Grass should b e treated as a valuable arable crop – with a long term plan to maximise output, says an agronomist.
Rising input costs mean farmers should focus on a few key management practices, says Hutchinsons agronomist Jim Clark. This includes a strategy for reseeding and controlling weeds – and a soil health plan.
Farmers should get out and walk their grass – and really look at its condition, says Mr Clark. They should note the amount of field cover, the weed burden particularly in relation to docks, and also any poaching and compaction.
“Poached and compacted soils carry a higher weed burden, chickweed can be a particular issue, but docks are a major problem this spring as a result of a milder winter and stock out-wintered for longer causing bare soil – and docks love open ground.”
Farmers should choose grass varieties with the weed burden and herbicide options in mind. If including clover in the sward, many dock and chickweed herbicides will knock this out as well, so it’s important to plan ahead when thinking about reseeding.
“If fields have a high weed burden sow a short term or even a different crop for a few years to get them under control before sowing your clover and herbal lays.”
Mr Clark says farmers should remember that some herbicides are much kinder to the grass when carrying out weed control than others.
“You don’t want to check the grass growth in spring, so use a softer product based around Fluroxypyr.
“When reseeding, seed to soil contact is essential for good establishment. So unless the soil is bare avoid a scratch harrow air drill. Take some soil samples as you go to check acidity, phosphate and potash levels.
“When direct drilling seeds into the sward, temperature is key to success,” says Mr Clark. “Cooler temps of 6-8°C suit Italians and Westerwolds – but later perennials and clover need 9-10°C.
“Grass should be sown before applying slurry, particularly if going on in bands, as if drilled after the slurry is applied it is much harder for the drills to penetrate the soil which affects its contact with seed.”
How to improve your grass management
Look closely at soils for compaction or poaching and plan any sward restoration work around this.
Know the weed burden in each field. Recognise that docks need a specific management plan.
Choose grass varieties carefully taking into account suitable herbicide programmes.
Choose the correct reseeding approach depending on sward quality and soil temps
Time slurry applications to complement the best possible establishment.