Webinar: Growing Lucerne

Watch as Ben Wixey from Germinal, Chris Ruffley from Harper Adams University and Simon Gittins from Wykey Farm, Shropshire discuss:

• The benefits of growing lucerne
• The basics of sowing and growing lucerne successfully
• Lucerne as a source of home-grown protein
• Chris and Simon’s own experiences in growing lucerne
• Insights and best practices and much more

Webinar Q & A

Can lucerne be direct drilled?

There is no reason why lucerne shouldn’t be direct drilled. Nutrients must be available as discussed in the webinar and checks should be made to ensure there are no soil compaction issues. Reducing the disturbance of the soil will only help with not triggering weed emergence. Try not to bury the seed too deep and make sure there isn't a mass covering of diying material that will cause an acidic matt through which the young seedling has to emerge. This would severely hamper the chances of success.

What is the importance of letting lucerne flower?

Allowing the lucerne plant to flower, once per year, enables the plant to store some of the sugars from photosynthesis back into the root and makes for a stronger healthier plant. This will help with longevity i.e. allowing the crop to last four years plus.

What is the best practice to increase winter tolerance as our winters can get pretty wet, although I believe it's possible to grow here recently with the drier summers?

It is not the amount of rainfall you get but the ability of the ground to allow the water to flow through. lucerne will not stand its roots being wet and therefore red clover and grass may be a better option for this ground. If, however, you think you have free-draining ground then letting the plant flower once, not cutting too low and make sure the nutrients are correct are the only other things we would suggest.

What constitutes a good level of calcium? Would 1600 ppm be sufficient or are you aiming at 2000 ppm?

1600 ppm is on the low side for lucerne. We are after all expecting the crop to take about 300kg – 360 kg Ca per hectare per year.

I used to use a forage wagon to reduce compaction issues. Is compaction as big an issue as I used to believe?

Yes, compaction is a big issue for lucerne. Compacted ground before drilling and causing compaction during the lifetime of the crop will have very negative effects on the yield and longevity of lucerne. Any action that can be taken to reduce pressures would be a good idea.

Is there a specialist additive for lucerne or will conventional additives we would use on grass do?

Lucerne is low sugar and high protein, the protein would buffer against quick fermentation so a strong additive that reduces the pH quickly is essential. Use something with high numbers of lactic producing bacteria such as Ecosyl 100.

What are you doing for weed control pre and post-emergence?

As both Simon and Chris mentioned, a stale seedbed is by far the best approach. There are a few sprays that will work on weeds in lucerne through the winter but they need to be advised upon by a BASIS registered agronomist.

Nutritionally and in analysis, are you seeing any benefits from incorporating red clover?

Neither of the farmers had seen any benefits or disadvantages of using red clover in with the lucerne and I am not aware of anything from a trial perspective. Introducing red clover into the lucerne crop if it thins out will only benefit the productivity of the crop for the life of the crop.

Do you need a five-year gap between growing lucerne and red clover?

No, you can grow a crop of grass and red clover straight away after lucerne, however, most people would take advantage of the nitrogen left from the lucerne and put in a cereal crop for at least one year, if of course, this suits the farm rotation.

Any thoughts on haylage bales?

Haylage bales are great and versatile on the farm. They need to be dried to about 45% dry matter and an additive for high protein crops used. Be sure to wrap well with 7 - 8 layers of plastic as the stems can puncture through if not enough wrap put on. Also, be careful when dropping wrapped bales back onto the lucerne field as the spikey stubble can puncture bales and cause problems. Wrap not the yard or drop onto a large piece of carpet or something similar towed behind the wrapper to prevent puncturing.

Will lucerne grow on chalk ground and are round bales any good?

Yes, chalk would be fine as long as it has some depth. Watch some of the trace elements if it is high pH. Advice on bales as in the above question.

Best technique for rowing up before baling/foraging?

Care must be taken to not shatter the leaf as over 80% of protein and minerals are in the leaf. Where lucerne is grown on a large scale then belt windrow makes a difference but they are few and far between. Otherwise, row up as they do at Harper Adams University and make sure there is a dew on the crop to provide that bit of moisture. Unfortunately, it normally means rowing up at 3 am.

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