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With the Sustainable Farming Incentive paying £382/ha for planting multi-species leys (MSLs), interest in them is growing rapidly but livestock producers should carefully consider... Get the most out of multi-species leys

With the Sustainable Farming Incentive paying £382/ha for planting multi-species leys (MSLs), interest in them is growing rapidly but livestock producers should carefully consider how they fit into existing forage systems.

While there are many benefits, including increased biodiversity and better soil health,  MSLs require a different management regime than typical ryegrass to maximise the benefits, says Agrii agronomist Mark Smyth.

“MSLs are generally made up of grass, legumes and herb species which together create a more diverse forage with greater resilience to climatic extremes as well as contributing significantly to soil structure and fertility.

“Because they’re rooting at different depths within the soil profile with many species, such as Chicory and Plantain, being especially deep-rooted, they’re extremely effective at breaking up compaction.

“Then there are leguminous plants such as Sanfoin and Clover which actively fix nitrogen to make it available in the soil.

“Others can boost livestock health due to their ability to extract minerals from the soil, particularly Chicory, Plantain, Sheep’s Parsley and Burnet, due to their deep rooting nature and this also helps with growth during dry periods.

“Chicory and Sainfoin also have a natural worming element as they have anthelmintic properties and this can be extremely valuable in some circumstances.”

When to plant

Those tempted by the £382/ha SFI payment have 12 months from signing up to putting their MSLs in and timing needs some thought, Mark Smyth advises.

“When establishing a full reseed MSL with grass, spring or autumn planting is fine, but if overseeding it becomes more challenging in the spring as seed to soil contact is key and the minimum soil temperature must have reached 8 – 10o C before considering planting.

“Augustor September is often the better timing for overseeding due to less grass and weed competition, however if considering spring it’s important to lightly graze afterwards to ensure the new seedlings don’t get smothered out.”

Rapidly growing species in mixes, such as chicory, also need consideration, he adds.

“These will need frequent grazing and should only really be considered for silage-making in a multi cut system, where frequent cutting will stop them becoming overgrown and producing more fibre which could result in lower D Value silage.

“Managed correctly, MSLs can provide a nutrient-rich home grown forage with significant environmental benefits, underpinned by a healthy incentive from the latest SFI scheme for their use.”

Plan reseeds

According to Agrii’s forage grass, root and environmental seeds manager Adam Simper, following a systematic approach to planning, establishment and management of grass reseeds, can also help producers get the most out of home-grown feeds.

“The best starting point for a successful reseed is to focus on the end point,” he says. “You need to focus on your end goal and make decisions based on this. So, first of all, decide how long you want the mix to last, then what you want to use it for.

“If you want to both cut and graze, for example, choose a mix containing diploids and tetraploid perennial ryegrass (PRG), whereas if predominantly cutting, choose a mix with a higher proportion of tetraploids.

“If your plan is rotational grazing, then choose a mix that can cope with this style of management and provide good ground cover and quick regrowth. If intensively tight grazing, then use a mix with a high diploid PRG content.”

Most reseed mixes in the UK contain both diploid and tetraploid PRG but there are also other types of ryegrass and species used such as clovers, herbs, Timothy, cocksfoot, and in recent years Festuloliums, he points out.

“Each of these species has different growth and quality characteristics so it is important to select the most appropriate one for your ground and situation so talk to your grassland advisor at an early stage. “