Germinal Horizon research is a win for multi-species swards

Wednesday 28.07.2021 , News

Multi-species pasture makes sense with the current pressure on farmers to produce food efficiently and sustainably, while meeting livestock needs and consumer demands.

With sward diversity spanning grasses, legumes and herbs, there’s a temptation to take a ‘trial and error’ approach to species selection. But, as a specialist plant breeder, our commitment to research and development means our multi-species grass seed and crop mixtures remain underpinned by sound science.

Multi-species sward benefits

The advantages of sward diversity come from combining the complementary properties of different species, by improving soil fertility, forage quality, biodiversity and drought tolerance.

Our goal at Germinal Horizon in Wiltshire is to apply an evidence-based approach to quantify and qualify these benefits and understand their potential on-farm. We are going further and deeper to explore the optimal components of diverse multi-species grazing in livestock systems.

Research focuses on assessing the sward properties, including yield, quality, individual species persistency, nitrogen interactions and grazing management. Results from the first year of current trials show the highest yielding multi-species pasture mix would be those combining multiple grass species with several legumes and herbs, such as chicory, plantain, red and white clover.

Compared to a sward of perennial ryegrass alone, the multi-species sward yielded 3.06t DM/ha higher, with 60% of this total yield coming from chicory and plantain.

Multi-species grass seed mixtures

As research into these mixes enters its second year, their performance continues to show promise. Initial results show the levels of chicory and plantain have remained the same, with other herbs, such as birdsfoot trefoil and burnet, flourishing in their second year of growth.

Despite not being seen in the sward during the first year, and following a wet autumn, the levels of yarrow are also starting to increase.

Although early results indicate diversifying the sward further with more species doesn’t necessarily impact yield, there is potential for as yet unseen benefits. These are expected to include improved soil structure, higher mineral content, increased digestive content due to tannin intake and anthelmintic benefits.

Research into simpler mixes containing red and white clover also continues, building on last year’s results showing even these straightforward mixtures enhance yield and protein quality. The aim is to understand how each species’ growth cycle affects the sward and what this means for those integrating these mixes into livestock systems.

Multi-species grazing trials underway

But multi-species swards don’t suit a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. Different livestock systems and locations require specific mixtures of species.

So, to take Germinal Horizon’s research one step further and translate it into practical, on-farm benefits, multi-species trials are underway on different farms across the country.

If you’re thinking of undertaking multi-species rotational grazing, now is the time to sow, with drilling ideally done by mid-August. For more information and sustainable farming advice about managing a multi-species pasture rotation successfully, come and see our grassland Knowledge Hub.