Thursday, 15 May 2014

The importance of choosing recommended grasses

It’s a drum that EBLEX has been banging for quite some time, but the importance of well-managed grassland is something that beef and sheep farmers should ignore at their peril.

With input costs constantly increasing, grass is the most economic feedstuff that farmers have available throughout the year, either as grazing or conversed forage. However, there is huge potential on most grassland farms to increase the amount and quality of the grass and clover grown and eaten.

Re-seeding or over-seeding at the appropriate time, and selecting the right grass type and seed mixture to suit the system and situation, is key to achieving higher yields, increased quality and improved consistency.

Selecting varieties from the Recommended Grass and Clover Lists (RGCL) means producers can be sure they’re choosing grasses and clovers that have undergone at least six years of independent testing – the first three to get on the National List, then a further three to become fully recommended. Only the best varieties make it – the final decision is made by a group consisting of breeders, merchants, farmers and advisers based on data from trial plots grown across the country. Once varieties become out-classed by newer material, they are removed.

The RGCL scheme has changed in recent years – it is no longer partially funded by merchants, which means the data is available to everyone. The testing is funded by plant breeders through the British Society of Plant Breeders (BSPB) and the ruminant levy boards for England and Wales – EBLEX, DairyCo and Hybu CigCymru (HCC/Meat Promotion Wales). Farmers who still rely on old varieties are missing out on millions of pounds worth of investment to produce new grasses that are far superior in important aspects such as yield, digestibility and spring growth.

The 2014 lists have just been published and include eight new varieties - four intermediate perennial ryegrasses, two late perennial ryegrasses, one hybrid ryegrass and one red clover variety. Both the RGCL handbook, designed for use by producers, and the full lists, which are primarily for merchants, are now available on the EBLEX website.

To make the lists even easier to use, an online tool is now available on the DairyCo website, which enables producers to compare different ryegrass varieties and assists them in selecting varieties to suit their individual farm requirements.

For information and for a working demonstration of the new ryegrasses tool, visit stand 329 at the Grassland & Muck event on 21 and 22 May at Stoneleigh Park, where experts from DairyCo, EBLEX and the British Grassland Society (BGS) will be on hand to answer any forage-related questions.