Options for minimising forage shortfalls

Friday 12.06.2020 , News

Expert grassland advice from Germinal GB's Helen Mathieu on options for minimising forage shortfalls such as including brassica fodder crops.

Livestock farmers concerned about forage shortfalls in the wake of an exceptionally dry May could include summer-drilled brassica fodder crops as part of a wider strategy, thereby taking the pressure off silage clamps this coming autumn and winter.

Helen Mathieu acknowledged the impact that recent drought conditions could have on forage resources during her presentation at a recent GrassCheck GB webinar.

“Soil moisture level recordings being taken across the country as part of the GrassCheck GB programme confirm the full extent of the hot and dry conditions we’ve been experiencing and there will inevitably be a long-term effect, whatever the weather going forward,” she said.

“I recommend that farmers review their current position as soon as possible, on a field-by-field basis, and identify the worst performing fields for prompt action. In the case of fields that were already nearing the end of their productive life, the very dry conditions may well be the final straw. In such cases, the best way forward may well be to burn off the old sward and establish a fast growing fodder crop, such as Redstart hybrid brassica, to provide valuable grazing at any point from the late summer through into the winter.

“Using a hybrid brassica has the advantage of rapid establishment and will also provide as much as 10 tonnes/ha of quality forage. As a rape/kale cross, it is also winter hardy and therefore suitable for out-wintering, so it offers great versatility. It’s also a very good break crop within a grassland reseeding programme, creating a clean start for a new ley next year.”

Interacting with an industry-wide audience at the AHDB-run webinar, Helen addressed questions on an array of current challenges. In relation to recent grassland reseeds, where the drought may have exacerbated problems caused during a difficult establishment phase last autumn, she said that overseeding may be the best short-term solution.

“Where swards are quite open, but most of the plants are perennial ryegrass, the best approach may well be to stitch in more perennial ryegrass, at around 10kg/acre, once there is sufficient soil moisture. This will boost performance later in the season and help to minimise the impact of the drought.”

Fields should also be earmarked for conventional reseeding later in the summer, where possible, to maintain productivity into 2021.

“If at all possible, try to maintain your routine reseeding plans, as this is the best way to avoid a long-term knock-on effect from the recent dry spell,” she added. “We know that reseeding results in a significant uplift in the quantity and quality of forage available and that this will more than pay for the investment within the first year.”

Germinal GB’s Helen Mathieu was the invited specialist speaker at the GrassCheck GB webinar on grassland reseeding, run by AHDB. Further details, including webinar recordings, are available at www.grasscheckgb.co.uk.