Autumn drilling offers opportunities to bridge forage gaps

Autumn 2018 offers many dairy farmers more opportunity than usual for late-season establishment of perennial or hybrid ryegrass, with leys drilled in the coming weeks offering the potential to accelerate the rebuilding of depleted forage stocks.

This was the message from forage experts Germinal at UK Dairy Day, where the company highlighted an early maize harvest and prolonged warm soil temperatures as reasons for planning additional reseeding.

“The hot, dry summer has hampered grass growth and caused forage shortages, but it’s also resulted in an accumulation of heat units that we are predicting will bring forage maize maturity forward by two to three weeks in many areas,” said Germinal GB national agricultural sales manager Ben Wixey. “There will therefore be more time this autumn to establish grass after maize, and we also expect soil temperatures to stay warmer for longer, extending the period when grass and clover can be sown successfully.

“Short term Italian ryegrass or Westerwolds are the norm where drilling is possible after maize, but this year the wider window will bring perennials and hybrids – possibly with white clover – into the reckoning. These longer-term ryegrasses will offer better quality forage over a longer period, so may well be a more versatile solution for anyone seeking ways to rebuild their forage stocks.”

Germinal’s expectation for an earlier maize harvest is based on data recorded at their own research station in Wiltshire, where average dry matters across a range of varieties in trials have already reached the 30–32% DM required to trigger harvest.

“We’ll be harvesting our maize plots during the week of UK Dairy Day, which is a full two weeks ahead of expectations for the varieties we have in trials,” said Germinal GB technical trials manager Dr Jo Matthews. “With the heat unit accumulation that we’ve seen across the country, farmers should now be monitoring their crops closely as maturity is likely to be advanced in a lot of cases.

“We are seeing a lot of variability this year, however, not only across the country but also within fields. Crops on heavier soils have generally fared better during the dry spell, but it’s unwise to make any assumptions and there’s no substitute for getting out into the crop, taking representative samples and checking the dry matter of whole plants.”

Germinal advises that dairy farmers considering autumn drilling of grass leys, whether after maize or otherwise, should ensure they create conditions that will allow good soil-to-seed contact and that there is enough moisture. “It’s more important than ever as we enter a period of shortening day length and cooler temperatures that everything is done to maximise the success of establishment,” concluded Ben Wixey. “The usual checks to ensure soil pH and nutrient indices – and taking steps to alleviate any compaction issues – should not be forgotten.”

 

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About The Author

John Swire - Deputy editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer as well as responsibility for the Agronomist and Arable Farmer and Farm Business websites. After 17 years milking cows on the family farm John started writing about agriculture in 1998 and has since written for a variety of publications and has developed a wide circle of contacts within the industry. When not working John is a season ticket holder at Stoke City and also of late has become a fitness freak, listing cycling, swimming and walking as his exercises of choice.