There should be no mystery in the value of well-managed grassland. But keeping it performing at its optimum level demands some big decisions from time to time, says Janet Montgomery, Barenbrug UK’s agriculture product manager.
The value of well-managed grassland
“Your pastures may look green but, just as you can’t judge a book by its cover, neither should you assume that all is well simply from a quick look over the field gate.
“Although we do – rightly – see grassland as a very resilient crop, able to take almost whatever the farming year throws at it, every ley has a finite life. Eventually it will need replacing – that is to say, it’s time to reseed!”
There’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to deciding pasture longevity, Janet explains, because much depends on the varieties, species, and composition of the original seed mixture. Soil type, weather, stocking rate and how it’s been used (or abused) will also have an effect.
“Of course, you might also have changed the way you farm since any individual field was last sown. In livestock terms, we talk about grassland being used for maintenance, gain or production – perhaps your priorities and stock objectives have shifted, or you see an opportunity you want to seize.”
As well as considering differences in use cases, Janet suggests indexing grassland to make a more objective assessment of any need for reseeding. “Barenbrug’s used its knowledge of grass breeding and good practice in grassland management to create a very simple and easy-to-use tool that can help growers get more from their grass.
“This means decisions can be based on fact rather than feeling. Personally, I’m always excited about the opportunity to discuss reseeding, because it provides an opportunity to ‘update’ the grass on a farm.
“Grass genetics is constantly improving, so whatever you put in the ground all those years ago – especially if we’re talking about reseeding a perennial pasture that’s past its prime – is probably now considered ‘old hat’. Replacing it with a new variety is very likely to deliver levels of productivity and resilience that you would not have gotten from the previous seeding, even when it was performing at its best.”
Janet says that Barenbrug’s commitment to UK-bred varieties, in particular the 32-year breeding programme with AFBI that has delivered more than 50 new varieties to the Recommended Lists, means farmers have assured access to some of the most suitable, and newest, grass genetics.
“It takes at least 15 years for a variety to be approved for the list,” she points out. “It only gets to the list if we’re sure about its unique genetic advantages, its consistency in the field, and its ability to outshine the varieties that went before it.”
Because Barenbrug has a UK-focused grass genetics programme, the varieties it breeds are ideally suited to a UK fit on UK farms.
“Take the latest variety that’s made it to the Scottish list,” says Janet. “Killylea is a late tetraploid that’s been bred specifically to suit not only the conditions, but also the needs of farmers, in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
“Performing above the reference variety, it’s highly resilient in mixtures and could ably replace other UK-wide varieties to provide growers with a more robust, higher-performing ryegrass option.”
Janet says it’s very easy to accept what your seed merchant has available. “They’re making the decision on varieties and mixtures, so you don’t have to. They’ve got the experience and the knowledge, and that’s valuable.
“But with a little bit of knowledge about what you want from your grass, how you want to use it, and how you want it to perform, you can leverage your seed merchant’s experience to get the best for your farm.
“And if you’re based in the UK, nine times out of ten you’ll get the best results from a UK-bred grass variety. That’s why Barenbrug is committed to UK grass genetics.”