Over 70 farmers attended the latest progress report on the grazing regeneration project at the Oatridge Campus of Scotland’s Rural College.
It was clear the interest shown at the initial Soil and Drainage event, held at the site early in the year, is being maintained. Soils and pastures damaged during the poor weather of 2012-13 still need attention, despite the recent good spell, and silage and fodder stocks remain critically low.
According to specialist Rhidian Jones of the SAC Consulting arm of Scotland's Rural College:
“The earlier forecasts of grass crops only yielding 70 to 80% of their potential still hold true and any stocks of silage and hay were used up in the spring. We believe the trials here at Oatridge, in conjunction with Watson Seeds, will help farmers address issues of worn out pastures and reduced fodder reserves. There is a lot to think about.”
The meeting began inside the Oatridge campus with a presentation by well respected expert Charlie Morgan of Grassmaster Ltd who has over 20 years experience of research and advisory work with the IGER organisation in Aberystwyth.
Charlie stressed the nature of the task facing livestock farmers, emphasising that they must regard themselves as being in the protein business and focus their attention on producing each kilo of protein as efficiently as possible which meant utilising and managing their grass to maximum effect. While that involved considerations about nitrogen use, the other key elements, phosphate and potash, also needed to be monitored and measured. Much of this attention to detail was against the challenge of climate change and Mr Morgan also urged farmers to think hard about the grass species and varieties now available to ensure they were using the latest science. Each farm and circumstance was likely to be different and certainly what suited the situation ten years ago may not now be the best option.
After lunch there was a tour of the trial sites around the Oatridge farm with Farms Director Peter Scott outlining his management strategy and the background to the programme.
Outline of the Trials
With the help of students at Oatridge a series of short term grass seed mixtures have been sown, with the aim of producing bulky silage crops to supply winter forage for livestock. Other fields have been renovated by oversowing existing pastures. The work has been carried out in conjunction with Watson Seeds.
The first of the projects involves three seven acre blocks of a three to four year seed mixture, designed to provide high yields of high quality silage with grazing to finish lambs in the autumn. Two blocks have red clover in the mix to raise protein levels, one of which includes Aber Claret red clover which has increased persistence.
Secondly a seven acre field has been sown with three “one year wonder” mixtures designed to give very high yields of silage for just one year. The three mixtures include; 100% Westerwold Ryegrass; a 75% Westerwold and 25% annual clover blend, and finally, a 35% Westerwold, 40% Italian Ryegrass and 25% annual clover blend.
The third project is comparing two methods of renewing worn out swards with bare patches by overseeding. They tested what can be achieved using a spring tine cultivator with a pneumatic seeder attached and also a disc coulter - Agriseeder machine. One field is sown with a shorter term mix for silage and grazing while a second field has a longer term grazing mixture, with a small area of each field left undone for comparative purposes.
The oversown fields have been monitored by cutting ungrazed plots every three weeks and monitoring for yield and dry matter %. To date this season has seen yields averaging 4,500 kg DM/ha with very high grass growth of over 90KgDM/ha/day in June and around half of this in July.
Those attending the farm walk learned that both the short term ley pastures and the fields sown in May with red clover were harvested in early-mid July. Once all silage cuts have been taken from these fields the yield data will be updated and made available.
Take a look at the initial results from the first cuts.
SRUC acknowledges the support for this project given by the Scottish Government funding as part of the Success Through Knowledge campaign.
Picture caption: Charlie Morgan makes a point to an attentive crowd.