack and a translocated herbicide like Grazon 90 this spring will prevent much larger infestations later on – especially those growing around the slurry pit, which will then be spread around the farm.”
Where docks are present in large numbers in fields shut up for silage, a broad-acre spray applied at least three weeks before cutting will be more cost effective. But wait until fresh, clean growth is visible and the plants are ‘dinner plate’ sized to achieve the best results, Mr Roberts advised.
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