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Challenging conditions in recent years have seen an increase in sales of rapidly growing one-year leys as a quick fix to boost forage stocks... Short-term leys can mask longer term grass issues


• Tired swards need urgent attention

• Full reseeds deliver bigger return

• High resilience mixes are best option

Challenging conditions in recent years have seen an increase in sales of rapidly growing one-year leys as a quick fix to boost forage stocks – but these could mask deeper grassland problems.

Short-term solutions such as overseeding have played a key role in helping dairy and livestock producers alleviate the worst forage shortfalls. But they could create a false sense of security, says Jim Juby, of forage specialists Horizon Seeds.

“We’ve seen a significant increase in sales of Westerwold grasses and tetraploid-based grass mixes for overseeding in recent years and there is no doubt they have played a vital role for many producers.

Damaged swards

“But this last spring also saw a 25% drop in sales of mainstream mixes for full reseeds and so there is a real concern that producers have cut back on investment in longer-term pasture management and this could be storing up problems for the future.”

On farms where waterlogging in the winter has damaged swards or the lack of rainfall in early summer has effectively killed off the most productive species, producers really need to bite the bullet this autumn and focus on full reseeds, says Mr Juby.

“It’s not an easy decision when cashflow is tight, but home-grown forage remains the most cost-effective feed you can produce and investment in grassland management to build resilience into long-term production is never a false economy.

Production boost

“Delaying the decision to reseed at least the worst-hit parts of your grassland this autumn could have significant implications with inevitably higher costs to remedy the situation later and increased reliance on increasingly expensive bought-in feeds in the meantime.”

Carried out properly, reseeding has the potential to deliver a 20:1 return on investment but at a cost of £400 to £500/ha, growers need to make sure they are making the right decisions to stack the cards in their favour.

“One of the biggest improvements comes from greater Nitrogen utilisation efficiency,” says Mr Juby.

“A modern perennial ryegrass will give a 50% better response to Nitrogen than something like Yorkshire Fog or most of the other weed grasses that thrive when reseeding is delayed or swards are damaged.

Reducing risk

“If you don’t address your grassland issues in the short term, you’ll effectively be wasting half the nitrogen you apply and that’s a cost few businesses can live with, especially with the high fertiliser costs of recent years.”

Building the highest levels of risk mitigation into leys and ensuring producers get the most out of inputs puts the focus on the grass mixes used, explains Mr Juby.

“It depends on what you want to get out of your grassland. But regardless of your intended use, some basic questions can help you make the best decisions when it comes to choosing the right varieties for a reseed.

“Mixes are much more robust than single species varieties, for example, and have a greater resilience to disease threats as well as better ability to cope with diverse growing conditions.”