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Agricultural Trials

Barenbrug UK has a comprehensive and extensive UK trials programme with three sites replicating the differing conditions and climates experienced by UK livestock producers.

The latest site is Cropvale, between Pershore and Evesham with its longer growing season, and greater disease and drought stress in summer. Cropvale is being used to screen new material from Barenbrug Holland and Barenbrug France, together from our operation in New Zealand - Agriseeds. In addition we are testing mixtures and species, like tall fescue, westerwolds and vetches, which are outside the UK National List system.

Our Scottish site is part of the SAC National and Recommended List trials at Blackburn NW of Aberdeen. Here we are screening trials of varieties and species, particularly suited to the Scottish market. Material from Barenbrug Holland, Boreal Finland, DvP Belgium as well as AFBI is on trial. To succeed at Aberdeen, varieties must have very good spring growth, as the longer winter means that grass starts growing later in the spring and stops earlier in the Autumn. The site has a short growing season and harder winters than our third site at Loughgall. We are also using the site to develop, new improved mixtures for Scottish conditions, by doing yield and seasonal growth trials on different varietal permutations in the same mixtures.

The oldest of our trials sites is at Loughgall where alongside our collaboration with AFBI we have a programme that has been central to bringing over 20 varieties to market that are playing a significant role in providing farmers with varieties that are top for exceptional spring growth, palatability, disease resistance and digestibility. The main advantage of Loughgall is the very long growing season with no limiting factors i.e. plenty of moisture, very little frost and varieties can express their full growth and yield potential. Loughgall also produces breeders’ seed and screens material from Barenbrug and other breeders.

All three sites are helping speed up the process of entering material onto the National Lists. They also allow us to trial minor species that could have an increasingly important role in tackling the effects of climate change and the need for even better disease resistance.

For further information on the three sites go to...

More >> Loughgall

More >> Cropvale

More >> Aberdeen


2012 September report

Agriculture research and development manager David Long brings us up to date and explains how the plots have been yielding and highlights the outstanding performers.

With different parts of the country really experiencing wide varieties in their summer weather conditions it has been an interesting time to see the effects on varieties and mixtures at the sites in Aberdeen, Loughgall and Cropvale.

The summer of 2012 has proved to be very interesting for our trial sites. Cropvale, which last year suffered from severe drought conditions, has this year had more than twice the average rainfall in April, June and July. And this heavy rain when combined with lower than average temperature and sunshine has given a completely different set of stresses for the grasses in trial. Loughgall has had a warmer and drier spring and cooler and wetter summer than normal, leading to slower spring growth and peak growth being achieved in early July, a month later than normal. Only Aberdeen has had anything like a 'normal' summer but it too has had a variation, this time in temperature - being cooler than the norm.
But these variations have their advantages too as we have a completely different set of stresses for the grasses to withstand and it fully demonstrates the benefits of testing varieties over many years, to get as wide a range of conditions and stresses as possible. Any new variety before it is introduced into the market will have been in trials for a minimum of 11 years, and this ensures that it has been tested under the most extreme conditions the UK climate can throw at it. 

Mixture trials

The mixture trials at Cropvale are now into their second year and continue to produce interesting results, as expected High D and Early Cut and Graze the Italian and hybrid mixtures are the two top yielding mixtures. Long Season, Combi and Permanent are producing similar total results, with the big difference being when the growth comes. All the mixtures, which were sown with Ensign Duo, are continuing to give bigger yields. In their first year the average increase in yield was four percent and to date in the second year the yield increase is over five percent as well as significantly improving the protein content of the forage.

Barmix has also demonstrated significant improvements in its relative yield, which is as expected, as tall fescue, a major constituent of Barmix, is relatively slow to establish compared to ryegrasses, but once established it will produce significantly higher yields.

Aberdeen's mixture trials were only sown in 2011, so we are now seeing the first results. As at Cropvale, mixtures with the benefit of the red clover in Ensign Duo are giving higher yields and it was noticeable at the SAC open day in May how much better these plots looked, when compared to the National List trials.

So all in all there's some encouraging material coming forward and illustrating that despite the vagaries of the weather there will be considerable advantages to be gained from these new varieties when they reach the marketplace. 

