Options for minimising forage shortfalls

15 Jun 2020

Producers concerned about forage shortfalls, following an exceptionally dry May, could include summer-drilled brassica fodder crops as part of a wider strategy and take some pressure off silage clamps this coming autumn and winter.

So says Germinal GB’s Helen Mathieu, referring to the impact that recent drought conditions could have on forage resources.

Soil moisture

“Soil moisture level recordings taken across the country, as part of the GrassCheck GB programme, confirm the full extent of the hot and dry conditions we’ve been experiencing and there will, inevitably, be a long-term effect whatever the weather going forward,” she says.

“So producers should review their current position as soon as possible, on a field-by-field basis, and identify the worst performing fields for prompt action.”

Fodder crop

She says that for fields nearing the end of their productive life, the dry conditions may well be the final straw.

“The best way forward may be to burn off the old sward and establish a fast growing fodder crop, such as Redstart hybrid brassica, to provide valuable grazing at any point from the late summer through into the winter.”

Rapid establishment

Using a hybrid brassica has the advantage of rapid establishment and will also provide as much as 10 tonnes/ha of quality forage.

“As a rape/kale hybrid it is also winter hardy and suitable for out-wintering, so it offers great versatility. It’s also a good break crop within a grassland reseeding programme, creating a clean start for a new ley next year.”

Grass reseeds

As for recent grass reseeds, where the drought may have exacerbated problems caused during a difficult establishment phase in autumn 2019, Ms Mathieu said that overseeding may be the best short-term solution.

“Where swards are quite open, but most of the plants are perennial ryegrass, the best approach may be to stitch in more perennial ryegrass, at a rate of 25kg per hectare, once there is sufficient soil moisture.

Boost performance

“This will boost performance later in the season and help to minimise the impact of the drought.”

Fields should also be earmarked for conventional reseeding later in the summer, where possible, to maintain productivity into 2021.

Reseeding plans

“Producers should try to maintain their routine reseeding plans, as this is the best way to avoid a long-term knock-on effect from the recent dry spell,” she adds. “We know that reseeding results in a significant uplift in the quantity and quality of forage available and that this will more than pay for the investment within the first year.”