Tips for maximising grassland efficiency

By Lisa Hambly, Head of Grassland & Forage Agronomy for Mole Valley Farmers

Escalating input costs means it’s more important than ever to make the most of what you can grow on farm and maximise production from forage.

There are four key areas to think about to help boost grassland efficiencies:

1. Know what nutrients you already have

Do you have recent soil analysis results for each field? All cultivated land should have a soil test result that is no more than five years old at the time of nutrient application (FRfW). Testing soils prior to nutrient application allows any imbalances to be addressed. For example, lime should be applied if soil pH is low. This will ensure the maximum benefit is seen from all applied inputs.

Slurry/FYM testing should also be carried out to establish how much of the nutrients applied are available to the crop, including available nitrogen.  Calculate the nutrient value of the muck and apply the correct balance according to the predicted yield of the crop.

2. Assess swards

Assess swards and decide where to focus nutritional applications. Soil analysis may show that the fields furthest away from the farm buildings are in the most need of nutrients, so target slurry or FYM accordingly.

3. Check for compaction

In wet soil conditions, where there has only been one compaction event a year (eg. heavy tractors travelling over grassland or grazing animals), soil compaction is known to reduce grassland yield dry matter by as much as 14% over a three-year period.

Increased compaction and the reduced yields can mean that higher levels of  fertiliser are needed to ensure similar yields to an uncompacted pasture. Soil compaction can also increase fertiliser run-off by 60%, along with increased soil loss. Any reduction in yield will result in an increase in bought-in feed, to replace the lost dry matter. These all result in greater production costs (FAC Nov 2020). 

Dig a hole to assess compaction. If compaction is found in the upper surface - typically after being grazed  - then a slitter or spike will be needed to aerate the soil. This will ensure the soil has a good balance of soil, air and moisture, which will improve the yield potential and nutrient use efficiency.  If compaction is deeper, it may require a sward lifter. Care should be taken to avoid further compaction as soil that has been lifted is more susceptible to re-compaction. This makes it crucial that work is only carried out when conditions are right.

4. Calculate potential

If a field is not performing don’t spend more on them. Test the soil and assess options to grow more forage. This could mean using a break crop, maize, wholecrop or a root crop prior to  the ground being returned to a new grass ley in the autumn. This better utilises the nutrition and gives more return for the investment.  Remember to always feed the crop to yield - every acre counts.

Do you know? Soil compaction is known to reduce grassland yield dry matter by as much as 14% over a three-year period.

For more information, call Grassland and Forage on 01769 576232 or email [email protected]