For more detail, click on the links above.

2012 June report

Agriculture research and development manager David Long brings us up to date and explains how the plots were looking in mid-June 2012.

First cuts have now been taken at all our three trial sites and in the case of the Italian and hybrid plots at Cropvale second cuts as well. 

The growth on all the sites has followed the unusual spring weather. A visit to Cropvale at the end of February showed significant growth, particularly on the Italians and hybrids from the Barenbrug breeding station near Toulouse. This again underlines what a mild winter Cropvale had, as these varieties will only continue to grow as long as the soil temperature is above 5ºC.

Growth continued throughout March, and at the end of the month, the best estimate had growth three weeks ahead of normal. But this all came to a stop in April.  The cold, wet weather stopped growth and for nearly six weeks the plots hardly grew, with significant growth only re-starting in mid-May. This was repeated at all three sites with spring 2012 being the exact reverse of spring 2011 when we had drought cracks at the edge of plots from March to November, this year there was a danger of them being water-logged.

And it was not just our trials sites that were suffering there were problems throughout the country with the wet spring having a large impact. The wet conditions meant grazing animals have poached fields and caused a lot of compaction problems. I have looked at fields from central Scotland and west Cumbria to East Anglia, where the grass appeared to be perfectly healthy, the species sown are all there, with very little weed grasses present, but they are not growing and producing as expected. Closer examination of the soil structure reveals a pan, often only 10-15cm deep, but enough to prevent a good root structure developing to support a healthy plant. Farmers who invested in sward lifting and slitting have seen the benefit this year. Their fields appear as a relatively dry oasis, with good grass growth, surrounded by farms that tend to look more like a swamp.

For an excellent guide to checking soil structures, visit the DairyCo web site where there is a You Tube clip showing what to look for – www.dairyco.org.uk/farming-info-centre/grassland-management.aspx 

The wet weather has delayed first cuts in many areas, giving crops with excellent bulks, but lower quality. But this problem can be compensated with the second cut, by trying to cut at the normal time, when bulks will be lower, but quality better.

The trials in Aberdeen were not cut until early June and to date we have not seen the yields. However, at the SAC levy payers open day, a visual assessment of the Barforage Scotland mixture trials showed potentially higher yields than from the surrounding National and Recommended List trials. 

Included in these trials are all the long-term Barforage mixtures and Ensign Duet, the unique mixture of red and white clover. At Cropvale, where the mixture plots are going into their second year, the Ensign Duet plots are yielding 12 percent more at first cut and I would expect similar results from both Aberdeen and Loughgall.

Cropvale’s Italians and hybrids received their second cuts in mid-May, the first cut having been taken at the end of March to simulate spring grazing. Yields have been excellent, exceeding on average the first cuts from the adjacent perennial trial, demonstrating Italians and hybrids ability to grow at lower soil temperatures than perennials. The control varieties are setting stiff targets, with varieties like Barsilo and Drumlin among the best in their trials.

In the 2010 sown perennial trial two intermediate diploid varieties, one from AFBI and one from Barenbrug Holland are showing significant improvements on the best of the control varieties, Boyne and Copeland. In the intermediate tetraploids, Malone and Seagoe are providing stiff targets, but they are being beaten by several new varieties from AFBI.

With the late heading varieties the cold wet spring seems to have suited Dutch varieties as they are outyielding both French and Irish material significantly, with the best showing a 20 percent improvement over the control varieties. However this is one cut out of eight that the plots are subjected to and the results are then combined across the three sites together with information from Barenbrug sites in Holland, France and Germany, before any decisions are made, but it does show the effects the weather can have on a variety’s performance.

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Our agricultural products manager David Long welcomes 2012 with a look back at 2011 and the overall highlights from our three trials sites. And you won’t be surprised to hear that the weather had a huge impact on what we learnt.

"I don't believe there’s such a thing anymore as 'typical British weather' – well not a description that can cover the whole country anyway and 2011 was a real example of the variety on offer! These variances made us even more pleased that our trials sites are spread throughout the United Kingdom as the results are much more representative of UK conditions. By just checking the weather records and particularly rainfall, for the three trial sites, we confirmed that location can really make a very big difference! 
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