Devon Farmer Signs Up to Turn Grass into Gold

A Devon dairy farm has signed up to a nationwide research initiative that is exploring how proactive grassland management can help improve farm profitability.

Celia Diepenbroek and the team from Ashdown Farm, near Seaton are the latest additions to Barenbrug’s Grass into Gold programme – a scheme that is helping farmers across the UK boost pasture performance, increase yields and reduce overheads associated with bought-in feeds and supplements.

Ashdown farm

Ashdown farm

Over the course of the next year, Celia, Ben, Sam and Doeke Diepenbroek will work closely with Dorset-based Latham Gibbins, who is South West Area Manager at Barenbrug – one of the UK’s leading specialist grass seed companies. Together, Latham and the farm team will make improvements to several fields at the family’s second property, Bonehayne Farm, located in the Axe Valley, close to Colyton.

Work has already begun with Latham offering the team guidance, information and practical support on the renovation of two fields requiring reseeding. Both fields were suffering because of the presence of docks and previous soil poaching, which can occur when cattle are turned out for an extended period of time. Across both of the farms the Diepenbroek family has 600 cows, which spend most of their time outside grazing under a rotational system. Each cow produces around 6000 litres of milk per annum, which is subsequently sold to one of the country’s biggest dairy cooperatives.

Recognising that the two fields in question needed attention, Latham advised ploughing them up and reseeding with Dairy Grazer and Early Cut and Graze - a move that will pay dividends next spring. Latham recommended reseeding after using Barenbrug’s field indexing system to grade the team’s grass. This simple means of rating grass quality uses a ‘one to five’ sliding scale; fields that rate five are considered highly productive while swards that score one are deemed in need of immediate action. With less than 40% of productive grass species and more than 40% weed content or gaps, the fields scored around two.

Commenting Latham Gibbins said:
“We are delighted to welcome Celia and her team to our growing group of Grass into Gold farmers. At the Grass into Gold farms that signed up last year we’ve started to see some good results, which will have a positive effect on the profitability of each farm business taking part. This time next year we’ll hopefully be seeing the same results on Celia’s fields. The Ashdown farm is now under a very efficient pasture-utilisation, rotational system and grass utilisation across the board is very good. Now it’s about making sure that the fields across the farm are up to a high standard and producing maximum results. Obviously we want to make the fields a five on our pasture performance scale and then help maintain that level.

At the upper end of our indexing system, fields that score a four or a five are highly productive and need minimal maintenance so the return on investment is far better. All that’s required to maintain this is regular soil monitoring for the first few years to check on pH and nutrient levels, then - further down the line - some overseeding as the swards mature.”

Commenting Celia said:
“I signed up to Grass into Gold after hearing a friend of Latham’s mention it - and I’ve been really impressed with the help he’s provided in the first phase. I’ve been wanting to get more from my grass for some time so it’s great to be working closely with an expert who can provide some really clear pointers. Long term, anything we learn at Bonehayne, can also be applied to the home farm too - meaning the benefits of taking part in the programme will be two-fold.”

At Bonehayne Farm, Celia has a paddock-grazing platform of 190 acres with 200 cows and at Ashdown farm, the platform is 311 acres with 400 cows. Also, both units are supported by an additional 240 acres of away ground.

Good grassland management is an essential component of running a profitable farm. Through Grass into Gold, Barenbrug is helping farmers across the UK get the most out of every blade of grass. Barenbrug grass varieties are the result of hundreds of years of research and development, and the business has a wealth of information and practical advice to share with farmers.


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