Lucerne an Under-used Asset for UK Livestock Farmers

Lucerne should be considered a major asset by UK livestock farmers, according to French plant breeder Jérôme Vasseur, as the crop offers a source of high quality forage that could be grown successfully across large parts of the country.

Speaking at a series of meetings organised by forage experts Germinal, he outlined how lucerne is grown effectively in many varying climates, from Russia to Saudi Arabia, making it the world’s biggest forage crop.



“The advantages of including more lucerne in cropping rotations and as a component of forage rations for livestock are still underestimated in the UK,” he said, “and yet the benefits that it offers are significant.

“It is a highly productive crop, with yields of 12-14tDM/ha achievable in the UK from three or four cuts. The forage produced is high in protein, rich in minerals, and has a high quality fibre content. Managed well, crops can perform for up to five years and, as a legume, it requires no nitrogen fertiliser inputs.

Lucerne does require free draining land and a soil pH of 6.2 or higher, and it is also important to use varieties of the appropriate dormancy rating for northern Europe, but suitable conditions do exist throughout the UK.”

According to Germinal’s national agricultural sales manager Ben Wixey, there is now a lot of new interest in lucerne as UK farmers look for ways to boost returns from forage and reduce costs of production.

“Our aim is to provide the expertise required to make lucerne a successful forage crop for farmers in the UK,” he said.

“The establishment phase is critical with lucerne and there is perhaps less margin for error than with other forage crops at that phase. However, with the right understanding of seed bed requirements, seed rate, drilling depth and early management, this crop can offer real advantages.

“We estimate the current UK acreage of lucerne to be around 5 – 6,000 hectares, which is a fraction of a percent of the temporary grassland area and less than 5% of the forage maize area. Considering the benefits that lucerne offers, there is definitely potential for the acreage of lucerne to grow in the UK.”

Jérôme Vasseur, representing plant breeding company Jouffray-Drillaud, added that plant breeding developments and seed treatment technology have combined in recent years to make lucerne more suited to northern European climates.

“Varieties with dormancy ratings of 4 and 5 are ideally suited for anywhere in the UK, and there are now strong performing options available,” he said. “In addition, pre-inoculation of seed with the rhizobium-type bacteria required for nitrogen fixation is possible, and seed is available with a nutrient coating to boost and secure establishment.

“We also supply seed in calibrated packs that provide an optimum seed rate per hectare, to help farmers achieve the correct plant populations. Traditionally lucerne seed rates have been measured in kilograms per hectare, which is far less reliable and can easily result in over or under seeding.”

Jérôme Vasseur and Ben Wixey were speaking to UK seed merchants and agronomists at locations throughout England at the end of February 2016.

Lucerne facts:

Yield potential of 12 – 14tDM/ha/annum

19 – 28% protein, high in fibre, rich in minerals

Fixes nitrogen, so no N fertilisers required

30 million hectares grown worldwide

UK acreage <0.5% or temporary grassland and <5% of forage maize


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