2015-08-21   facebooktwitterrss

Grass Reseeding – It’s not all about Perennial Ryegrass!

While 85% of the grass seed sown this autumn will be ryegrass, more farmers are drilling mixtures with traditional species in them, such as timothy, cocksfoot and fescues, to counter the effects of challenging weather or to extend the growing season.

Speaking at a recent workshop, delivered as part of the Oliver Seeds Forage School at the DLF Trifolium trials centre in Gloucestershire, grass specialist Rod Bonshor advised farmers to think about site, duration, use and fertiliser policy, before considering specific species and mixtures.

Figure 1: Yield comparison of five grass species (4-year trial x 3 seasonal periods x 3 sites in Ireland.  T.J.Gilliland et al.

Figure 1: Yield comparison of five grass species (4-year trial x 3 seasonal periods x 3 sites in Ireland.

“There is no doubt that perennial ryegrass can provide high yields of nutritious feed for ruminants,” said Mr Bonshor. “But it has been bred to be fed, and will perform brilliantly on good soils given access to adequate water and nutrients.

“But climate is now starting to dictate species choice more – you don’t want to rely purely on ryegrass where there is risk of drought or flooding. It may be prudent to include other species in these situations.

“Indeed a four-year trial in Ireland has shown very similar yields of timothy, cocksfoot, meadow and tall fescue to perennial ryegrass at three sites – around the 14t dry matter/ha mark.” (Figure 1).

“But in dry conditions, deeper rooted fescues and festuloliums could tap into water and nutrient reserves out of reach of perennial ryegrass, while also improving soil structure. Team it up with red clover and you have an ideal silage ley.”

Winter hardy timothy is a native species and starts growing before perennial ryegrass in the spring. It also tolerates wet conditions better, and will survive complete immersion for two to three weeks.

Cocksfoot is persistent, winter hardy and deep-rooted, so performs well in dry summers. The arrival of soft-leaved varieties such as Donata, has encouraged a cocksfoot revival.

Meadow and tall fescues can be slow to establish but do well in damp soils but can also adapt to dry conditions. Regrowth after defoliation produces leafy shoots which makes them particularly good for summer grazing.

“The new kid on the block is festulolium,” added Mr Bonshor. “This is where meadow or tall fescue have been bred with different types of ryegrass - originally conceived to deal with Mediterranean conditions. Varieties like Lofa combine vigour, persistence, stress tolerance and winter hardiness with high forage quality.

“The most common question we are asked is which mixtures perform in tough conditions. So this is clearly on many farmers’ minds and is why we are including these species in our mixtures.

“Cutting and grazing mixture Landmark Extreme – which has Lofa, cocksfoot, meadow fescue, timothy and a little late perennial ryegrass in it, has done very well on dry sites this summer, producing plenty of feed where perennial ryegrass would have given up. Timothy is now included in most of our medium and long term grazing mixtures.

“Everyone should take a planned approach to reseeding. Consulting the Recommended Grass and Clover List is good for starters, but then it’s all about finding the right mixture for the field and job in hand.”

Oliver Seeds

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