An overhaul of grassland management on a Cheshire dairy unit will enable forage costs to be cut – while still maintaining quality and quantity – as the farm embraces new techniques on the way to achieving full organic status.

Jeremy Barlow’s 194ha (480-acre) Parme, Middlewich, has benefited from technical inputs from the Grassright Group, which has co-ordinated a multi-faceted review of the farm’s grassland covering re-seeding, weed control, fertiliser use and soil structure improvement.

Although 145ha (360 acres) of the farm – which carries the 300-strong Bradwall herd of Holsteins – will go organic, the remaining 49ha (120 acres) of rented land will continue to be farmed conventionally.

The Grassright Group – comprising Advanta Seeds, Dow AgroSciences, Kemira GrowHow and Opico – is promoting an integrated approach to grassland management by bringing together experts in their own specific areas to work together for the benefit of the farmer.

“I needed to take a holistic view of how I manage grass and focus more attention on the land which underpins the business.

“It’s easy to concentrate on cows rather than the land supporting them. It’s only when you get involved in something like this that you realise how things have progressed over the past few years and how much you can do to improve grassland,” says Mr Barlow.

“Employing the latest advances in grassland management, but applying them more advisedly to support an organic system is the aim. But even if I was continuing to farm conventionally, I would have reviewed the way I manage grass and land to reduce input costs while maintaining output,” he says.

The cost of fertiliser has been cut by about £34.5/ha (£14/acre) through reduced, but more effective applications and better use of slurry. Spray costs have also fallen following a detailed review of the farm’s grassland weeds and timeliness of control measures.

The farm’s entire grassland acreage was subject to grading by Advanta seed specialist David Rhodes to enable a more cost effective approach to sward improvement.

“It means we weren’t spending money unnecessarily and could get an extra season out of some fields.

“The grading of these fields was critical and included sward quality and weed population. It added a professional and cost-saving dimension to our re-seeding programme,” he adds.

jh@jeremyhuntassociates.com