Oliver Seeds offers new mixtures adapted to ever-changing growing environment
Erratic weather conditions over the past few years from heavy snow to drought, have made many farmers reconsider what the best grass and forage species and combinations are.
The case is definitely becoming stronger for species that are robust enough to withstand climatic extremes and that do not have an over-reliance on artificial nitrogen fertiliser. Last spring demonstrated that deep-rooted species such as cocksfoot and festulolium offered exceptional spring growth, while ryegrass was very slow to grow away.
Many arable farmers are looking for different crop options due to their poor experiences growing oilseed rape. They might do well to talk to dairy farmer neighbours to see what crop growing synergies can be found. It might suit them well if fodder beet, maize, arable silage, lucerne or a red clover ley could be grown for animal feed and these could all act as excellent soil-conditioners ahead of a first wheat.
Undersowing maize with grass or establishing Italian ryegrass after maize has been cut is being practised more and more in fields growing continuous maize. The main reasons are to reduce soil erosion and nitrogen leaching, to make less damage to fields at harvest and also the opportunity to get an extra crop of grass before the next maize crop. This is still at an early stage of development, with most farmers looking at different systems and mixtures to achieve this goal.
There is a greater awareness of the problems of grass to grass reseeds and how to reduce the impact of pests such as leatherjackets and frit fly. Some farmers are using brassicas or undersowing a cereal crop.
There is a trend towards herbal or multi-species leys, where the diversity of species has many benefits for soil health and condition, particularly in the dry East. Deep-rooted herbs and legumes such as chicory, plantain, red clover, lucerne, sainfoin, burnet, sheep’s parsley and yarrow have an important role to play, not only in soil health but also in the health of grazing livestock. There is a definite desire to seek a wider nutritional base from grazed herbage than can be achieved in a one-species dominant sward.
There are also opportunities for grass leys to help both dairy farmers and hay producers. It is often easier for the dairy farmer to take the first ‘fleshy’ cut as silage, leaving the potentially drier regrowth for baling as hay when the weather is more suited for hay making. This would also help arable farmers gain some weed control over fields with heavy blackgrass infestations as this does not enjoy such ‘bullying’.
The last trend that offers possibilities for dairy farmers is to use cover crops on arable farms. Many of the species included in these mixtures such as vetch, crimson clover and cereals offer useful grazing, including for heifers and youngstock.
Oliver Seeds formulate new seed mixtures that have the capacity to adapt to the ever-changing weather and growing environment farmers are now working with.
One of these, new for 2021, is a cover crop mix that not only acts as an excellent soil conditioner but also supplies highly nutritious forage. ‘N Joy’ uses the nitrogen fixation and root activity benefits of legumes such as vetch and clover, with leafy forage from the inclusion of forage rape, chicory and millet. This can be sown at 25kg/ha and offers growers flexibility as it can be either grazed by animals or mulched.
The adaptability of new festulolium cultivars was shown to good effect in the extreme conditions of last spring. As ryegrass struggled to get going in the very wet then incredibly dry weather, the varieties Fojtan and HiPast showed very good spring growth and a capacity to cope with adverse conditions not seen in other species.
Fojtan has featured strongly in Oliver Seeds’ Fortress mixture in the past three years. This ley was originally designed to deal with wet, heavy soils where one or two cuts of silage or hay were followed by aftermath grazing. However, it has performed exceptionally well across varying soil types and climatic conditions. Strong root anchorage has enabled Fortress to show excellent density and persistence, whilst still producing high yields of quality forage.
Another area of growing interest is herbal leys, where growers are seeking a wider nutritional base from their forage. This is partly due to legislation where the stewardship requirements of GS4 require a spread of herbs and grasses to be planted.
Oliver Seeds designed Landmark Spectrum around highly palatable grasses like Donata cocksfoot and festulolium, teamed with more traditional choices of perennial ryegrass, meadow fescue and timothy. There is also a wide selection of herbs such as chicory and plantain coupled with quality grazing legumes from the clover family. Even though all these elements are included, this mixture still complies with GS4 requirements, which means that legislation, the soil and the animals will all be satisfied.
This article first appeared in Farmers Guide in March 2021