Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Guest blog: The science of grass

For this week’s offering we’ve invited EBLEX beef and sheep scientist, Poppy Frater, to scribe a guest blog about her recent visit to the European Grassland Federation (EGF) conference:

The latest in grassland research was showcased at a recent European Grassland Federation (EGF) conference held at Aberystwyth University this year. EGF is a forum for research workers, advisors, teachers, farmers and policy makers linked by a common interest in European grasslands. We know that the opportunity to attend such conferences is limited for many farmers. So we do our best to transfer the latest scientific findings to the farming community through webinars, videos and Grazing Club articles.

The conference covered an array of subjects, but if I was to pick out some particular areas of interest it would be sward diversity, forage combinations and soil biology.

Several presentations highlighted the latest findings on the impacts and optimisation of diverse swards. What did we find out? Combining characteristics for nitrogen-fixing and non-nitrogen-fixing and deep-rooting and shallow-rooting (e.g. perennial ryegrass, tall fescue or chicory, red and white clover) can result in a grass sward that is productive, resilient and persistent under low nitrogen inputs, but the management is key. 

Different forage combinations can complement each other to maximise intake and digestion in sheep. Researchers found 50:50 ratios in the following combinations: 1) cocksfoot and red clover (silages) and: 2) grazed ryegrass-chicory swards, optimised intake and digestibility. They presume the mixtures encouraged intake. 
The impact of how forages affect soil biology was evident in another experiment. They found greater numbers of worms in white clover plots than ryegrass (with zero nitrogen or 200kg nitrogen per hectare), chicory and red clover plots. This will improve soil infiltration and organic matter breakdown - further adding to the benefits of white clover use. 

Spending time among some of the top grassland scientists at the conference was really useful to stay in tune with the latest findings. This is important for EBLEX research and development as it helps us to keep up-to-date with the latest research, which in turn will ensure future EBLEX-funded projects build on current research rather than duplicate it, and also means we can continually strive to deliver the best advice to farmers based on the latest research. 

The farming industry is at the centre of EBLEX activity, and events such as the EGF conference are key in ensuring that our scientific work continues to help drive the sector forwards.