Jim Clark, an agronomist with Hutchinsons, is advising farmers on how to maximise output from their grassland against a backdrop of rising input costs.
This means treating grass more like an arable crop and creating a long-term plan for reseeding, controlling weeds and soil health.
The most important step is often the first, so Mr Clark recommends walking grassland and assessing its condition. Take note of how much cover there is across the field and where the weed burden is particularly high. Take soil samples to check pH, potassium and phosphate levels.
Poached and compacted soils carry a higher weed burden, with chickweed being an issue, and docks are a major issue as a result of a milder winter and stock being out longer – leaving bare soil.
Grass varieties should be chosen with weed burden and herbicide options in mind. If clover is included, many dock and chickweed herbicides will knock this out as well. If the weed burden is particularly high, it may be worth sowing a short-term ley or even a different crop for a few seasons to bring them under control.
Some herbicides are kinder to the grass than other, so Mr Clark recommends a softer product based around Fluroxypyr.
During reseeding, seed to soil contact is essential for good establishment. Unless the soil is bare, it’s best to avoid a scratch harrow air drill. If direct drilling, the temperature is key to success. Cooler temperatures between six and eight degrees celsius suit Italians and Westerwolds, but later perennials and clover require upwards of nine degrees.
Grass should be sown before applying slurry, especially if it goes on in bands, as slurry can impact soil penetration.
Five Top Tops for grass management
- Look closely at the soils for compaction or poaching and plan any sward restoration work around this.
- Know the weed burden in each field. Recognise that docks need a specific management plan.
- Choose grass varieties carefully taking into account suitable herbicide programmes.
- Choose the correct reseeding approach depending on sward quality and soil temps
- Time slurry applications to compliment the best possible establishment.